A dear friend sent me an article yesterday called, “Invisible Labor Can Negatively Impact Wellbeing in Mothers” by Kimberlee D’Ardenne at ASU. The article discusses a recent study asking mothers about their role in parenting and home as well as about their life satisfaction.
The article and research findings were striking but also a big ol’ DUHHHHH.
When asked about the division of labor in the household, 90% of women reported they are solely responsible for organizing family schedules and routines, even though 65% of them are employed.
The article explores this idea as invisible labor. It argues that mothering is labor that isn’t seen or recognized. It is done without pay, and generally without time off. In my studies, this kind of work has been called informal labor, but labor all the same. Mothers who reported being solely responsible for their family’s routine, schedule, and the like were found to have decreased levels of satisfaction with their lives and relationships. And these women feel less satisfied in part because they don’t have time for themselves or their own self-care.
When reading the article and the corresponding study, I begin thinking about mothers who have chronic illness(es) on top of having a job and or career. Further, I began considering my own experiences with motherhood and chronic illness. I share the following not to toot my own horn, but to expose what I think is a fundamental cultural flaw that I at some point in my life deeply internalized.
I am the mother of a 15-month old. I work two part-time jobs. I am finishing school to earn a PhD in Disability Studies. I am working on completing nine manuscripts for scientific journals. I am also writing a book. I take 75% of the household responsibilities, maintaining the family calendar, transporting Bubs to and from daycare daily, grocery shopping, etc. My husband helps every chance he can, but his work schedule is so demanding that that help is limited. On top of all that, I have multiple chronic illnesses that I have to manage
every day every hour of every day. Doing all of this should not be seen as impressive, it should be seen as foolish. I am spreading myself too thin because at some point I internalized the notion that success looks like doing it all. Deep inside my psyche is a fear that if I don’t accomplish specific things, I will not be accomplished.
I feel valued, but being valued doesn’t improve my level of exhaustion. Being valued doesn’t help me take time for me. And I think this article turned something in my mind. Below is the excerpt that did that.
We talk about mothers needing more time to “self-care” while they take care of their partners and children and dogs and cats and fish. With chronic illness, I’ve always known and believed that when I am able to self-care I will do better with my disease management. Herein lies the problem inherent in motherhood and in chronic illness (and rampant when combined). All the care of the mother and the person with chronic illness is the responsibility of the mother and person with chronic illness.
Mothers need to be cared for. Mothers need to be nurtured. Caring for them doesn’t stop at giving them time and space to self-care. This idea is so foreign to me that I don’t even know what it would look like. In my home, I feel loved. I feel loved and valued and appreciated for all I do. I feel cared for in that my husband and family care about my well being. However, I also feel like if I stopped the labor of caring that I do, there would be chaos. It’s a chaos I think would organize itself overtime in my absence, but it would be such for a long while. To say people care for is true. To say the labor of caring for myself is solely on me is also true. This applies to motherhood and chronic illness as they exist separately and as they overlap.
If chronic illness was added to the mix, I wonder how the study results would change? I also wonder what would surface if the researchers asked mothers what it would look like to them to be nurtured, to not rely on self-care, but to be cared for with invisible labor from their partners and or children.
What would it look like to you? To the women who don’t have children but who have chronic illness or a disability, what would it be like to not have to self-care because your partner or parent took on the labor of caring for you? Is this a fantasy, or are there things we could do to allow our loved ones to share in the invisible labor of caring?
I don’t have the answers. Though I am fully prepared to embrace any suggestions for how to move away from my own internalized oppression and allow those around me to share in the labor of caring.