Invisible Labour: When There’s No-one To Share The Load

Invisible Labour: When There’s No-one To Share The Load

A recent study reported in the Independent which focuses on the ‘emotional responsibility’ of being a mother has revealed that, ‘while more men do housework and childcare than used to in the past, women are continuing to manage the household – even when they are employed.’

Well, I say ‘revealed’ – but is this a particularly shocking piece of data?

The study labels the emotional responsibility of being a mum as ‘invisible labour’ and considers the negative impact this has on a woman’s mental health. This labour could include, but is certainly not limited to, the following: scrabbling around the back of the sofa for a quid because you’ve just remembered there’s another non-uniform day at school tomorrow; ensuring wet swimming gear isn’t sat stinking up the car boot for a week before the next lesson;  choosing the cards and presents for every single birthday party your child attends and hoping that what you’ve picked won’t be scornfully rejected; checking the right books/snacks/equipment are in the right school bags on the right days; remembering to pay the invoices for various music lessons, drama groups and sports clubs. Then there’s my personal Achille’s heel: BIN DAY.

The study says that these responsibilities are, “linked to feelings of being overwhelmed and a sense of emptiness in women’s day-to-day lives.” The survey was carried out amongst 393 women – all of whom were married or in committed relationships. It also found that, “women who feel overly responsible for household management and parenting are less satisfied with both their lives and partnerships.”

As a single parent, I found this statistic really quite interesting. You see, I am solely responsible for all of the ‘invisible labour’ listed above: the pound coins, presents, invoices, swim gear, bloody bins and all the rest of it. You could argue that the mental burden is pretty heavy. However, there is one factor that I find makes all the difference between me and my married mum friends who have the same responsibilities: the lack of resentment.

Yes, I carry the load single-handedly. A lot of women wouldn’t want to be in my shoes. But the difference is that I carry the load in the full and clear knowledge that the load is mine and mine alone. I don’t have to wait for someone else to possibly take on a bit of the load and then forget that they said they’d do that bit of the load. I don’t have to get annoyed that someone else has taken on a bit of the load but done it in a way that’s ended up creating more work for me. I don’t have to passive-aggressively wait for bits of the load to be done without me having to say that it needs doing because they should just bloody know that it needs doing for goodness sakes, so why does it always end up being me that does it?!

No. I get to plan, organise and manage the load effectively, in my own time and in my own way. I don’t have to answer to anyone about why and how I deal with the load. The truth is, I take real pleasure in the load. It reflects the fact that I can manage everything successfully without the house burning down or anyone starving to death.

My ‘load’ is now five years old and being able to say that she’s a product of my own decisions, routines, ideas and hard work is something to be proud of. Obviously, there are days when I scrape through by the skin of my teeth and an extra pair of hands would have been useful, but the fact that the ‘emotional responsibility’ is all mine has become one of the main positives about parenting alone. For anyone at the start of their single parent journey – it can take time, but what you ultimately gain in terms of independence, strength and pride in yourself is totally worth it. I do my best to feel it whenever I remember to drag the bins out.


Single mum to a feisty five-year old. Life-long North Londoner. NCT #Hiddenhalf campaigner. Likes reading, writing and being anti-social.

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