There’s been a lengthy cartoon floating around the internets of late (read it here), and, briefly summarized, it talks about how women carry the mental burden of most tasks around the home and how terrible this is and how men do nothing and they’re worthless sloths who contribute to the family no more than an additional child. The mental load is a terrible thing to bear and it is women alone who must carry it!!!
First, I would venture to say that men have their own mental load. You’re generally not going to see me out mowing the lawn, changing the oil, talking to mechanics, monitoring our investments, etc. Not that women can’t do these things (because, #empowered, obviously), but because gender roles typically dictate that men do them. I’m sure there are plenty of women who take care of those tasks in their homes, but I’m speaking in generalities here. When we started our life together, my husband naturally took on these roles the same way I naturally took on mine.
Not to mention that, at least my case, my husband has a whole other world of his own mental load at work. He has projects to complete, bosses to impress, and customers to keep happy. All this, coupled with the pressure of financially providing for his family single-handedly, is no small thing.
So that’s his mental load, and he carries it all by himself.
Second, I’ll go out on a limb and say that women being the possessors of the mental load at home means that we have POWER. As women, like it or not, we are the heart of the home. This is true whether we stay at home, work full-time or any combination of the two. But this means that we get the great privilege of setting the tone for how our families function. Everyone in our homes subconsciously looks to us to know how to conduct themselves. If we don’t expect a certain level of participation from everyone in our home, they aren’t going to magically do it on their own. If our homes are in constant chaos, we have the power to change that by training our children and communicating our needs with our partners.
For example, I can set a timer for five minutes and my two year old knows she has to clean up her toys until she hears the beep. She also clears her place after meals and puts her coat and shoes away when we come inside. By teaching her these basic things now, I won’t have the mental load of nagging her to do it when she’s older.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed with too many tasks, taking care of it is as simple as saying to my husband, “Hey can you be in charge of this from now on?” and now it’s part of his mental load. Ever since we had our second child, my husband has taken on both doing the dishes AND putting our older daughter to bed each night. He understood that those things were more than what I could reasonably handle on my own with a new baby, and now he does them, always, without being asked.
But guess what? It doesn’t work the other way around! He can’t really say, “um, Honey I’m gonna need you to take care of all those leaves out back.” He just can’t. Because I have the power as the heart of the home. I have the power to decide what my family’s priorities will be and then go about making them a reality.
I really do call a lot of the shots around our house. By this, I don’t mean that my husband has no say, or that I don’t respect him. We make decisions together, but he typically defers to whatever my wishes are about certain issues. This is mostly true because I’m the one that spends the most time implementing whatever parenting strategies upon which we agree to put into practice. Our kids don’t watch TV because I feel strongly they should be allowed to play and develop their imaginations. We cloth diaper because I want to help save money as the stay at home parent, and because I want our home to be a little more eco-friendly. I am primarily the one who chooses what to teach our daughters about life and what ideas and values to instill in them as they grow into to functioning members of society.
This is not insignificant. The hand that rocks the cradle truly does rule the world, people. The family is the foundation of society, and mothers are the glue that holds that foundation together.
There is unique value in being a wife and a mother. To say that a man should be able to do anything a woman can do reduces our value as women. What’s the point of womanhood if we can be totally replaced by men? God made men and women separately because, as women, we bring something unique to the work that needs to be done in the home.
This work is not of any less value or somehow secondary to any other work. Quite the opposite, in fact. Here is a quote from the great C.S. Lewis from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III:
“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely, in reality, the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr Johnson said, ‘To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour’.^107 (1st to be happy, to prepare for being happy in our own real Home here-after: 2nd, in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist.” (p. 580)
Truth bomb! The work of the homemaker is the most important of all work, and it’s a tragedy that our culture fails to recognize that fact. So we need to stop acting like the load that we bear is nothing but a drudgery, and instead embrace the gift that we’ve been given as matriarchs of our homes. I understand that it’s not always fun or easy, and often even feels unfair. But while it may not be all roses and butterflies, we have a unique power to shape our homes and families into something truly beautiful.
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