Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
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Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE

February 20, 2024

November 22, 2023

Erica’s Husband Reflects on Sharing the Invisible Load

E:
200
with
Frenel Djossa
Erica’s Husband & Co-Founder of Momwell

What You'll Learn

  • What It’s Like to Be Married to a Maternal Mental Health Therapist
  • The Importance of Seeing Invisible Labor
  • How We’ve Managed to Share Labor in the Home
  • How to Consider Strengths, Weaknesses, and Priorities
  • Separating Your Partner from the Problem
  • Our Biggest Takeaways We Want You to Know

Ever since I started the podcast, I’ve gotten many questions about the family dynamic within my home. 

We have a very non-traditional division of labor. My husband, and co-founder of Momwell, Frenel Djossa, has taken on a lot of the labor that often defaults to moms—things like grocery shopping, planning dinners, scheduling doctor’s appointments, and being the primary point of contact from school. 

Listeners are often fascinated to hear how we got here. Many moms want to make changes like this in the home—they are exhausted from carrying the invisible load and being the default parent and they want to divide the labor in a different way. 

We didn’t get here overnight. It took a lot of communication, respect for each other, and willingness to listen and problem-solve. 

Today, I am so excited to welcome Frenel back to the show. On the 100th episode, he joined me to talk about my diagnosis of postpartum depression and how we navigated that together. Now to celebrate 200 episodes of The Momwell Podcast, he’s back to share his insights into the division of labor in the home and how we’ve tackled these issues as a team. 

What It’s Like to Be Married to a Maternal Mental Health Therapist

One of the most common questions my listeners ask about Frenel is what his perspective is like on being married to a therapist. Frenel said that the stereotype might be that the therapist partner is always analyzing everything—but he doesn’t feel that is the case in our relationship. 

He said that to him, there are no downsides to being married to a therapist—but there are plenty of upsides. He values the background and knowledge that I have, both in how we approach our relationship and how we work together to raise the children. 

Frenel said that just like he would go to a mechanic if there was something wrong with the car, he likes that he can come to me for knowledge about child development, discipline styles, and other big areas that could impact our children. 

At the same time, he is aware that it could feel like I am the one carrying all the maternal knowledge—and he doesn’t want to lean so heavily on my background that I don’t feel like he’s pulling his weight. 

This did make me wonder what the dynamic might be like if I weren’t a therapist, or even if he was one. Would I still be the one to carry that knowledge, as so many moms are? Would I be defaulted into that role? 

Frenel doesn’t think so. He likes to believe that my professional experience is what he leans on—not the gender norm of mom being the keeper of knowledge. He imagines that if it weren’t for my therapist background, we would approach the knowledge piece like we do everything else—coming together, deciding what needs to be researched and dividing the task, and making a decision as a team. 

It was interesting to hear his perspective on this. Many moms often become the “experts” in the home—the ones who are doing it all, handling the research, reading the parenting books, etc. But this can keep them defaulted into the mental labor. This dynamic often leads to maternal gatekeeping as well—where mom feels as if she can’t share labor because she’s the one who knows everything. 

I don’t think that’s the dynamic that Frenel and I have. Since we have this added layer of the therapist background, it is hard to share the knowledge. But where I might bring in the understanding of child development and how to support our children at each stage, he carries a lot of the knowledge in other areas—like medical or school-related knowledge. 

We often come together and discuss what’s going on within the family, both of us bringing in our knowledge and sharing together. 

The Importance of Seeing Invisible Labor

Many of my listeners want to know how we managed to challenge the default caregiver role. It’s something that often falls to moms without us even realizing it—and breaking away from the pattern takes work. 

Breaking away from the default parenting pattern takes work. 

Frenel and I had always split labor fairly evenly before having kids, rotating cooking and meal prep, cleaning together on the weekends, and alternating tasks fairly easily. But something strange happened when we had kids. 

All of the messages I had taken in about what it meant to be a good mom, messages I didn’t even realize I was carrying so deeply, seemed to surface. I thought that I needed to be the one to soothe and care for the children. And even when we tried to split labor, I was still the one taking on the bulk of everything. 

I handled night feedings because I was adamant about breastfeeding (something I wish now that I had been more flexible on). I swooped in when I really didn’t need to. And I tried to be this “perfect mom” that could just carried it all with ease. Meanwhile, Frenel was working downtown with a long commute, away from home for so many hours that he really didn’t see what I was carrying while he was gone. 

I have no doubt that those messages and tendencies and belief in perfection were major contributing factors to postpartum depression. But even if I hadn’t developed PPD, the weight of the invisible load would still have been there. 

In my third maternity leave, we finally understood the hidden mental load and the role it was playing. We had divided out the labor of laundry in a way that seemed fair—Frenel washed and dried the clothes and I folded and put them away. 

But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, and the laundry pile grew unmanageable. It wasn’t even until Frenel started offering to do my part that I questioned why I was having so much trouble with it. That’s when I realized that the real labor was the mental work—changing out clothes for the seasons, reorganizing dressers, shopping for and buying new clothes. 

That sparked many, many conversations in our home about the invisible load and set us down a path of redistributing labor. 

