Much has been said in the media (and maybe in your own home) about the imbalance of time spent on household chores between women and men. Increasingly more women work outside of the home but they still do the majority of household work and childcare, though many men are rising to the challenge and helping to close the gap. Still, a 2018 United Nations report found that worldwide, women do 2.6 times the amount of unpaid work that men do. This is the invisible labor that keeps families functioning: transporting children to school and activities, caring for elderly parents, managing household expenses, preparing meals, and cleaning the house.
Most women would agree that it is not necessary that she personally does each of these tasks, but, for one reason or another, women generally feel ultimately responsible to make sure everything is done. At home, the buck stops with her! Women accept that everything from the feel of their home environment and the temperature of their familial relationships reflect on her personally. Sociologists call this the burden of “emotional labor.” If no one has clean socks to wear or the bathtub starts growing mold in the corners or the field trip permission slip is returned late, no other person in the family feels as personally responsible as Mom.
Most moms admit that from time to time they feel crushed by the emotional burden of keeping everything and everyone together day after day. Even if she has no children at home, women tend to keep a running list of tasks to be done, upcoming events to be scheduled, and relationships to be maintained, on top of work and her other interests. We are all trained to expect that is is how our domestic lives work and it is a genuinely unfair expectation for the whole family.
This Mother’s Day please don’t just thank your mother or wife for all things she does to go above and beyond for your family. Instead, ask how can you help Iighten the emotional burden?
My husband picked our kids’ pediatrician. I can imagine a few moms of young children recoiling in horror. I was expecting our first child and having an impossible time deciding between practices. When you have a newborn you have to write your pediatrician’s name on every medical form but I had interviewed one or two I didn’t care for and couldn’t decide how to proceed. So my husband chose one—a doctor we love. He knows her. He likes the office and knows how it operates. And he takes our kids to many of their doctor’s appointments. This should be one of those “mom jobs” but he chose to lift the emotional burden off of me and share it.
In my everyday “mom life” I regularly return to the story of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha. Martha is busy. I can only imagine both the honor and the emotional burden that she feels hosting Jesus in her home. And then she sees her sister Mary sitting, listening to Jesus (like one of the unburdened male disciples) while there is so much to be done. I can easily feel outrage on her behalf if not for the words of Jesus: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
If you would like to really serve a special mom in your life this Mother’s Day don’t praise her “martyrdom” on behalf of her family. Ask what is on heavy on her mind and offer to take it. Call the appliance repair company. Visit the elderly relative. Reach out to your adult sibling who never responds to her texts. Put the bins of winter clothes into storage. Find a babysitter. Send the first group text to your family about Thanksgiving plans.
Only a few things are needed—indeed only one. Resist the urge to honor the moms in your life for the many, many things they are doing and instead look for ways to free them from the heavy emotional burden that is attached to motherhood. Honor them for the relationship you have, not just as a mother but as a sister and a fellow follower of Jesus.