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Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
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February 20, 2024

June 7, 2023

Sharing the Load of Parenting After a Baby Is Born: Challenging Norms and Letting Go of Labor

E:
176
with
Nicole Mowbray
Clinical Psychologist

What You'll Learn

  • The Role of Parental Leave in the Household Labor Division
  • How Shifts in Parenting Contribute to the Load
  • The Importance of Sharing the Load in the Home
  • Why Communication is Vital to Sharing the Load
  • Mental Health and Sharing the Load
  • How to Let Go of Tasks that Don’t Align with Your Values

Sharing the load in the home after a baby is born can be hard. Moms often find themselves falling into a pattern of carrying the bulk of the labor without even realizing it. This can lead to resentment, burnout, or mental health struggles. But there are ways to challenge norms and break out of these patterns. 

Today, I’m joined by one of Momwell’s maternal mental health specialists, Dr. Nicole Mowbray, to discuss how to share the load in the home after a baby is born. 

The Impact of Sharing the Load in My Home

Before I married my husband, I told him that if he wanted a housewife, he’d picked the wrong one. I was career-driven and progressive—and I did not envision a household with traditional gender norms. 

We both believed in equality in the home. Gender norms were not at play—or so we thought. 

In reality, from the moment I became pregnant, the gender norms we’d encountered for our whole lives were present, more strongly than either of us had ever imagined. 

Once our first son was born, those gender norms started subconsciously playing an even stronger role. I found myself taking on all of the night feeds because I was determined to breastfeed. And even though we tried to divide chores fairly, the truth was that I carried the mental load in the home. 

The invisible labor of managing the household fell to me before I even knew what was happening. 

It took a breakdown of postpartum depression after my third son was born (which ended up being a breakthrough) for us to realize what was going on. Once we finally saw the toll that the mental load was taking on me, we were able to consciously combat it. 

Over time, and with many conversations and deliberate planning, we were able to challenge the norms in our minds and in our home. Now, the division of labor looks very different in my home. My husband takes on a great deal of the planning and chores—he even serves as the default parent that the school calls if something goes wrong. 

It wasn’t easy to get here. But it was worth it, for my husband’s empowerment in the home, for my mental health, and for the message we’re sending to my sons. I was so excited to chat with Dr. Nicole about how to break out of gendered roles and share the load in the home. 

The Role of Parental Leave in the Household Labor Division

In many ways, the postpartum period lays the foundation for an unfair division of household labor. Many moms often find themselves taking on labor out of practicality. If they are the ones at home on maternity leave, it can seem logical for them to tackle most of the household load. 

But this pattern becomes hard to break. Moms might assume that if or when they return to work the balance will be restored, or that the load will shift over time as their babies begin to get older. Unfortunately, research shows that this doesn’t happen. Moms are much more likely to report doing more of the household labor, even when they work outside the home or outearn their partners. 

In the United States, moms aren’t guaranteed any paid maternity leave—and in some cases they aren’t even given unpaid leave. Paternity leave is very rarely offered. So moms often end up taking unpaid leave and feeling as if they need to do more household work to make up for the lack of income. 

Dr. Nicole pointed out that moms often enter the postpartum period under the expectation to return to work as quickly as possible—and to tackle the labor without any spousal support at home. 

It can feel like a pressure cooker, forcing moms to adjust to a big transition very quickly. 

It can feel like a pressure cooker, forcing moms to adjust to a big transition very quickly. The odds are in many ways stacked against moms and their mental health. The pressure and expectations often leave moms feeling like they are failing from the very beginning. 

How Shifts in Parenting Contribute to the Load

There is an ongoing expectation that working moms should be able to do it all—that this is what moms have been doing forever. But the truth is that mothering has changed greatly even in just the past few decades. 

The amount of working moms has skyrocketed from past generations. If we think back and wonder how our mothers and grandmothers carried it all, it’s important to remember that many of them didn’t have to. They often didn’t face the pressure of trying to hold a career while also being the primary default parent to their children.

And yet, moms are still carrying the brunt of work within the home. We’ve adopted full-time, demanding work roles, but we haven’t recalibrated household labor. 

Parenting as a concept has changed, putting more pressure on moms whether they choose to work outside the home or not.

Dr. Nicole pointed out that even parenting as a concept has changed, putting more pressure on moms whether they choose to work outside the home or not. Intensive mothering ideology, or the perfect mother myth, leaves us feeling as if we have to constantly do and be more, devoting all of our spare time, energy, and resources to our children. And we’re constantly comparing ourselves to other moms on social media.

This can leave us feeling as if we’re selfish to even take a break or prioritize our own mental health. It’s a recipe for mom burnout. 

The Importance of Sharing the Load in the Home

If we want to recalibrate household labor and work on sharing the load, it’s important to take a look at our beliefs about motherhood. We might feel as if moms are supposed to do it all—but from an evolutionary standpoint, this isn’t the way we’ve always done things. 

Dr. Nicole pointed out that thousands of years ago, the idea of the nuclear family didn’t exist. We parented in villages, with communal meals and support all around. The expectations might have changed, but our capabilities aren’t actually different. We still need that community. 

That’s why finding support and resources is vital. Dr. Nicole urges moms to consider outsourcing labor if it’s feasible—whether that means hiring help or reaching out to our support system. 

