What is the invisible load that stay-at-home moms carry? Is the role of a SAHM easy? The invisible load is the unseen, uncompensated workload someone carries. For stay-at-home moms, this can mean a number of roles in and out of the home.
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What Does the Invisible Load Mean?
This is the unnoticed, unpaid work that others benefit from. At work, this could be the person who is always restocking things in the coffee break room. This could be the person that is always planning the extra birthday celebrations or other things for co-workers.
When it comes to the home, the invisible load is what keeps everything going. These can often go unnoticed because they are things you do not notice unless it’s not happening. It is usually uncompensated or unpaid. If you are feeling like you are carrying this load, you are probably feeling frustrated by that.
Society Expectation of Parenting
In a recent United States based survey, over half of polled americans believe that there should be a parent at home with the kids. This is over half of our population. Over half of people polled said, “Yeah, kids should have a parent at home.” So what this tells me is that there’s an emphasis and an expectation rooted in our societal narrative.
At Postpartum Together, we believe that you figure out the route that works best for your family. This is not this is right, this is wrong. We don’t do that here. Every family and every story is unique. And we celebrate that. But in this experience in these next couple of weeks, we’re specifically talking about those who have made the decision by choice or by circumstance to be a stay at home mom.
There are Different Reasons to be a Stay-At-Home-Mom
Now some people dream and want and long to be a stay at home moms from a young age. I talk to people who have this experience all the time. We celebrate and we honor that. For some people, it is more circumstantial.
When it comes down to a situation where both parents returning to work is not an option, there can be different reasons.
No affordable or trustworthy childcare.
Special needs and medical needs.
Lack of schooling options.
These parents are looking at who is going to stay home and do that primary caregiving. In a heterosexual relationship, men are traditionally and in many cases, still making more than women in similar roles. There is still a very noticeable wage gap. So understandably, if we’re looking at this and comparing circumstances and finances, it is oftentimes a woman who is making less income
COVID has really highlighted for us the way that employers have expectations of their workers. And we see that not in all companies, but in many companies, there is a very distinct difference in the expectations for their male workers and their female workers. This comes into the workload and having a child that is present in in a call or in a video conference. Oftentimes it is more “acceptable” for the woman to have the baby in the background than it is for a man.
Now I want to normalize that there are stay-at-home dads, my husband is one of them. So we have this concept of stay-at-home parenting, but this distinct, invisible labor impacts more women and moms more often.
Common Invisible Load Tasks & Costs
When we look at the invisible load, there are many examples we could give.
Dishes. Laundry. Packing the diaper bag. Changing diapers all throughout the day. These are the things that you physically kind of tangibly do. But the invisible load is also the emotional space that you hold. So many times stay at home moms are the ones who are holding the emotional space for their kids at any age. And sometimes they’re also holding the emotional space for their partner who comes to decompress from the workday. Many times moms are not allocating the emotional space that they need for themselves.
Another side of the invisible load is the mental planning and work. There is scheduling and juggling. This can be really exhausting to have all these tabs open and be trying to keep track of everyone’s schedule and what everyone needs. Is baby about to phase-out of the current size of clothing? Are you working to drop a nap and change the wake times? These mental tasks take time and energy.
The Impact of the Invisible Load on Moms
A recent study by a woman named Dr. Luthar unveiled that the consequences of a mother’s invisible labor. Not surprisingly, the biggest impact is exhaustion. How much have we normalized just being so effing exhausted. This is really interesting because exhaustion takes a toll on our mental health, our physical well being and many other things. The other impacts found are depression, irritability, feeling underappreciated, and becoming isolated.
What would SAHMs Earn if They Were Paid?
Investopedia is a company that conducts research on many topics. According to their research, they estimated around 98 hours of unpaid, unseen, invisible labor for a stay-at-home mom, some estimates are even higher than this. But you think about this 98 hours is two and a half full-time jobs. This is a lot of work. And so we’re not just talking about you know, a few extra hours throughout the week that are getting picked up. We are talking about a lot of work. And when this is measured up to minimum wage, that equals out to about $178,000 a year. A lot of women aren’t even recognizing and understanding their own unpaid labor.
When women are not recognizing their own unpaid labor, they are self-critical. They are feeling insufficient, exhausted, more likely to be depressed, more likely to be isolated, and more likely to be irritable. As women, sometimes we feel like I shouldn’t need help. We ask:
Why am I so ______?
How is everyone else doing this?
Tips to Help Manage the Stay-at-Home Mom Load
1. Make a job description
If you’re feeling this, if you are someone who is a stay-at-home mom, or a partially stay-at-home mom, or even a working mom, I want you to write it down and share what you do through a day or a week. Literally, take these notes:
The home logistics.
