Monday, October 9, 2017

Opinion: Emotional Labor

A still from one of my all-time favorite shows: Bewitched. Image via.
Today's post started as a quick little blurb on a weekly 'Lately' post, but then as I was writing, I couldn't stop and decided I needed to make this into a full post. But first, you're going to need to read this article from Bazaar before you go any further or else none of this is going to make any sense.

Let me set the scene for you: Callie (my younger sister, for those of you that are new here) and I were about middle school/high school age and my parents would entertain a lot. My mom has this phrase 'company clean' that she uses when she would instruct us that we needed to clean our bathroom and make it 'company clean'.

Callie and I would band together and get so annoyed with Mom because she would nag us incessantly... or so we thought.  My sister and I always laugh hysterically at this YouTube parody... because when Mom wants something company clean, we better listen. But now, looking back at it, I totally get where she was coming from.... sorry, Mom. She wasn't nagging, but she was right. Things needed to be clean and put together before the company came over. Why should we have had to been nagged?!

I've honestly never thought about this in depth too much until now, but I definitely think it becomes more prevalent when you either a) have a roommate/live with your boyfriend/husband/etc. or if you are dating someone for a while and spend a lot of time with them. My friends and I are always jokingly saying 'I don't know how ___ would function without me.' And while in part, it's a joke, I think the Bazaar article talks a lot about those 'jokes' that women sometimes make. Which is something I never really could define or put my finger on until I read this article.

The article mainly focuses on a husband/wife relationships, but I think it can apply to a plethora of other relationships as well, which is why I wanted to illustrate the story between my mom/me/Callie.

I'd love for your guys to read it and share your thoughts with me in the comments. I'm sharing my thoughts and opinions and that doesn't mean they are right or wrong... so please don't eat me alive in the comments! This is meant to be more of a discussion post where we all share our opinions in a nice and polite way and learn from what others think. I really love when I get comments from you guys and things become more conversational between you and I but also you and other commenters, too!

It's increasingly hard to have a conversation on blog posts, I know. It's so much easier on social media such as Instagram, etc. but I consider my blog my #1 platform of choice and I'd love to start getting to 'chat' with you guys more and more with posts. Like when you all shared your Paris handbag tips- I LOVED that. All of your opinions and suggestions were beyond helpful and also, I think it's a great resource for others who might need similar advice.

Just in case you didn't know, you don't need an account or to sign up or anything to comment, I have it set up so you can use your name, use your account or be completely anonymous. So, this is me inviting you to leave a comment. I feel like that is kind of old school to ask, but I loved back in the day around 2009/2010 where comments happened often and I was better able to get to know my readers and have more of a conversation with them. I love knowing whether you guys like the post or if you would like to see a certain topic discussed, or if you have any tips to share, etc.

Now back to the article after my super long tangent... Personally, I think I'm progressive in a lot of ways, but I'm also a bit traditional when it comes to relationships. I actually enjoy some of the traditional gender roles like keeping a calendar, scheduling events, researching services/products/ finding the best price, making reservations, grocery shopping, etc. I truly look forward to and enjoy cleaning. I think part of it is that I'm so organized and clean that I'm always cleaning, always making sure everything is well-stocked, and my calendar is always perfectly on schedule/updated.

I'm very type A so I think I tend to place importance on cleanliness and order more so than someone who isn't... so I also think that while it could be a gender thing, I also think it's a personality thing, too. I think those situations talked about in the article could have also easily been similar to two roommates living together. If their personalities are just different, like if one is just more relaxed/chill than the other, I think the emotional labor would fall on the more Type A person...so what I'm saying is that I can see how gender roes play a part, for sure, but I also think personality plays a part, too.

Another thing I think plays a major part? Children. I don't have much input to say about that as I have zero experience in that department, but it was interesting in the article that she pointed out that her children are watching the emotional labor happening and learning from it.

Such a good article, though, and really good food for thought. As soon as I read it I sent it to a bunch of my girlfriends and so many responded that they were going to send it to their significant others!

18 comments:

Sharon G said...

I think emotional labor takes on a whole other meaning when you are a mom with kids, a husband and a full time job.
Yes, I like party planning, holiday planning etc but when I have to do that on top of all the grocery shopping,meal preparing, clothes buying , doctor , dentist appointment etc the list goes on and on and work a full time demanding job, it gets overwhelming. I hate to say it but not sure that this can remotely be compared to many other relationships. I have to think, prepare, pan for 4 people all the time and it is wearing me down

Christine said...

