First published on March 5, 2021
Last month, the government hastily withdrew an advert as outrage flew about the internet over its sexist portrayal of women. You know the one, don’t you?
Like many, I was horrified by its depiction of family life. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was angry because, rather than feeling like an out-of-date image, from inside my house with my husband and three children, it looked all too familiar. Despite my education, liberal politics and feminism, I was that woman. I understood how I’d gotten there. And I decided I’d had enough.
Carrying the load
In March 2020, as lockdown hit for the first time, I went into care and protect mode, fuelled by adrenaline. My husband worked all the hours pivoting his business and I pressed pause on my work to support our children as they dealt with the uncertainty of cancelled exams and closed schools. I told myself these were exceptional circumstances, and this was necessary. I attached my superhero cape and became the mum who did it all. Literally.
I was the go-to person for support, encouragement, snacks, help with home-schooling, advice, haircuts, and comfort. I served meals, cleaned up, and attempted to distract with games and treats. I was never off-duty. While my husband slept on the sofa after another draining day of Zoom calls, I folded laundry, responded to school emails, and listened to our youngest talk at great length about computer games.
For a few weeks, this was okay. I love my family and wanted to try and make it a little easier for them. But as weeks turned to months, I struggled. I told myself I needed to dig deeper. After all, I knew others had it worse than me. But before long, I was exhausted and overwhelmed, and beneath the relentless busyness I felt a rumble of anger.
Why, yet again, was it my work that suffered? Why, yet again, was I the one performing all the domestic tasks? Why, as always, did the kids shout my name when they needed something, even if my husband was in the same room? I smouldered with resentment, until one day in May I exploded, somewhat interputing my husband’s work Zoom by yelling “What shall I do with my fury?!”
The rage felt good in the moment, but it didn’t change anything, and I just felt stupid and guilty afterwards. So I decided upon a different approach. I decided to resign.
On May 30, I wrote a letter to my husband and three children informing them of my decision to seek a more satisfying occupation, and delivered it to them at dinner. It read:
To whom it may concern,
Please take this letter as official notice of my resignation from my role as Head of Domestic Affairs, effective immediately.
It has been a privilege and pleasure to serve you all for the past 15 years, but I have begun to realise the need to coalesce my attention and energy into work for a larger audience to affect greater change in the world. The work ahead is unfortunately not compatible with me continuing my work as head of household duties.
I am therefore pleased to inform you of the change from a ‘one serves many’ model to a fully co-operative one. I would like to invite you to partner with me towards the ongoing redemption of our living space as a place for rest, fun, hospitality, and presence. I think we all know this is best achieved when our home is calm, relatively clutter free, and, on the whole, clean.
In this new world there will also be greater opportunity for learning skills and a chance for us to benefit from the joy of working together towards a common end.
It is a pleasure for me to welcome you into this re-structuring period. Please enter with the good grace and patience I know you have. Let us remember change is not always easy, and we will need to be gentle with each other through this time.
Yours, never more sincerely,
Former Head of Domestic Affairs.
As my 14-year-old read my words aloud there was nervous laughter, then silence. Yes, this was amusing, but I was not joking. In fact, I had never been more serious.
The passage of time
So, nine months later, has anything changed? Well, yes and no. Things in our house are shifting. Everyone has chores which must be completed weekly and there are daily expectations for everyone to pull their weight. All family members can now clean a bathroom, hoover and clean up after dinner to my satisfaction. I am not always the one to empty the dishwasher or make the dinner. Things are a long way from perfect, but my husband and I talk regularly about the inequality present in our home and are working to change it.
The main change, however, is in me. I can see the pressure I put on myself to do all things and be all things. It was ridiculous and unasked for. I have lowered both my standards and my expectations, and it is good. I am learning to ask for help when I need it and for what I want without apologising. I no longer ask permission to rest or go for a walk or to watch what I want on TV. Our house is not the same. I am not the same.
And in the next few months as we come out of this pandemic and life slowly returns to normal, many things will revert to how they were before – but I will not. I have changed. I have found my voice, and begun prioritising myself. I’m not going back.