Our household balance has gotten out of whack…

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The balance of chores and family responsibilities in our household seems to be getting more and more unbalanced and I’ve been reflecting on how we ended up here.   You see, it certainly wasn’t always the case.

When my husband and I first started dating (a long long time ago), we both still lived at home.   My husband’s mother was an amazing wonderwoman.  I don’t think i ever saw her sitting.  Not only did she work full time, but she put 150% into caring for her house and family.  I remember being in awe of her, but also thinking “I’m never going to be like that” (you know, those kinds of judgements we make, and then realise later in the life, that we have landed exactly where we never thought we would!).

I was, after all, a new age university graduate who thought she was going to conquer the world.   I specifically made a point of saying to my husband (then boyfriend), that I would not be an amazeballs wife like his mother.  That I expected us to share things equally and he totally agreed.   I remember one incident on our first holiday together, when he asked me how to do the laundry.  I was annoyed that he “presumed” I knew how to use the washing machine when he didn’t.  So even though I did actually know how to use it (!),  I pretended not to know and told him to do it.   And when he produced an entire wash load of newly dyed hot pink clothes,  I didn’t rant and rave and call him an idiot…i simply sigh and said “Oh no, how did that happen”…and through his own incredible investigation skills, he suggested perhaps he should not have washed the clothes with his brand new red t-shirt.  Lesson learnt the hard way.

And so, when we moved in together, the chores were split pretty evenly.  There was even a time when he injured himself on the job and had to take 6mths off work.  He became a real househusband, cooking and cleaning while I went to work.

Our first baby came along and I took 6mths off work to care for him.   My husband also took 6 weeks off work because our son started his little life in special care and I needed extra help.  So, together, we figured out how to look after this new little person and manage the house.  When I went back to work full time,  my husband arranged his shifts so he could look after our son one day a week, my parents looked after him another day and thus he only needed to be a childcare three days a week…which was an arrangement we were all comfortable with.  And our household continued to be quite balanced,  each of us of taking on the household chores and parenting in equal parts.

I suppose it was the arrival of baby number 2 when things started to shift.  Our daughters arrival coincided with my husband moving into a new role at his work,  a male dominated alpha environment where long hours, being “on call” and regular trips away were part of the package.   Our daughter was a challenging baby, 3 mths of crying nearly threw us both over the edge.  I couldn’t bare the thought of going back to work after 6mths this time, I was exhausted.  So I used all my long service leave in order to stay off for 9mths.  And then when I returned to work,  this time we agreed it may be better for me to work part time in order to juggle our now bulging priorities.

And so the gradual shift of power began.

In “Overwhelmed” by Bridget Schultz,  she talks about the power of underlying pre-conceptions we all still have about what it means to be the “ideal worker”, the “ideal mother” and “the provider father”.  That despite all our best intentions (like in our case),  the power of these ideals drives our behaviour, often without us even noticing.

Gosh, this is all starting to sound incredibly familiar…and kinda scary.

Somehow, we have come to a place where  I do 90% of the household chores, I am “in charge” of the family and house as well as working four days a week at a demanding corporate job.  Because I work from home, it seems to make sense for me to throw some washing in the machine between meetings, and take the dog for a walk at lunch time.  My husband has to start work early so I do the morning ritual, getting kids ready and to school. Cleaning up the kitchen.  When my husband goes away (which he did for 3mths last year),  I have learnt how to do everything on my own.

My husband is incredibly appreciative and grateful.  He tells me I am amazing and he doesn’t know how I do it all. Which only serves to fuel my fire and pushes me further.  I find myself scurring around the house trying to vaccum and clean before he gets home, because he is always notices and is pleased.   I know he is often stressed (physically and mentally) after work, so I don’t want to throw the kids at him the moment he walks in the door.  So even though I have also been at work all day, I throw myself into cooking the dinner and watching the kids,  whilst he has a bit of chill time to watch the news or catch up on facebook.

I have become what I always said I wouldn’t.  I have unconsciously been being driven by the need to demonstrate that I can be both the ideal mother and the ideal worker.

