While the title of this post is centered around moms, I will be less gendered in my language here. Speaking in generalities, it is typically the mother/female figure in a heteronormative couple that takes care of the detail-oriented day-to-day mess that is a household. Literal and figurative messes. Emotional messes, poop messes, food messes, scheduling messes, and financial messes.
HOWEVER, many more couples and families have different make-ups to include same gender partners, single parents, stay at home dads, DINKs, etc, which is awesome! A dear professor, Dr. Sandy Lopater, at CNU always started the semester methodically, saying “I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you, tell you, then tell you what I told you”, so here goes!
I will address the stress of what is called emotional labor, emphasize self-care, and how to hold yourself, and those you care about accountable to the stress creep. Whether it is a New Year’s Resolution or a new intention for yourself and household, these strategies will help you focus on what is truly important in life.
This story reaches a positive note as I just had a relaxing Wine Down Weekend with my book club, where games, chill time, and day spas were in the mix. My dear husband held down the fort with the tod-nado, and I was OFF THE HOOK. How I got here (like literally how I survived the holidays to get here) has not been easy. Let me take you back…
I am the oldest of my sibling set, and tend to be the most Type A personality of my generation. I plan, I make lists, I schedule, I write things on calendars, I have a super low-tech way of ensuring bills get paid, I meal plan, I grocery shop, I cook, clean, and do many things. All of these things are examples of emotional labor. I realize this makes my partner sound like a total dud (he’s not), but I either consciously chose or assumed I was better at doing these things, so I took on these responsibilities to ensure our home runs smoothly. Having a small child and spreading things out would benefit my brain and bank account, I started before Thanksgiving. I buy things that are nice, but would appeal to many different types of people. I stockpile them in a large closet, and end up losing some of the items to the avalanche of stuff (admit it, you have that area of your abode too, and if you don’t, you’ve KonMari’d). I thought this was a great plan, one that would get things purchased and wrapped so they could look pretty under the tree, and I’d be less stressed…
Enter Type A personality! Our families do a Secret Santa gift exchange between siblings because we decided it’s better to receive a gift that we really, really want, versus a few small things that are nice, but maybe not what we really wanted, and is just junking up your house (see closet stockpile above). I also coordinated one side of the families’ exchange, because Type A (are you sensing a theme here?) #Idontknowanotherwaytolivelife. Then I purchased the gifts for my persons, and fretted over my husband’s tendency to procrastinate, resulting in late gift arrivals. So I assumed responsibility in checking in on him, therefore increasing my stress. We are also in the midst (and have been for over 2 years) of some reno projects, and I was wanting one of them completed as a gift to me. So, I began fretting over whether or not this would be completed on time.
Then……for good measure, let’s have 4 (!) birthdays in December to contend with planning/coordinating/purchasing/traveling etc, with one of them being said husband. Let’s envision the number of hats I am wearing around December 15th, shall we? I started having problems sleeping. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I can literally sleep through everything – fireworks displays, movies in a theater, contentious board games, fire alarms, etc. EXCEPT for my son’s crying…can’t sleep through that.
I was also suffering from extensive heartburn, my breathing felt shallow and my chest tightened (you can never be too careful, these can also signify a sign of a heart attack, especially in women) and I.HAD.HAD.IT. Emotionally, I was a wreck, and then for a shot of emphasis, I had a migraine for 4 days, including Christmas Eve/Day. The signs had been there, yet I wasn’t reaching out for help! Had one of my clients come to me with this information, I would’ve said “do something for you”, “zone out with a guilty pleasure”, “go for a walk”, “make sure you’re hydrated”, etc. I wasn’t treating my own self with compassion, and therefore did not look at my need to do the same things to help reduce overall stress.
December 28th. We were back at home, part of husband’s bday gift was available for pickup at the store, and I had spent one week with my amazing family. Yet all I could think about was getting away. My getting away place was the dollar store. You see, one of my all time greatest stress relievers is doing jigsaw puzzles. I had a point where I was doing one online every day, and it was a part of my self-care and enjoyment. I knew the dollar store sold jigsaw puzzles, and it was something my brain could manage, so I escaped my house, ran a few errands, and bought a puzzle.
I purposely made sure it was a scene of a place I’d love to visit (Cinque Terre in Italy), and was giddy as a mouse eating cheese when I was able to open it. It was not about finishing it with record speed, but doing it mindfully, with intention, and walking away when I felt stressed. A candle was lit, and I was having some water and some of the candy we received in our stockings (thanks Mom and Dad!). That puzzle saved me. It allowed me to be quiet, introverted, and calm. It helped me re-engage with my family, and be more present. In short, it helped me be me.
I realized I didn’t have to do everything by myself. I didn’t have to silently “suck it up buttercup” and complete tasks that others were capable of doing, nor were they all necessary. Sleep deprivation is a killer. It raises blood pressure, blood sugar, can elevate stress hormones, and causes our brains to not operate at optimal capacity. Chronic stress communicates with our brain that we are in “survival mode”, and minimizes our ability to think logically and rationally through decisions, conversations, or to know our limits. Caregivers to young and old know that debilitating stress can reduce your capacity for empathy, patience, and compassion. And the people who tend to be more detail-orientated tend to take on more than is necessary to ensure happiness of most (but not all) people in their household and lives. So if you have identified with any of these symptoms or scenarios, read on!
