Last fall, I had a bit of breakdown about the amount of stress and responsibility that was on my plate. I remember sitting on the couch crying, trying to explain to my husband that I just could not handle all the shit I had to deal with on a daily basis—shit he seemed pretty much oblivious to.
You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s the “mental load” of managing a family—the things no one really notices unless they don’t actually happen.
For example: remembering to make and keep doctor appointments; financial planning and budgeting; keeping the house stocked with food, toiletries, and school supplies; planning birthdays and other events; signing permissions slips and keeping track of everyone’s social and extracurricular calendars. The list goes on and on and fucking on.
So we did what most modern day couples are supposed to do. We made a plan for how to share the mental load. We made a list—basically of things he would step up and do, because I would be doing the rest by default. He would deal with the papers in the kids’ homework folders. He would be the one to call companies about various bills and other questions. He would be in charge of making doctor appointments and taking the kids to them. Etc.
We also made an executive decision that when it came to planning, calling, and just generally dealing with family members, he would be in charge of his family and I would be in charge of mine. That included planning outings and dinners, remembering everyone’s birthdays, and checking in on aging family members. Sounds pretty simple, right?
Everything seemed to be going fine until the holidays rolled around. Listen, holidays are hectic times, especially when it comes to the mental load. There are so many freaking things you have to take care of to pull off a magical holiday season for your family, and usually unless you are the one in charge, you have no idea the number of invisible tasks that need to happen to make everyone happy and keep things in check.
So here’s where we ran into our little SNAFU.
My husband has this 90-year-old aunt who gives us a generous monetary gift right before the holidays each year. Basically, she sends you a check a few weeks before Christmas, and you have to reach out to her after you receive her check in the mail and thank her. That’s all she really asks for.
Usually I’d been the one to call and thank her, but this year it was on my husband’s plate. Of course I had to remind him. Several times. But then finally he said he had done it, and I figured it was all good.
(You know where this is going, don’t you?)
A few weeks later we show up to a family holiday party and I see my husband’s aunt. I give her a big hug and say, “I know Steve thanked you, but I wanted to thank you again for the gift.”
Then, SILENCE. She looks at me—a little confused, a little annoyed—and says, “No, he didn’t.”
Inside, I’m feeling totally awful, because sending us this holiday gift and getting a thank you call is like the highlight of this woman’s holidays—maybe of her life at this point. So, I mumbled a quick, “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
Then—even though it wasn’t my damn fault—I felt like I should apologize and take responsibility. I made up some excuse like, “Oh, I had been really busy with work and asked him to take care of it.”
I mean, I wasn’t going to go and explain to this woman that my husband and I were working on a plan to divide up the mental load of our household… she likely would have had no clue what I was talking about.
“Well, you could have made time to call me,” she came back with. And honestly, considering I had made up some cockamamie excuse about being too busy for her, that was a pretty understandable response.
I then excused myself from the situation, locked myself in the nearest bathroom, and tried not to cry.
OMG, I thought to myself, we are right back where we started. As far as I knew, I was still the only one who had taken responsibility for thanking her for the gift. She fully expected me to, because I always had. And now, my husband’s forgetting to do this was my fault, at least partially, in her eyes. Either way, I was definitely the one bearing the burden of feeling bad about it.
This is even fucking worse than if I had done it myself, I said to myself. Actually, MUCH worse.
Long story short, you can bet I found my husband at that damn party and raged at him for a full minute before he told me that yes, he had in fact gotten in touch with her.
Yep, folks. He had reached out to her. Ready for it? He’d written her an email. A motherfucking email. He’d thanked his 90-year-old aunt via email. And he didn’t notice whether or not she had returned the email. He didn’t confirm in any way that she’d received it. Because he figured, she must check her email.
It was a good thing we were at a family party where we had to be civil and not have a raging, screaming fight—because I don’t think I’ve ever felt more bewildered, blindsided, and pissed the fuck off.
An email. A goddamn email. You don’t thank your 90-year-old aunt over email.
You can bet your ass I made my husband walk over to his aunt and apologize his ass off for not calling her to thank her. I made him take full responsibility. She was pretty darn forgiving, although she continued to mention the fact that we both really could have called her. Ughhh. Still, all was forgiven and there were no hard feelings.
As for how the “sharing the mental load” is going since then? Well, it’s… going. Nothing that embarrassing or enraging has happened since the holiday incident. At the same time, it’s hard to trust that my husband is really going to do what he says he’s going to do. Or that he’ll know how to do each thing without elaborate instructions.
Let’s just say that he does the stuff on his list… but with lots of reminders and detailed step-by-step directives which sort of defeats part of the purpose of sharing the mental load.
But I also know that I’m “lucky” to have a partner who is willing to have these conversations and make an effort to pitch in. I’m trying to be more patient and trying to realize that learning doesn’t happen without some mistakes along the way.
Now, almost a year later, I can think about the “sending his 90-year-old aunt an emailed thank you note” incident and laugh…a little. But I also still kind of want to punch my husband in the face. You can’t blame me, right?