How We’ve Managed to Share Labor in the Home

Of course, Frenel hadn’t seen the invisible labor I was carrying—I hadn’t even seen it, for years. But once we were both aware, we approached the division of labor completely differently. 

It wasn’t just about physical tasks—it was about all the mental work connected to them. We were able to start divvying out tasks as a whole—if one of us was in charge of a task, they were in charge of the entire task from start to finish. Sometimes, we had to get creative in how we shared the labor. 

Frenel pointed out that frequently checking in and re-shifting what wasn’t working helped us on our path to sharing the load, like a constant reshuffling of cards. 

Frequently checking in and re-shifting what wasn’t working helped us on our path to sharing the load.

We’re still doing this to this day. What worked once might not work forever, especially as seasons of development and life change. Now that our boys are older, we might have less milestone-centered concerns. But they’ve been replaced with hockey practices and buying all the gear and shuffling schedules. 

It’s not about a one-time chore chart—it’s about ongoing communication and adaptation. There have been seasons of life where each of us carried more—and it’s rarely, if ever been 50/50. It’s an ongoing re-evaluation of labor and roles. But the awareness, the communication, and the checking in on each other and what we each need have helped us along the entire way. 

How to Consider Strengths, Weaknesses, and Priorities

Part of our ongoing communication and re-evaluation has involved us thinking about each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. This became especially important when I was diagnosed with ADHD. 

Frenel has had to understand that my brain works differently. There are some tasks that are a bigger challenge for me than him—like remembering to refill items in the house or tuning into fine details. He has been more than willing to allow those tasks to fall to him (partially because he also cares more about fine details, like how meticulously the dishwasher is loaded). 

Likewise, my background as a therapist has given me an understanding of child development that makes it easier for me to be the go-to de-escalator of tantrums when we’re both present. That’s a role that I am happy to take on, and that my skillset lends itself to. 

When dividing up tasks to take ownership of, taking these things into account is helpful. However, it’s also important to remember that many strengths and priorities are socialized. 

It’s important to remember that many strengths and priorities are socialized.

For example, if young girls are expected to do more chores or are leaned on as “helpers” in the home, of course they are going to be “better” at multitasking or managing household chores by adulthood. They’ve built those skills over decades. But that doesn’t mean that everything should fall to them. Their partners are capable of building those same skills—they just have to practice them. 

The same is true of priorities. Moms are often the ones receiving judgment for the state of the home because of gender norms and social expectations. It isn’t always fair to say, “you need to own that task because you care about it more.” 

Instead, these conversations need to be nuanced, taking into account socialization and thinking about where our preferences or strengths are coming from. 

Separating Your Partner from the Problem

As Frenel and I talked, I started reflecting more on what the real key has been for us to navigate this transition to sharing the labor the way we do. I believe that the real secret to how we’ve managed it—and the place where I feel like so many couples get stuck—is being able to clearly define our problems. 

We don’t look at each other as the problem—we view each issue that arises as something to tackle together as a team. 

We don’t look at each other as the problem—we view everything as something to tackle together. 

When Frenel noticed that I was struggling to put the laundry away, he didn’t come to me demanding to know why the clothes were piling up or blaming me for not pulling my weight. He understood that this was a problem that needed an answer, and he even offered to take that role on himself. 

And when I understood the invisible labor that was in place, I didn’t blame him for not doing more around the house. I communicated the mental labor to him and together we figured out how to share the tasks. 

I hear from moms all the time who feel unseen, unappreciated, and undervalued. But when they try to bring up the distribution of labor with their partners, they are often shut down. It feels like a rejection. 

The truth is that many of us weren’t given a good roadmap for how to communicate, how to work together with our partners, and how to bring up problems in a healthy, productive way. We often fall into patterns of blame and criticism without realizing it. But the way we approach problems matters. It creates a pathway to working together and an ability to remember that we are on the same team. 

If you are feeling frustrated because it seems like your partner is unwilling to hear you or work with you, I also want you to understand that these aren’t innate personality traits that your partner is missing. They’re skills developed over time—you and your partner can both learn how to communicate productively and work together. (You just might need some help along the way!)

Our Biggest Takeaways We Want You to Know

Challenging gender norms isn’t always easy. We’re often carrying out patterns that were laid down in our families generations before we were born and messages that have been given to us since birth. And our partners are also carrying patterns, messages, and norms.

If I could give one takeaway from our conversation and our path toward sharing the labor, it would be to separate your partner from the problem. The problem might be the division of labor. The problem might be gender norms. The problem might be that you are collectively taking on too much as a family and need to choose some things to let go of. But the problem is not your partner. 

The sooner we can take that to heart, the easier it becomes to have the conversations we need to have, dive into our beliefs, and understand why the labor is defaulting the way it is. 

Frenel said that his big takeaway is that communication is everything. You and your partner are in this together and it’s the two of you against a situation. He pointed out that with solid communication, teams win championships, even overcoming better teams on paper. 

If you and your partner can keep the lines of communication open and remember the teamwork foundation you started with, you can find a way forward together, even when faced with challenges. 

Struggling to communicate productively with your partner? Our mom therapists can help! Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult today! 

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Tags:

Mental labor, ADHD, Gender norms

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Frenel Djossa
Erica’s Husband & Co-Founder of Momwell
Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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