While listening to one of my favorite podcasts recently (Where Should We Begin, by Esther Perel) I was intrigued by the discussion between a couple, who, among other challenges, were struggling with the balance of the “emotional labor” of their lives.
What’s Emotional Labor?
Emotional Labor is the invisible work, the “behind the scenes” efforts that keep a life, a family, a relationship in motion.
It’s the things like, noticing that your low on toilet paper, and purchasing more, or remembering all the appointments and ensuring that they’re made on time and kept, or the mental load of a perpetually running list of things like signing forms, ordering cat food, scheduling important visits, or even just remembering to do the laundry.
How is this relevant for new parents?
As postpartum doulas, we see the emotional labor of a family become one of the hardest parts of a family’s life following birth. Sometimes that’s because life with a newborn is so chaotic that things just slip through the cracks. But more often it’s because the Birth Giver has historically been the Do-er of the emotional labor in that family, and in the days following labor, the sleeplessness, the feedings, and the sheer physical recover that has to happen for a Birth Giver, they are simply unable to continue with the burden of that “invisible work” any longer.
How can partners help with this burden?
For this, I’ll go back to Esther Perel, who during the podcast said, “You do not ask a drunk person if they want to drive. You simply take the keys from them and drive the car yourself. One cannot ask for help if you’re flooded and underwater emotionally. You just do what needs to be done, without being asked to do it.”
In postpartum, this means not waiting until postpartum to have some hard conversations about ways your relationship may shift after the baby arrives.
Talk through your current responsibilities within your family’s lives together and consider how they may be impacted and even redefined after birth.
Have the conversations NOW about your expectations for each other and the roles each of you play in your family, and the roles you each will play when you’re new parents.
Work together to identify each of your most important, has-to-be-done-or-you-feel-overwhelmed household task and make a plan for ensuring it’s done each, and every day.
Then, remember “You can’t ask for help if you’re flooded”, so don’t wait to be asked to do the dishes if you know your partner is currently responsible for the majority of your newborns needs in those early days.
Just make sure that the sink is clean each night before bed (and maybe refill their water glass each feeding too!). Don’t ask your partner to decide what to order for dinner each time. Consider picking up something you know they’ll love on your way back from work or an errand.
And, don’t forget to ask for help if you need it.
Pull in your family and friends as resources. Print off and leave up our 5-Minute Task List if you need ideas of how they can help pitch in to support your family.