It’s a cruel form of punishment to think that we should do this on our own. 

It’s important to break away from the idea that we need to parent in silos alone. It’s a cruel form of punishment to think that we should do this on our own. 

Sometimes we feel as if we don’t have a village or community to turn to. We might be estranged from our families or live far apart. But our village doesn’t have to be made of family—it can also be a chosen community of like-minded moms and friends. 

Dr. Nicole said that we should be able to ask for help without feeling as though we owe something in return—especially during the early stages of motherhood or when we first return to work after leave. 

We should also be able to share the load within our homes if we have a partner—which often requires identifying invisible labor and challenging gender norms

Why Communication is Vital to Sharing the Load

My mom clients often find if difficult to articulate the invisible load to their partners. The tasks they manage are often unseen and undervalued. 

But Dr. Nicole said that communication is key. It is unlikely that one conversation will fix the distribution of labor in the home. But ongoing communication and visibility can move the needle. 

Sharing the load also requires questioning our own beliefs and views about our time. Many moms take on all of the nighttime labor or feel that they need to cook and clean while they protect their partner’s time because they believe they should.

But the truth is that caring for our children is a lot of labor—labor that matters. Whether we work outside of the home, stay at home, or are currently on maternity leave, we’re working. 

Sometimes, the distribution isn’t just about protecting our partner’s time. We might also find ourselves overfunctioning or maternal gatekeeping—taking the labor on because we believe we are the best equipped to do so. 

Dr. Nicole pointed out that sometimes we might not trust our partners to complete tasks the way we would. But this mindset not only keeps us trapped with the load—it also prevents our partners from being empowered in their role. 

Or perhaps we feel like we have no choice—that if we don’t do these things, they simply won’t be done.

It isn’t easy to break away from these beliefs. But it is vital if we want to share the load. Sometimes we have to sit in discomfort or accept that our partner doesn’t do things the exact way we do. Sometimes we have to have tough conversations. But talking together about family values and standards of care can help. 

We deserve to have our time valued, and our partners deserve to take a confident and capable role in the home.

We deserve to have our time valued, and our partners deserve to take a confident and capable role in the home.

Mental Health and Sharing the Load

Part of the process of redistributing the load is sharing it with our partner. But a lot of it involves discussing what labor can be let go of altogether. Sometimes we listen to external pressures and carry labor that we think we need to do—when in reality, we can choose to let it go. 

This is something that I had to push myself to embrace. I desperately wanted to “excel” at motherhood—and I thought that meant doing everything without ever struggling or asking for help. 

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was coping with ADHD. Before I had kids, my executive functioning (ability to focus on, remember, and complete tasks). And yet, when I had kids, I thought I could juggle the executive functioning for the entire family. Instead, it ended up taking a toll on my mental health. 

This is one of the problems with moms being pressured to carry the weight of managing the household—especially for moms who are neurodivergent or struggle with their mental health. When they can’t keep up with the expectations, they believe that they are failing or not cut out for the role—when in reality, the role itself is unreasonable. 

If you find yourself struggling, it’s because it’s hard—not because you’re doing it wrong. 

If you find yourself struggling, it’s because it’s hard—not because you’re doing it wrong. 

How to Let Go of Tasks that Don’t Align with Your Values

When you find yourself drowning in labor, it’s important to uncover your values. The truth is that we don’t have to do it all—but it can be hard to see what we can let go of. 

Defining your personal and family values can help you see what’s most important to you—and start to unpack what doesn’t matter. 

Maybe that’s taking curated family photos, or sending a Christmas card, or having a perfectly kept home, or signing up for multiple activities. 

Some of these things might be important to you and in alignment with your values—and that’s great. But if it feels like you’re doing something because of the “shoulds,” or to keep up with comparisons, and it’s leaving you overwhelmed or depleted, it’s probably worth questioning. 

I have had to reframe so much of what I thought I “should” do, from handling all of the school drop-offs to keeping a spotless home. It isn’t easy to break out of the ideals we’ve been handed—especially when we see other people on social media who appear to be “doing it all.”

It’s important to remember that not only is social media a curated feed that might not reflect reality, but also everybody we see and interact with is operating based on their own values. Understanding that other families have different values and that it’s okay to do things differently has been a large part of my mental health journey as a mom. 

When you know your values and can stand strong in them, you can let go of what doesn’t belong, reducing your invisible load and fulfilling what really matters to you. 

Struggling with the invisible labor in the home? Working with a mom therapist can help you communicate and share the load. Book a FREE 15 minute consult with Dr. Nicole or one of our Momwell therapists today! 

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Tags:

Maternity leave, Dividing labor, Values

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Nicole Mowbray
Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Nicole Mowbray is a licensed clinical psychologist who has been working in the mental health field for the last 10 years. She has extensive experience providing therapy and assessments to adults, children, and families with various challenges and diagnoses.

Dr. Mowbray has two young children and developed a passion for working with families during their pregnancy and postpartum journey after the birth of her first child. After the transition to motherhood, she realized the need for support and resources during this critical time in one’s life. Dr. Mowbray became inspired to further train in Perinatal Mental Health and help families navigate this transition.

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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