How many meals and dishes and loads of laundry have been done.
Now, make a job description.
What are all the things that you do?
On a regular basis, what does this look like?
What are you taking care of?
And this is not to say that society is going to just send you a check for that but to be able to recognize and communicate it with your partner. If our partners or our support team are not even understanding what all is going into our day-to-day, we often feel disconnected and resentful.
You likely feel like many things are naturally your job, but we want to identify the gray areas here. Taking care of a child is a full-time job and so there are pieces of the physical and mental load that can be divvied up better between you and your partner. Think about traditional jobs you have had, you have your job description, you have the skills, you know your qualifications, you have the tasks that are going to then allow you to continue or do your job well. So we want to think about this in the role of a stay-at-home mom.
2. Express How You Want to be Appreciated
Every single person wants to be appreciated more. Have you expressed to your partner or your support people how you want to be appreciated?
What are the things that you have gotten from your job, that you’re not getting at home?
It could be the chance at a recognition award.
Maybe you miss emails or meeting call-outs.
Or maybe it’s the camaraderie of a team working on a project together.
These are things that you may miss, as a stay-at-home mom. Explain and express how you need to be appreciated. Start by appreciating yourself. Spend some time not criticizing yourself for not doing more. Appreciate yourself for the load that you’re carrying, and the things that you’re doing to keep your family moving forward. You are holding the glue together in so many ways.
Ideas to Appreciate Yourself
Making yourself a certificate and putting it up on your wall.
Write some affirmations on on your mirror and on your fridge- these places that you frequent.
Keep a journal celebrating 2 things you do each day.
When you appreciate yourself, you’re then carrying this different kind of energy. And you’re going to be able to express this and connect with your partner and other people in a better way. Instead of the resentment, the self criticism, kind of that that energy, that doesn’t always translate well. So you appreciate yourself and get that energy. Get that kind of that appreciation. That’s reel that experience and then go on and express this to your partners.
3. Give Up Control Where You Can!
Gve up control where you can. We talked about this in last week’s post about being the default parent. If you want some peace and teamwork, you have to give up control when and where you can.
If your frustration is that every time the baby poops, you’re the one that changes the diaper, ask yourself, are you giving your partner that chance? Or that space?
Does your partner have the space to parent the way that he or she wants?
Are there things that you can let go of control of?
Are there things that you’re doing and you’re frustrated that you’re doing them, but you’re holding on to it because you want it done your way?
Where can you say I’m going to let my partner have their own way of doing things. I’m going to let them master parenting in their own way and I’m going to let go of control.
Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies when we want control over how things are done. We want help, but then we’re not receptive to help being done in the way that that person would do it. And so we’re kind of in this pull and tug between ourselves and we’ve got to let go of control where control can be let go of. Let the little shit go.
4. Make Space For Your Hobby and Self
Take some alone and hobby time. This comes up in research and conversations around stay-at-home moms. Women often feel like if there’s a spare moment, if there are 15 minutes, you need to be going to do something on your job list. You can always find something to clean up, something to organize, something to plan someone to take care of. If you do that, you run yourself dry. Then, you don’t have the ability to be present and joyful motherhood experience that you deserve.
Your reminder, this goal is to take some alone time. Allow yourself to have a hobby and experience and expression that is not about the job description of being a stay-at-home, mom.
I know that is really hard. I used to ask myself all the time, “Women have done this for years, why am I struggling? Why am I behind? Why do I need to be recognized when for years, women have been caretakers?”
Recognize how much our society has changed. Economically, it has changed. In many ways, we’ve gone from a communal society to a very individualistic and isolating society. Yes, women traditionally have been the homemakers and the caretakers in side the home. However, so many of the supports and societal built-in experience has changed. That means we have to change our perception. We have to change the narrative around it too. We can’t expect ourselves to still be operating in a way that society did 50 years ago, but with all these other areas of society changed. Continue to let the conversation evolve because society and people are continuing to evolve.
When I was a SAHM, it was the Toughest Job I Have Had
This topic is important to me because this was me for about four years. I was working very part-time very but really taking the main role as a stay-at-home mom. In the first two years or so it was filled with a lot of resentment. A lot of not expressing the invisible labor. It was filled with just this disconnected self-doubt and self-criticism. And it took some time for me to realize there are ways that I could be more proactive to can make this work better for us as a family and as a whole. No one needs to have 98 to 100 hours of work a week that goes on appreciated and on scene.
Small-Group: Transition to Stay-at-Home-Mom
What: 6-Week Small Group
-6 weeks of group coaching
-3 prompts/week for online discussion
-Weekly group video call
-Connection with other SAHMs
-Shared tips, resources, mindset for the SAHM
-Identify in motherhood