The Hapaar's article really resonated for me. For instance, just last night, my husband took off his socks by the bed. He started going to sleep and I came and scooped up his socks and threw them in the hamper. His reaction? "I would have done that." It was right out of the article!!!!

Anonymous said...

I would say that my husband and I balance everything well, but I saw a friend on Facebook post this article and then sent it to my husband. I think if you recognize emotional labor and have open conversations about it, that can be a good start to understanding where each of you stand.

Anonymous said...

When we unpack from a trip, my boyfriend takes DAYS to unpack his suitcase. It drives me nuts and I end up tripping over it. This could not have summed up my feelings more. Sending the article to him now!

Anonymous said...

I teared up when I read this article the other day because I feel it so hard. Living with a man has been a major adjustment, especially after growing up with 2 sisters. He helps out a TON and I am so grateful for him, but there are definitely times when I understand this feeling all too well. I get anxious and snippy when things are messy and out of order in the house, and I have always wondered why he just doesn't feel the same sense of ownership in keeping the house looking nice and tidy. We both have stressful jobs and I think both of us devote a fair amount of "emotional labor" to our week even when not on the job, so I tried to explain that it is difficult managing that on top of managing the logistics of the household. I'm not sure he's bought into the idea yet but I think identifying the source of the frustration is helpful.

Kelly said...

I found the article fascinating!! Drew (my husband) and I seem to have a nontraditional setup... there are certainly things I take on emotionally, but he takes on WAY more than usual too. He won't ever put away the laundry I fold, but he researches the vast majority of things we use/employ and takes over the brunt of cooking/grocery shopping/meal planning/cleaning/organizing. (ON TOP of working full time.) I own and operate two businesses from home but my primary focus (and strength) is parenting our infant and toddler-age children. It really is a delicate balance. A lot of times I feel imbalanced because I'm not taking on the entire load of emotional labor (and I feel guilty about it!), and he's the primary breadwinner. But I'm also anxious and stressed and overloaded by all the pressures on me, even with him taking on certain things himself. Does anyone ever win this game? Maybe it's just that we're still in survival mode right now (our youngest is 8 months, we're in the middle of a potential work transition for Drew, and I'm in the peak of wedding season). There's bound to be a balance somewhere awaiting us! Or acceptance that it is okay how we've got things laid out.

Gabriela said...

I agree with what Sharon said above. I too am very type A, and prior to getting married loved to clean, party plan, grocery shop, etc. The difference was that as a single person, those things were my prerogative- there was no pressure from outside sources to do it, and if I put something off for a few days, I was the only one who suffered. Marriage turns many of those "Type A" hobbies into an obligation. Taking care of a marriage, a house, a full-time job and all the minutae of daily life for not just yourself but other people is exhausting. I don't have kids yet, but I can only imagine how exponentially that obligation increases when you do have them. While I think some of the frustrations expressed in the article can be applied to other relationships, marriage is the only one in which two people are expected to be a true, equal partnership- and therein lies why it's so much more frustrating when your husband needs to be micromanaged than when your children do.

That said, I've seen a ton of commentary on this article floating around the internet, and I think it's awesome that it's starting a conversation about emotional labor. One thing I would caution to my single friends is to have these kinds of conversations BEFORE you get married, because no matter how feminist you are as a couple, it's very easy to fall into traditional gender roles. I love my husband and we have a wonderful marriage, but now that the expectation is set that I will do the majority of this "emotional labor", it's very hard to make him understand my side of the arrangement. And furthermore, it is something I worry about with my future children- I don't want my daughters to be pigeonholed into the same roles I've accepted if it's not what they want for themselves, but as the article points out, it's very much a learned behavior from your own parents!

Anonymous said...

I used to make fun of my mom for getting so worked up in the days before a family vacation when we were children. Everyone else in the family would be looking forward to the trip and she would be a stressed out mess with her temper on a hair-trigger. It took me years to understand why.

My dad would plan the trips (which were always to national parks out west) but he wouldn't really share the relevant details with her unless she managed to ask all of the right questions. So she had to do a lot of digging to understand what kinds of weather we were in for (a wide variety, usually!), what kind of activities we'd be doing (hiking! rafting! horseback riding!), how much time we'd be in the car and need entertaining (so many hours!), and how often we would be changing hotels (usually every night!). Then, she had to spend a couple days making sure my sister and I had all the right clothes, shoes, toiletries, medicines, stuff to entertain us on the plane/in the car. She had to do the same for herself. Then it fell to her to arrange pet care, get someone to pick up the mail and newspaper and water the plants, make sure bills were paid if they were due while we were gone, etc.

