How to negotiate partnership on domestic stuff

Two facts stand in stark opposition:

According to a report by NBER

  1. Women’s lives over the past 35 years have improved by most objective measures yet…
  2. Women’s overall happiness have fallen both absolutely and relative to that of men.

Thanks to the work of many women’s right groups, we find ourselves at a time where we have more opportunities than ever before. However, all the evidence leads back to the fact that women’s roles at home have not moved in step with changes in the workplace.

It can often feel that we can have it all, but in return we must do it all. 

The echoes of the unconscious bias are still there

Culturally, we are still living in the echoes of the traditional family roles. Our parents generation really were in it. That cultural paradigm still to an extend exist. Of course, there are examples of where that is not the case, one of my friends is Director of a marketing firm and her husband gave up work to look after their 4 children. I am hard pressed to find another example in my life though.

The covid-19 effect

At the time of writing, we have entered into lockdown v 3.0 here in the UK and things feel different this time. Whilst in March, the school rhetoric was that any school work complete was a bonus, this time the standard has been set at a minimum of 3 hours. If you have multiple children to support and you are working, it’s easy to see how the maths doesn’t quite add up.

We are faced with impossible choices between livelihood and our children’s wellbeing and this time employers are less willing to grant furlough requests to help manage the pressures of home schooling.

“Organisations have a duty of care to people, but many of them are fighting for their survival.” – David D’Souza director at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

A landmark study of over 20,000 working mothers by activist group Pregnant Then Screwed found that 81% need childcare to work, 51% do not have the necessary childcare in place to enable them to work. All those home schooling will be nodding in agreement with me here.

Just 1 week into the new school term, a fifth of women had already left or been forced out of their jobs since Christmas as a result of schools switching to remote learning. A fifth!

We are not superhuman. We cannot simply do it all.

How to negotiate partnership on domestic stuff

If you need to have a conversation with your partner about sharing the load here’s my strategy.

Things to keep in mind before you start

 Remember the cultural paradigm that says it is the woman’s role to see to the functioning of the household. Activate compassion for ourselves, because at an unconscious level we have a drive to want to be the one that supports that space. At an unconscious level our partners were brought up in that same cultural paradigm where their mothers may have done the traditional role and they may have an expectation unconsciously that’s how things are. While many men thing they do some of the doing they may have a misunderstanding of the mental load being born by their partner. When we know its cultural paradigm and unconscious bias, we can start to have compassion for ourselves and our partners to recognise that in most cases it’s a deep seating thing that needs bringing to the surface, talking about and working through. We are negotiating our way to be new role models for our children and how things can be in the future.

 Come from a position of strength AND compassion (Queen and Mother PowerTypes).

 A conversation from a place of resentment will come from ‘The Bitch’, go let go of the anger or any resentment that has built up before you tackle sharing the load. Dancing it out is a great way to release emotions.

Opening the Conversation

  1. Book a time to talk. “I’d like to make a time to talk to you about sharing the task load at home and about how we are handling things. Don’t worry there’s nothing wrong, I’d like to make some changes and let’s find a time to talk about it.”
  2. State how you feel and what you need. “I really need to start sharing a little bit more of the burden of how we are doing things at home because I’m feeling really tired an overwhelmed with the amount which is falling to me. I can feel resentment starting to build up and I don’t’ want that between us so I know that establishing some clarity around all of the domestic stuff is really going to help me. Can we collaborate on this?”

The Collaboration

“Before we start. Everything is up for negotiation here and we will figure this out together.”

 Step 1: List out the domestic load, life admin load as it is currently. Go through everything that needs doing e.g. paying bills, organising insurances, bins, cleanliness of house, organising meal plans etc, etc, etc.

🚫 Give everyone a little minute to stop, reflect and notice just how big the list is.

 Step 2: As you go through your list, notice and mark on the list who naturally notices each task. If someone naturally notices a particular thing then it’s going to be easier for them to take on the mental load of that particular task because it’s something that’s in their awareness e.g. Mark naturally notices untidiness.

🚫 Reflect again on what you discover.

 Step 3: Share out what’s on that list the mental load and the task load equitably based on other demands or time availability e.g factor in work, caring for other e.g. relatives, working away. It then becomes a loving, compassionate, needs based conversation around sharing the mental load and task load. Keep in mind the distinction between mental load and task load. For example, in the context of food; the mental load for making a meal plan and going shopping is my responsibility. The task of making breakfast falls under Mark’s domain. Lunches and dinners (tea 😉) falls to me. At times, because of the nature of my work, Mark will take on more responsibility when I travel for workshops.

🚫 Be aware of “I can’t” or “you’re better at it”, particularly in partners where the unconscious bias is strong stopping them taking on more. These tasks are things that all of us can get good enough at.

 Step 4: Go through again and check there is an equitable share on the metal load as well as the task load e.g. general domain of house maintenance falls to Mark, general domain of food falls to me.

 Step 5: Commit to it for 1 week, 2 weeks or a month and set a time to review. Review without blame and lead from appreciation for your partner. Revise as required and set another time point for review.

 Step 6: Be willing to accept different standards and approaches. Once ate a bowl of pasta with a hamburger, peas and tomato ketchup 🤣. Otherwise the alternative is that you do get to do it all, that’s the reward for high standards.

  Step 7: Swap on occasion. Every few months try swapping roles for the weekend.

  Step 8: Practice gratitude with your partner. Lead the way you would like it to be done and notice what happens.

I would absolutely love to here how you get on with this one.

PS Skipped to the bottom 😉? Here’s the gist of it. We live in the echoes of the cultural paradigm which says it is the woman’s role to see to the functioning of the household. Activate compassion for ourselves and our partners. This is the time to re-negotiate our roles in the household and be role models for our children. They will model our behaviours in the future. Ask yourself, how would you like your children to partner on domestic stuff?

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