At one point I remember my husband suggesting maybe he should consider going part time.  I didn’t give his suggestion any thought before shooting it down (I love having that one day per week where I can really pretend to be the ideal mother, walk the kids to school and bake cookies…he couldn’t take that from me).  I know he wants to spend more time with our kids.  He tried to coach the football team last year but the drag of the “provider father” and “ideal worker” on his conscious, keeps him committed to work whenever they need him.  I’m immensely proud of the work he does and I’m always encouraging him…even when it may be to detriment of our family.

Now…don’t get me wrong in all of this.  We are both incredibly grateful for everything we have.  We have discussions about our future goals and where we are heading. We both love our jobs and we love our children.  But I’ve suddenly realised that I am responsible for taking on more than I should have and now I’m finding it hard to give it back.

And as I sit here and contemplate how I got here…I realise that is exactly the point.  I don’t know because it was never intentional.  Back in the “good old days”, I knew what I wanted and I was pretty clear about it.  So it was far easier for us to work with that.  But since then, I haven’t re-established what exactly my goal is, I haven’t asked for what I want (quite frankly because I haven’t stopped to think about it).  And when we don’t stop and think,  act with intention, those slippery old traditional models start to mould their way back into our lives.

So just like I have with my work, and with other areas of my life.  It’s time for paper and a pen (Ooo…an opportunity for list writing…woohoo)… what does my “ideal” household look like, how does it feel.  And when I have my husband stuck in the car on our next trip (I love driving holidays because we always have the best conversations when we are trapped together for hours),  I can ask what his ideal household looks like too.  And together, we can set some strategies to get us there.

Let’s start with unpacking the dishwasher shall we?

claire2

Are you really busy?

This morning I was running around like a headless chook (as usual),  I’ve managed to do my exercise (tick),  get the lunches ready (tick), tidy the house (tick) dropped the kids on the school walking bus (tick) and now I’m at work and my mind is buzzing.  I have about 20 screens open on my computer (literally), although I have two screens so surely that’s not too bad?  I have every social platform open, plus a few other websites and my personal email.  Then my work email, plus my work messaging system.  Powerpoint, Word and Excel are all open with a least one file on each (Excel has two), and the media player is on because i started to watch a video then got distracted.

There’s pinging and popping coming from several devices and my to do list is buried under a pile of…who knows what…

Phew…I’m exhausted just writing about it.

Suddenly I’m hearing little whisperings in my head….I think it’s Emma.  Yep,  its Emma.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a seminar at work, led by Emma Grey from WorkLifeBliss on the 7 types of busy.   I loved it.  OK, so first confession is that I was already a fan of Emma’s,  I’ve been following her blog for a long time now and completed her 15min Challenge program.  So I was super excited when I had the opportunity to attend this session through my work.

Whilst there is so many things in today’s hyperdriven culture that we can’t control,  there are also a lot of things that we can…and sometimes we dig our own holes (well…she didn’t exactly say that but that’s totally what I do…I’m a great digger).

Anyway, since that call, “Emma” has been showing up quite a lot in my conscious, reminding me of some of the tips and tricks I should perhaps be following.   Like every “good conscious” does,  she’s sitting on my shoulder reminding me about the importance of being focused,  and not multi-tasking so much…because frankly, pretty much NO ONE is a good multi-tasker.

I remember a friend talking about going for a job interview as a Air Traffic Controller once.   And part of the preliminary testing was giving the candidates four different exams,  then each time the buzzer went, they had to change exams,  PLUS,  there were also some verbal questions which were randomly thrown over the loud speaker.  It is designed to test how well your brain can effectively multi-task, picking up exactly where you left off from an exam 10min earlier.   Needless to say, they failed that test, and I think most of us would.

Right now, Emma is telling me to shut down some of the apps on my computer.  To find that to-do list and change it to a “could do” list…and find those big hitter items which I really actually need to get done…So… now I’ve set myself a timer. 30min on the first task before I moved onto the next one.   Tick.   Next.   Oh my goodness,  i suddenly feel so much better.  All the overwhelm I had been feeling earlier has started dropping away.  I feel like I am back in the drivers seat and in control (and we all know how much I love control).

So, thank you mini Emma, for turning up again and getting me back on track with your little tips and tricks.  Of course, Evil Claire on my other shoulder (who shalt not be named) is now weeping because we haven’t checked facebook in over an hour…she’s not happy…but we’ll talk about her another day….

claire2