Dad just threw his clothes in his suitcase and jauntily walked out to load the car while Mom frantically went over and over her to-do list, certain she had forgotten some essential item. No freaking wonder she was no fun on trips, and no freaking wonder she does exactly zero of the planning/emotional labor for them now that we're grown. None of those times she traveled with her kids was ever a "vacation" for her.

Anonymous said...

I have been hearing a lot about emotional labor lately and had read the article you posted, but what I really like is that you expanded the scope of the conversation to include other relationships it applies to besides just marriage! Great post.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say thank you for posting such an interesting topic, and presenting it in such a thoughtful way! Like you said this reminds me so much of the good old days of blogs- when it was about thinking and chatting with your “girlfriends” online, not just rstyle.

Have to say that i agree, but before seeing the article and thinking more about it, I didn’t see the problem with this imbalance! I am going to forward to my husband just so that he can appreciate a little bit more all the “behind the scenes” things that, tbh I don’t even realize I’m doing! He is wonderful and really does his part in so many ways (that I don’t help with, like finances!), but it’s always good to be appreciated (that’s how I feel at least).

Love seeing inside that wonderful brain of yours!!

Anna Lall said...

I completely agree with Sharon. There are so many more tasks that occur with the addition of children who are completely dependent upon you, yet there are no additional hours in the day. Imagine walking in the door at the end of your workday, preparing a meal with kids at your feet, in your arms, shoving papers in your face, it's.... a lot. This is daily life... not just planning a party or one time trip, there is so much that goes into household management. I'm incredibly grateful for Amazon Prime or Instacart, but those services are costly, and do not take the place of the little people who need lots of hands on attention, face time, care and love.

Ahly said...

This so true with me and my roommate. She always has her boyfriend over, using our dishes, cooking, etc. On the weekends, I always feel this burden that I need to sweep, mop, dust, wipe down the counter tops, because she never does those chores. She will go out of town and just leave things in the communal areas. It's easier emotionally for me to just do these chores every week rather than confronting her and make her feel like I'm attacking her. She will say how she feels as if she is always cleaning, yet that only applies to her personal space, not the communal areas. I think I am definitely more type A than she is, but I think everyone can appreciate a clean communal area in their apartments.

Anna Grace said...

I totally agree with Gabrielle's comment that no matter how feminist or progressive your spouse is, it can be easy to revert to traditional gender roles. It seems that this form of sexism is still deeply ingrained in our society that woman are still considered "better" or "more natural" at doing certain tasks, when in reality anyone can do those tasks, like planning appointments, making reservations, cooking, cleaning, etc, it's just that it usually ends up falling on the female to be expected to do those tasks, and not on the males, even though they are equally capable. We see it become embedded in our lives by watching our grandmothers and mothers do those tasks while men specifically don't do them, and it's never questioned as to why the men don't share in the same chores as an equal member of the household.

I'm not married yet, but my S/O and I have already talked about both of us want to continue in our career full-time, but still work to keep the work shared- paying bills, planning dinner, making appts, sending holiday cards, raising children- even if it means we need to to take a step back in our careers throughout in order to be able to both balance career and family life.

I highly also recommend reading Anne Marie-Slaughter's book "Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family" about how there is still more to do make a two-working parent household work smoothly and equitably!

betsybreck said...

This was really an interesting article for me to read because it brought up a lot of things all at once that resonated with me.

First thing I thought of while reading was that I was taught that cleaning was just another thing that had to be done on the farm and so I honestly don't take all that much pride in a clean home, even though it is clean and tidy. To this end, I am teaching my two kids (son and daughter) hire a cleaning person but ALWAYS do your own gardening!

Second thing I thought of was that book 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. After taking the quiz, my husband learned that he feels loved by Acts of Service (i think this is what it's called). This means that he LOVES when I DO things for him. I know that if I really want to fill up his bucket, all I have to do is re-organize the closet or mop the kitchen and he feels LOVED. So, naturally, he tells me all the things he did around the house thinking I will feel LOVED too...except it's not my Love Language;-) I honestly don't care if he cleaned the garage or washed the cars, or vacuumed the loving room. I know it will get done eventually. But he tells me because he forgets my Love language sometimes (we are getting old!). Honest truth I would rather take a trip to Lowes or just run errands hanging out in the car with him, just us two and no kiddos!

