Mental Labour & Exhaustion

The general rule on the internet is not to click on links unless you know where they’re going to go, right?

The other night, I clicked on a link tweeted by a friend entirely without any context or comment associated with it and I have never been so glad to have taken that chance. It lead me to “You Should Have Asked.” It details the mental labour that women do that is not in the least bit obvious to men, particularly in committed relationships where the couple also has kids.

One of the examples that struck me the most in the web comic was that of cleaning off a table.ย  It could take a man 5 minutes to take everything off the table and put it where it belongs. It could take a woman 2 hours to clear everything off that table and put it where it belongs because she’ll notice, as she puts the towel in the laundry hamper, that it’s full and so she puts in a load of laundry. And then as she’s putting vegetables away, she realizes that they are out of mustard, so she has to add that to the grocery list, and so forth. While all of these tasks are needing to be done regardless of whether it is the man or woman who is doing them, these tasks are largely invisible to the man who concentrates only on clearing the table.

It explains why I start getting ready for bed before Scott, but he’s always waiting for me to climb in before he can turn out the light. It’s true that I have more that I typically do.ย  I have to do things like take off my makeup, take down my hair, take out my contacts and brush my teeth. And all he has to do it brush his teeth. But there are all the unrelated tasks that I still have to run through before I can even get there.

  • I take a quick look around the house but the quick look often takes long time even if I ignore all the mess that still lying around the house that I like to clean up before bed. I check to make sure that the front door is locked because if Scott only used the back door, he won’t think to doublecheck the front door before going to bed.
  • I have to make sure that I’ve got a water for the night because in the middle the night there’s nothing worse than having to get up tiptoe past sleeping baby’s room to get some water only to have her wake up and having me unable to get back to sleep after 45 minutes of feeding, rocking and sneaking out of her room.
  • I have to check on two sleeping babies. I have to make sure that the toddler is breathing normally because her night terrors and her head sweating are often linked to severe sleep apnea. I have to make sure that baby sleeping calmly enough that I can check to make sure that her boots are on properly and that nothing is shifted around on her brace without us knowing.
  • I have to check the weather for the next day that way when Scott gives me a kiss goodbye (if I’m still asleep trying to make up for the interrupted night) I can take a quick look at what he’s wearing to make sure that it’s weather appropriate.
  • I have to make sure that I’ve got a list of everything that I need to get ready the next morning because the minute that my feet hit the ground, they hit the ground running, knowing it doesn’t matter whether we need to be at the door at 9 AM or whether we need to be at the door at 11, because there’s always something that gets forgotten or left behind. I always tell myself that tomorrow’s going to be the day that I remember to get everything into the bag when it needs to be in there.
  • And then I have to do a postmortem on the day. I think I put on things that went well. I think one of the things that I forgot to do, and I have all the things that I didn’t get to do. And then I have to try to decide whether it’s more important that I get eight hours of sleep a night or whether I get them done or whether I put them in a note somewhere to get them done which inevitably leads to making a note of all the things that need to be done around the house because I was intending to make that list of things we need to pick up from Home Depot and every time I’m at Home Depot I think “I don’t have a list of things to do” so start making that list

Before I know it, an hour has passed and while I may not accomplished anything in full, I’ve gotten at least three and a half lists made and figured out answer to a problem that I didn’t realize was an issue until I was half asleep.

Scott once explained me that having ADD means there is a constant sound of static in his head. Maybe not static, he said, but there is so much going on that he couldn’t pick out one single sound, and it gets exhausting. This mental load that women handle often feels the exact same, only instead of it being a constant droning sound we can’t distinguish, we can’t stop hearing each individual noise and try to categorize them and control them, all while trying to maintain a sense of composure, grace and decency.

It’s no wonder that once I finally fall into bed, I either can’t sleep, for all the thoughts in my head, or am out immediately, exhausted from trying to have my body keep up with my brain.

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Categories: The new identity | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Mental Labour & Exhaustion

  1. This is a fascinating read. I do feel like things are a little more balanced at our house but only because Nate does the cooking. But there are plenty of other things that I definitely relate to in this and how our brains work differently. I think this explains why I am not out the door as fast as Nate is in the morning for sure. Or even how we approached having company this weekend and getting our house ready. Thanks for sharing this.

    • There are definitely some things that this comic mentions that aren’t necessarily what goes on between Scott and I (when I’m working, it’s certainly a lot more equal and it makes sense that there would be more on my shoulders right now since I’m home), but Scott happened to be looking over my shoulder when I first read it, so it was a good way for us to start talking about areas where I could use a bit more help. Of course, I am, by nature, a control freak so there will always be a disparity and I have to accept that some of it’s my own doing ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. shaunaceyb

    I read that post too and thought “SEE!!!!!!”. It’s not that my husband doesn’t help, he does a TON, he’s even come home from work the last two nights to help with dinner and bedtime before going BACK to work… but it’s all the things he doesn’t think about that I do. Special days at daycare, what groceries we need, paying bills, rsvp’ing birthday parties, buying gifts for ALL the things… I could literally go on forever. It’s not that he’s making me do more, there’s just this whole other workload he doesn’t even have to consider.

    • I always wonder what things I could be remembering if I didn’t know how many diapers we have left, what size of clothing everyone in the family generally wears, and which stuffed animal friends C currently prefers (oh man, there was a change up last night. Green Bear is out, and Bud is back in. It’s been weeks since Tracy the dog has been in the Top Three). Maybe then I’d be able to remember things like the names of movies I’ve seen, actual song lyrics so I don’t just make them up as I sing along, or which of my kids is C and which is M (and not accidentally call either of them by each other’s name, the name of my childhood pet or “hey you!”)

  3. OH MY GOSH. That article!! I really want to show it to my husband, but I feel like he’ll get offended. He really does do a lot to help, especially when it comes to the kids. BUT, 90% of what he does it’s because I ask him to. I tell him all the time that I feel like I’m the one who always has to remember everything, and that article says just that. I agree with what Shaunacey said–it’s not that he’s making me do all this stuff, he just doesn’t consider the half of it. And yet, if I didn’t do these things, little by little our household would fall apart. We wouldn’t buy the groceries we need (since I make the list), the kids wouldn’t have clean clothes (since I do their laundry–which he does help me fold), Violet would probably put something dangerous in her mouth (since I do a sweep of the area before setting her down anywhere), kids wouldn’t go to the doctor (since I make all the appointments), etc. etc. Anyway, SO MUCH YES. I’m so glad you shared this article. Thanks Cara!

    • It’s the whole visible vs invisible work. It’s hard to tell someone “look at all the work I did” when there is nothing physical to show. It’s obvious when Scott does the dishes but not when I plan the meals. It’s obvious when Scott packs our suitcases to go somewhere but not when I make the packing list. I’ve been trying to make a point of telling him when I’m doing “invisible work” to make him more aware of it. Scott read the article over my shoulder so fortunately, he doesn’t think I’m crazy when I start telling him what I’m doing.

  4. I can relate to this in the worst way. My hubs has a mild case of ADHD but he seems to bring more tasks to completion than I do. I am a very OCD, type A person (almost clinically so) and I have issues with leaving dirt/etc around and so I start cleaning one thing, and all the dirt of the neighboring things distracts me. Ugh. And the bedtime thing you mentioned? TOO REAL.

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