I was talking last week with one of the owners of Lemon Tree Playgroup (if you’re in DC, check out this wonderful family resource!) about the struggles new working mamas face when they return to work after maternity leave. Specifically, she wanted to know: (1) if the Mindful Return program covered how to divide household labor; and (2) if I could help new working moms map out the division of labor during that daily crazy period from 5-8pm.
Short answers: (1) Yes and no. And (2) No and yes. Ha. (Leave it to a lawyer…)
So yes, in the Mindful Return program, we talk about growing our teams both at work and at home, and we share delegation strategies. But no, we don’t recommend any best practices for who takes over what chores. And no, I probably couldn’t devise a chart for a new mom and her partner to follow, to survive the 5-8pm witching hour. But yes, I teach skills that can help the couple through the conversation of how to divvy up responsibilities during that time.
What’s my point?
Confusing lawyer responses aside, my point is this: Who does what around the house is fact specific. Complicated. And worthy of conversations. Many of them.
What I’m here to convince you of today is that the allocation of physical tasks and the mental load of worrying about those tasks is a topic you can’t simply settle once and for all through one conversation. It’s something that periodically needs to be renegotiated.
The classic example is the need to reallocate duties when mom goes back to work after maternity leave. Often, a new mother will head back to work and simply resume all of the household chores she was doing while she was on maternity leave. Without conversations and a good action plan, this is a recipe for disaster.
Yes, new mom and new dad alike are probably beyond exhausted at this point in life. Sitting down to have this conversation may feel like an added chore. But it’s one that’s so necessary both to the smooth functioning of the household and to a new working mama’s sanity.
I can’t have that conversation for you, obviously. I can, however, give you a proven, effective script for having the conversation. Check out my New Parents’ Script for Tough Conversations: 4 S’s to Remember.
I also love the exercise Tiffany Dufu suggests in her wonderful book, Drop the Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less. She and her husband sat with an Excel file and listed out absolutely every task they both undertook. They surprised one another with things they had no idea the other was doing. Then, they discussed what changes to make. What impressed me most was the number of family and household responsibilities her husband was able to take (and maintain) responsibility for, even while he was living overseas for several months for work.
Divide the Household Labor Pie More Than Two Ways
There is, of course, the outsourcing a couple can do to remove things entirely from their household responsibility plates. (Check out What Can a Working Mama Outsource? for some ideas and inspiration.)
I’d also suggest that as your children grow, more and more slices of the household labor pie can be reallocated to our children.
Have you ever had that moment when you look at your child doing something you previously didn’t realize she was capable of doing? And then you wonder to yourself, “how long has she been able to do that?”
A while back I “caught” my son scrubbing his own hair in the bathtub. And I quickly realized the only (though valid) reason that remained for me to wash his hair was an act of motherly love involving a head massage. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it himself.
My blog post last week was about our family clean-up dance party, which engages the whole family in weekly clean-up efforts and takes part of the responsibility for cleaning up off my shoulders. Even a simple task like teaching your little ones to put their own dishes in the sink after a meal, or to remove their lunch boxes from their backpacks at the end of the day, can remove a step from your own to-do list.
Those little steps add up, mama, and these life skills we’re teaching are children are important.
Is it time to reallocate certain duties in your own household? Please share your labor-divvying strategies below in comments!
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.