3 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Emotional Labor:
- Communicate with your partner – Partners are generally there because they want to be, and would want the best for their partner (that’s you!), including to know if their partner needs help. If you are feeling resentful, put upon, the only one who sees the cat’s vomit in the kitchen, then you owe it to yourself to speak up. Our partners, as gifted as they may be, are not mind-readers, and cannot know what is on our minds without us telling them. Change can only happen when a problem is identified and communicated. If you can, take time to identify the problem and a potential solution, so your conversation can be as productive as possible.
For example: “I feel like I’m the only one who vacuums around here. Is there a way we can divvy up this responsibility so I don’t feel like the only Hoover Hero?”
These conversations may be difficult, and even feel “weird”, but they are a great step in asserting yourself to improve your stress levels. *I am not talking to those who may be in abusive relationships, as speaking up may put you in harm’s way. If you are local to Hampton Roads, VA and are trying to find a way out of an abusive situation, please call 757-251-0144 (Coordinated Crisis Response hotline).*
2. Communicate with yourself – Asking yourself what can be limited or eliminated with regards to duties around the home is a tough ask, as many would argue that it all has to be done (raising my hand here). Well, it doesn’t! If you have the means (one day I’ll be that woman 🙂 ) outsource the tasks!
Utilize your grocery store’s new service to have someone else shop for you, and all you do is pick it up! Hire a housekeeper! Order gifts online and have them shipped DIRECTLY TO THE RECIPIENT, wrapped and ready! Have teenaged kids drop off dry cleaning! Have your kids help out with age-appropriate housework (my son actually loves “vacuuming”, although he’s good for about 2 minutes), and praise them for their hard work, even if the towels aren’t folded right (DO NOT refold them. That sends a message that their job wasn’t good enough, and while I love to work, I don’t necessarily want to see your kids in my office). Have a designated “no cook” day, where you get a frozen pizza or take out from your favorite place. We cannot do everything, and we cannot do ANYTHING if we are overextended. What’s 1 task that you’d love to take off of your to do list?
3. See and praise the work that is being done – This is probably the hardest to do, as our stressed eyes are less capable of seeing the smaller things that people contribute to our daily lives. A silly thing that my husband and I do that brightens our days is secretly hide a small card that says “You’re one great Mom/Dad” It’s been in the freezer, my planner, my laptop, a novel, husband’s lunchbox, laptop bag, and we look forward to finding new places to hide it for our partner to find when we most need it. If someone is praised for the job they did (see #2), they tend to want to repeat it. Even if it’s not perfect, show them you appreciate their efforts. I am still a work in progress on this, as my husband can attest. For kids and adults, graphic or tangible representations of their efforts (gold stars, sticker charts, allowance, etc) help to motivate positive behaviors. My husband loves gold stars, and I’m sure they’re available at the dollar store (the one I go to rhymes with Smollar Fee). Your children need to see that they need to contribute to the household, and that their behaviors have merit. They will carry these ideals with them into their own households, and will hopefully be great roommates and eventually partners in the future…or children that live with their parents.
Next, it’s important to step away. Step back. Breathe.
And repeat this mantra: “Is this necessary? Is this sustainable? Is this fun?” If the answer is yes to only one of these questions, find a way to change or eliminate the task.
We can’t get away from cleaning, eating, or working, but we can modify these tasks by thinking outside of the box. To make your to-do list more fun or at least less sucky, I listen to intelligent, funny, or entertaining podcasts or energizing music. Podcasts I enjoy: All Songs Considered; Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!, Nerdist (Not for kiddo ears), S-Town, among others. It might benefit you to choose adult podcasts (with headphones) to remind yourself you’re an adult! And get you out of singing Perfect Piggies by Sandra Boynton for the 11teenth million time.
Find something that is just for you to enjoy. Mine are puzzles (crosswords, jigsaw), guilty pleasure TV shows, at-home pedicures (try the Stedi Pedi), YouTube, and quality chocolate. Lidl is a great resource for amazing chocolate at great prices. Yours might be video games, petting your animals, exercise, creative arts, or meditation. Once you make a list of those things, pick one thing from the list on a fairly regular basis. Put them on pieces of paper in a jar and pick one out for a surprise. Make it work for you so that you do it more often.
Lastly, many of us need an accountability partner/group to ensure we are following through on our intended changes. This helps many stay focused on fitness goals, creative writing, professional development, or completing that master bath reno that your wife keeps griping about…Find who that person or group might be, and commit yourself to speaking your intention out loud to them.
“I really want to do X more. Are you/the group interested in helping me figure out how to hold myself accountable?”
I would bet most would jump at the chance, and would probably also request your help in holding them accountable as well.
Make it fun if you’re a competitive person, put the stakes low (Starbucks coffee, ice cream at your favorite place, picking up a lunch tab, watching their kid(s) for an afternoon), but just frustrating enough to know you have to uphold your end of the deal. Log your progress so that you know how many times per day/week/month you’ve engaged in self-care. If you are into statistics, you can figure out what might be getting in the way (crazy schedules on Wednesdays, too many extracurriculars, not scheduling it in your calendar, etc) and find ways to combat the issue.
As parents or household managers, we all need a social group to vent to, hobbies that are ours alone, and appreciation on a pretty regular basis from our partners to keep us going. We also should demonstrate how important self-care is to our partners and children, as too many of them turn to substances later in life to deal with stressful events and trauma. Showing them healthy ways to cope is one way you can teach them how to take care of themselves, and hopefully fend off future mental health issues exacerbated by stress.
I hope you have found these tips to be beneficial! I’ll was thinking of you as I took care of myself with my tribe, and wish you all the best in being the best parent, partner, and worker you can be. Let me know in the comments what you are excited to try, and what you are looking at giving up as part of your self-care plan!