Last, the balance between stay-at-home Mom/part-time Career Woman is almost impossible to achieve. I've been trying for 13 years!

Molly said...

Thank you so much for sharing this article! It perfectly articulated what I've been feeling for years. My husband and I have been together for 10 years and so much of the emotional labor of our relationship falls to me. (And I've never known what to call it until now!) He is a strong feminist; we don't always fall into traditional gender roles in our relationship and he always helps with things whenever I ask, it can be frustrating to me to always have to ask. It's always been difficult for me to articulate this feeling without sounding whiney or ungrateful, so I appreciate having this article to refer to. Thanks for sharing!

evelynne said...

This is such a fascinating concept! I am blessed to be married to a man who understands the value of emotional labor and who takes the initiative on those tasks (I don't have to delegate) but I do run into this with other people in my life. And I'm sure I've been guilty of not seeing the emotional labor tasks, myself! As another poster said, I really like how you consider other relationships, such as roommates, rather than making it strictly a male-female issue.

My best friend and I discovered this concept via the giant Metafilter thread about it, which goes into a lot of discussion and detail and examples. So much to think about and try to be aware of and apply in real life! You can read the unedited thread here:

http://www.metafilter.com/151267/Wheres-My-Cut-On-Unpaid-Emotional-Labor

Or someone has edited it and compiled it into a PDF:

https://www.themarysue.com/emotional-labor-pdf/

Sarah Clegg said...

I would not really consider myself a feminist, but I don't believe I'm sexist, either. I was raised in the South and my husband and I are probably (definitely) more traditional than a lot of people.

I really agree with Betsy. For us, almost all of the household tasks and emotional labor falls to me, but it is something that I do as an act of love for my husband. I would be doing these tasks anyway for myself, and I do feel that it is my duty to take care of them for my husband, too. (If I didn't, his poor mother would still be doing them all.) However, I don't necessarily believe that every couple has the same dynamic. It's what works for us. My husband's work is very demanding and stressful, and he helps me out as he can. My work is also stressful and demanding, but not as much as his. And, I truly enjoy taking care of our home and family, and to me those tasks are just as important as my career. I do it to show him love, and I know that he appreciates it.

To me, it doesn't make sense for a husband and wife to be responsible for the same tasks. My husband and I are a team, and we each have different roles. Sure, sometimes I help him with his stuff and he helps me with mine, but still I have my responsibilities and he has his. I don't think I would want him doing all of the meal planning, decorating, scheduling, etc. To be honest, I am much better at those tasks, and I would rather do them myself.

Sure, there are sometimes when I wish he would not leave his shoes in the middle of the floor, but I do my best to just let it go. It's really not that big of a deal. I will either leave the shoes in the floor, move them, or ask him to move them. And if he moves them when I ask him, I try to tell him thank you. Yes, sometimes I think "why do you need me to thank you every single time?!" but honestly, it's not that hard to say thank you and it goes a long way. So I thank him. Every time. And he loves it. Win-win!

Sarah Clegg said...

I would not really consider myself a feminist, but I don't believe I'm sexist, either. I was raised in the South and my husband and I are probably (definitely) more traditional than a lot of people.

I really agree with Betsy. For us, almost all of the household tasks and emotional labor falls to me, but it is something that I do as an act of love for my husband. I would be doing these tasks anyway for myself, and I do feel that it is my duty to take care of them for my husband, too. (If I didn't, his poor mother would still be doing them all.) However, I don't necessarily believe that every couple has the same dynamic. It's what works for us. My husband's work is very demanding and stressful, and he helps me out as he can. My work is also stressful and demanding, but not as much as his. And, I truly enjoy taking care of our home and family, and to me those tasks are just as important as my career. I do it to show him love, and I know that he appreciates it.

To me, it doesn't make sense for a husband and wife to be responsible for the same tasks. My husband and I are a team, and we each have different roles. Sure, sometimes I help him with his stuff and he helps me with mine, but still I have my responsibilities and he has his. I don't think I would want him doing all of the meal planning, decorating, scheduling, etc. To be honest, I am much better at those tasks, and I would rather do them myself.

Sure, there are sometimes when I wish he would not leave his shoes in the middle of the floor, but I do my best to just let it go. It's really not that big of a deal. I will either leave the shoes in the floor, move them, or ask him to move them. And if he moves them when I ask him, I try to tell him thank you. Yes, sometimes I think "why do you need me to thank you every single time?!" but honestly, it's not that hard to say thank you and it goes a long way. So I thank him. Every time. And he loves it. Win-win!

 

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