While I am sure everyone has seen the amazing article on emotional labour by Jess Zimmerman, if not, please go check it out. Finally someone has perfectly articulated that weird feeling of "being cheated" by my otherwise lovely, and highly privileged, life. It is not that what I do is physically taxing, or requires a ton of higher order thinking (honestly, I could be replaced by a well-trained labrador retriever in that sense), but in that is requires me to provide this emotional labor all day, every day, for everyone in this house, all the time, forever and ever. While Chris and I have had some really beneficial discussions about this dynamic, and we are moving towards a much better balance of providing this resource, this is exactly how one winds up screaming at their partner about measuring cups, for no reason at ALL!
I also highly recommend reading the MetaFilter discussion that the article generated. It is long, but worth a read, or at least a hearty skim. Once you apply a name to all that "feeling stuff" that has to get done, and looks at gender/power disparities in who is doing that "feeling stuff"…well, lets just say lots of other interpersonal dynamics make a lot more sense. The pervasive theme is that women* are expected to provide this emotional labor, both professionally and personally, on demand, for everyone, all the time and ALSO deal with any fall-out when emotional labor isn’t provided.
Basically, it is not the doing of the laundry, it is the constant mental gymnastics required to realize what laundry needs doing, and for whom and by what deadline and then dealing with inevitable emotional fallout if someone doesn’t have their lucky knickers, their blue tie or their swimming uniform on time. See also: the fine line between providing the physical labor as part of a reciprocal relationship and being treated as unpaid life-concierge.
Oddly enough this circles back to something Chris and I have been discussing a lot lately. Namely: me going back to some kind of work outside of "domestic engineer." With Lizzie heading to full-time Kindergarten in a few weeks, it is time to take a look at that and decide what is best for our family.
The situation becomes complicated by Chris’ career trajectory. Without getting into the gory details, several people who are very interested in his work (especially a game he helped develop…that right, now he is a game developer….suck it haters!)are moving into positions with large checkbooks, so he may be looking at having more project offers than he has time. This is great for his professional development, but it means that he will be in no position to support basics like being home for bus-stop duty, taking time off when kids are sick or cutting back on his travel. In a purely logistical sense, me getting a job is 100% my problem to make it work. Reading between the lines, this also means he will be unavailable to provide the basic activities that keep this place going (the handful of household tasks for which he is actually responsible will be foisted back on me) and the real subtext is: he will be unavailable for the emotional labor required to keep a house full of two small kids going. I have no objections to this, our relationship has long been predicated on his career coming first, I am genuinely fine with being the sole provider of logistical and emotional work for the household. However, I am not fine with continuing to do that here and then adding a maximum of 35 hours a week for 44 weeks a year (working between bus-runs, only when school is in session and no kids are sick) slogging through a second set of physical/mental/emotional labor. Basically this:
While I may shoulder all the logistical and emotional labor of keeping the lives of four people running (relatively) smoothly right now that is well balanced with the work that Chris does. I may work 24/7 cleaning, cooking, educating, providing therapy, monitoring HW, monitoring the budget, monitoring clean underpants, but Chris works 60+ hours a week literally writing the policy that protects this country and making the capital we need to feed the machine that is our lives. Right now I feel pretty good about this division. Chris does too, and his emotional labor points are earned by appreciating that what I do is, in fact, vital to our lives, and by extension, his career so he isn’t pressuring me to get a "real job." His emotional labor is understanding that what I do is "real work" that matters. If we want to maintain our current lifestyle, I need to be realistic about what I can add to my list and right now, that list can’t accommodate any additional jobs**.
Thankfully in my life, my emotional labor has value and right now I am trading that inherent value for not having to rush back into an unpleasant work-life balance.
*Granted, the gender lines are not universal, there is plenty of discussion that non-monogamous/non-heterosexual relationship of ten see one person in the roles of emotional laborer while the other partner(s) reap the benefits. There appears to be two flavors of people, Those that provide emotional labor and those who are not so keen to do so. (There does have to be a somebody after all.)
**With the obvious caveat that position of privilege allows me this choice. The uncommon luxury of not immediately needing two incomes is becoming a rarity in this country and I absolutely understand that many women don’t get to make any choice outside of the one that ensures food on the table.