Yes emotional labour is real, yes men can take on this work too

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

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“I carry all of ours.”

“Yep, I do too.”

“I carry ours and almost lost them all once. I hate it.”

“My wife carries all of ours.”

And to myself, as I read my book, not even part of the conversation taking place around me, I thought “yeah, that sounds like our family too.”

The subject at the heart of the discussion was when your family travels, who holds the passports?

All in all, five of us (with me only submitting my situation in my own head) talked out the scenarios for our family. In five of the cases, it was a woman who held onto the passports during family vacations. For themselves, for their kids, and for their partner.

When travelling, my passport is one of the things I am most fearful of losing. I do not think this is unique to just me. I bet many men find managing passports in addition to all the other stuff that come along with travelling with kids worrisome. There is also worrying about seating arrangements on the plane—hoping you and your kids are beside one another, and preferably, that all of your family is seat by seat by seat. And there is worrying about layovers, and making surer you called your kid’s school to tell them and the extended day care program that they wouldn’t be at school this week.

This, is what unpaid, emotional labour is. Taking on stressful tasks because they are expected of you for no other reason than women did these things in the past and that is just kind of how the family role developed.

Now, my research above is very unscientific. In fact, I think science would punch me in the throat for suggesting this is research at all. But if you tune your ear to listen for it, what you will hear in many houses, and in many families, is that women do an awful lot of unpaid labour.

Some men will read this and reflect that in their family, they are the passport carriers. Others will look at this extremely basic example and think that they did work too, so where is the recognition of that? This could fall somewhere along the lines of “I paid for the plane tickets,” or “I was the one who drove through rush hour traffic to get us here in the the first place.”

The people who think that will be correct if that is indeed what got them to that point. But, much like the toll an airplane ticket can have on your wallet, emotional labour can have on one’s mental well-being. Emotional labour is not a contrived concept. Nor is the idea that these kinds of tasks to fall on the shoulders of women more often than on the shoulders of men.

What are some of the things that could be considered emotional labour?

Sending off the R.S.V.P. emails to birthday parties, looking through the summer camp catalogue and planning which weeks to send kids to which camps, remembering which day is hot lunch day, calling your parents on their birthday, putting a signature on tests from school, remembering the words from the weekly spelling test, remembering that you are out of dish sponges, making an eye appointment, dental appointment, and vaccine appointment six months before they are needed, holy shit a whole lot of other stuff too that I might not even know because I am not the one who does it in our house.

You may hate all of this stuff? I hate most of this stuff. But all of this (and much more) still needs to get done. The doing is the labour.

How to figure out if the emotional labour in your relationship is unbalanced

  1. Talk about it with your partner.
  2. Write out the tasks that are performed by each of you.
  3. Look at those things. Are they imbalanced?
  4. If they are, this doesn’t mean you don’t do anything. It means there is more to managing the things that happen in the family than you realized.
  5. Talk about the imbalance. Talk about the things you do that stress you out too.
  6. Maybe you are both happy with how these are being distributed already, maybe not.
  7. If you are not, figure out ways to split these tasks more fairly.
  8. Practice doing those things.
  9. Don’t get angry when you screw up and occasionally forget.
  10. Talk to your kids about this division of labour as well.
  11. Do this all over again.

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