After a long night of two toddler wake-ups and my own sleeplessness at 3am, I returned home to sit quietly with my lukewarm cup of coffee after dropping my son off at daycare. The mornings always feel like a blur, even with the additional temperature checks and holding our breath hoping that school won’t be closed due to Covid exposure. It was a Monday, a morning that I generally reserve as my time to take a deep breath and plot my moves for the week.
It takes about 25 minutes to calm my head down. I try to meditate, allow my breath to be a balm to my nervous system. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. (I’m reminded by Peloton’s Chelsea Jackson Roberts that it’s a process, so I accept it and move on.) With last week’s to-do list and my iPad, I start to sketch out my days. On this particular Monday, I stare at a carry-over of work items from the week before and prepping for an upcoming holiday, a friend’s birthday, prepping for a week’s worth of meals, and debating how I was going to play rock-paper-scissors with my husband to decide who would do drop-off on Wednesday when we both had meetings.
It made me think about all of the things that go unnoticed in caregiving. The 37% more that women do than men in heterosexual-coupled households, and researchers note that trend continues even when women are the breadwinners. The pandemic has also shifted some dad’s lifestyles and work styles in ways that they don’t want to return to life as it was.
It’s no wonder why women are outraged and meet in fields to scream. It’s no secret why parents are calling The New York Times Parenting Scream Line to let off some steam. Rage is present, and showing up on TikTok as women present stories of “weaponized incompetence” – a manipulation tactic when one person feigns ignorance on tasks to be done so that the other partner does it. The hashtag #weaponizedincompetence alone had 53.9 million views as of this publication.
We’ve spent hours digging through the hashtag and two things stand out:
First, inequity of labor is not an individual issue – it’s a societal issue. I unknowingly perpetuate it, even when I’m asked “Let me know what I can do to help” as if it’s my responsibility to manage my household and delegate tasks. @ChelseabyChance explains this really well below.
It made me wonder how me and my husband Dave stack up, as if one calculator data point could settle once and for all who unloads the dishwasher more or who is more likely to answer Brendan’s midnight cries. So, I asked him to take the quiz along with me. If I’m being honest, I expected my number to be at least double his, even though he does SO much invisible labor for our family.
Here’s how we ranked out:
If I was paid for what I contribute to the household (as of taking this self-assessment at least a month ago), my check would be $380,857.19 a year. Yes, I’d make more than 3 times what I make as a consultant, writer, and all around badass woman. That includes the nightly wakeups, the organization for teacher conferences and doctor’s appointments, the multitasking of cooking dinner while on a conference call. That does not include the hours I’m up at 3am wondering if I could’ve approached a tantrum better with Brendan or a mental checklist of how to better streamline my own business so that I could be more present with my family.
Ten minutes after I sent Dave the link, I saw the infamous three dot iMessage bubble pop up. $36,218.39. “Are you sure you did this based on hours per week versus hours per day?” I texted. Honestly, my husband does a majority of our cleaning, is very present in co-parenting, and many more things. This number shocks me – I thought it was going to be closer to my range, but not quite there. I had him take it again, and it was another similar number.
Second, a majority of the TikToks I see are made by white women. As @Crutches_And_Spice calls out, it’s really easy for white women to point out the weaponized incompetence of their partners and difficult for the same women to point out weaponized incompetence of themselves in conversations with women of color. She’s not wrong. Like most things in life, it’s easier to shift blame to others instead of investigating where we fall short. I had to sit with this one for a while because it’s something I’ve been constantly working on, especially over the past eight years.
There are times when I’m quick to roll my eyes when Dave doesn’t meet my (often unsaid) expectations or when he prompts me to “let me know what I can do” so that I shoulder the delegation responsibility. There are just as many, if not more, times when I use the same phrase to a Black woman in asking her to help me decouple from white supremacy – something that is definitely not their job to do.
Now, I don’t think this takes away from the fact that the “who does more invisible labor” debate is still alive and well. But it does add to the conversation of digging deeper of how we’re going to address this moving forward. I’ll be more upfront of articulating expectations and needs at home. When I’ve done this in the past, we’ve had important and difficult conversations to guide us through the muck. I’ll also be more forthcoming in how I do the work to understand racism in my life, teaching my son differently, and building transformative relationships that build us all up.
In the meantime, I’m grateful that my son wants to help out in the kitchen. It shows me that Dave and I are doing something right.