With Mother’s Day right around the corner, many grateful and loving families are thinking about what to give mum to show their appreciation.
Should you give her chocolate? Nope. Fancy soaps? Nope. Fuzzy slippers, pyjamas, scented candles? No, no and no.
On this Mother’s Day, keep your cash and give your wonderful mother gifts that will actually have a long-term impact on her health and well-being.
Read more: Planning, stress and worry put the mental load on mothers – will 2022 be the year they share the burden?
1. Do a chore that mum hates and hold onto it … forever
Research shows men have increased the amount of time spent on housework and childcare and that mothers, over time, are doing less (hooray!).
But, women still do more housework than men, especially when kids are in the home.
Further, men tend to pick up the more desirable tasks, like cooking and playing with the kids, leaving mothers to do the less pleasurable chores (think cleaning toilets and clearing out fridges).
The chore divide in same-sex relationships is generally found to be more equal, but some critique suggests equality may suffer once kids are involved.
This year give your mum (or mums) the gift of equal housework and childcare sharing – start by taking the most-hated tasks and then hold onto them… forever.
Research shows housework inequality is bad for women’s mental health. Undervaluing women’s housework and unequal sharing of the chores deteriorates relationship quality, and leads to divorce.
Housework and childcare take up valuable time to keep the family happy, harmonious and thriving, often at the expense of mum’s health and well-being.
So, skip the chocolates and show mum love by doing the worst, most drudgerous and constant household chores (hello, cleaning mouldy showers!) and keep doing these… forever.
2. Initiate a mental unload
The mental load is all of the planning, organising and management work necessary to keep the family running.
The mental load is often perceived as list making or allocating tasks to family members.
But, it’s so much more – it is the emotional work that goes with this thinking work.
The mental load is the worry work that never ends and can be done anywhere, anytime and with anyone (in, for example, said mouldy shower).
Because the mental load is performed inside our heads, it is invisible. That means we don’t know when we or others are performing this labour unless we really tune in.
In fact, it is often when we tune in through quiet time, relaxation or meditation that the mental load rears its ugly head. Suddenly you remind yourself to buy oranges for the weekend soccer game, organise a family movie night and don’t forget to check in on nanna.
Women in heterosexual relationships are shown to do more of the mental load with serious consequences for their mental health. But we don’t have a comprehensive measurement of how much women do it nor how it is allocated in same-sex couples.
So, on this mothers’ day spend some time talking about, cataloguing, and equalising the family’s mental load.
This isn’t just making a list about what has to be done but also understanding how the mental load connects to the emotional health of the family, and the person carrying this invisible labour, worry and stress.
3. Speak up for your mum and all caregivers
Families alone cannot bear the brunt of the caregiving necessary to keep us thriving.
Governments, workplaces and local communities also play a critical role. For this mothers’ day, pick an issue impacting mothers (for example, equal pay, affordable childcare or paid family leave) and do one thing to help move the needle.
Write a letter to your boss, your local MP, or donate money to an advocacy organisation advancing gender equality.
Or, role model these behaviours yourself – normalise caregiving as a critical piece of being an effective worker, create policies and practices that support junior staff to care for themselves, their families and their communities and use these policies.
Research shows men want to be equal carers and sharers but often fear what taking time off for caregiving will signal to their employer despite evidence that fathers who request flexible work are perceived more favourably.
Appearing to be singularly devoted to work was shown to be impossible during the pandemic with kids, spouses, partners, and pets home all day long.
Learning to create more care-inclusive workplaces and communities is critical.
Paid parental leave, affordable and accessible high-quality childcare, flexibility in how, when and where we work and greater investments in paid sick leave, long-term disability support and aged care are just a few policies that would strengthen the care safety net.
We will all be called upon to care at some point in our lives – let’s create the environments that support caregiving for all, not just mum.
Read more: Flexible work arrangements help women, but only if they are also offered to men