Written By: Amy Towarnicki
Families have SO MUCH going on these days. Being a parent means handling a million things at once - school, cleaning, medical appointments, finances, household tasks, extracurricular activities, shopping, discipline, outings, (just to name a few). When you’re trying to tackle the never-ending list of stuff that needs taking care of - who takes the lead in your household? Are you handling it all? Does your partner make all the major decisions? Or is it a constant battle? With so much to juggle, my family has found that the only way to keep everything running smoothly is to divide and conquer.
I’ll be honest here – I’m a bit of a control freak. I have often fallen into the trap of trying to be a superwoman; trying to do everything, run everything, control everything in our household, and hold down my full time career as well. I’m sure other moms have been in this position (or maybe are right now!?) But over the past 6 years of marriage, two pregnancies, 3 babies, moves and job changes, I’ve figured out that trying to be in charge of everything only leads to burnout and resentment. For me it’s a cycle – trying to control everything and do it my way, followed by a mounting feeling of anxiousness when I can’t, followed by resentment that my partner isn’t doing as much as me (because I’m not letting him). Not to mention resentment from my partner because I assume that I know the best way to do everything. (My husband laughed and nodded when I read him this line haha).
Having one partner leading everything is a lot of stress to put on one person in a family, and can leave the other person feeling out of the loop. It works so much better if each partner plays to their strengths, shouldering responsibilities based on what they’re good at and what they enjoy. This way each person can flex their leadership skills without becoming overwhelmed. Keeping the lines of communication open seems to be the biggest key. It doesn’t hurt to sit down with your partner and hash it all out, make lists, and decide who will be in charge of what duties. In our house, we also divide tasks that no one likes doing (cleaning), and take turns or share some responsibilities. For example, I love all things food, so I do meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. My spouse loves tinkering and mechanical things so he takes care of the appliances and the vehicles. I like handling day-to-day running of things, while he focuses on more long term planning. He does the laundry and I do the folding. We share bath times and bedtimes, and all major decisions regarding the kids like medical and school stuff.
Of course there are always shifts in family dynamics that necessitate changes – maternity and paternity leaves, illnesses and injuries, and travels can shift leadership roles and being flexible is so important. When I was massively pregnant with twins, my partner took on the lion’s share of cooking and household chores along with everything else he does. And when my spouse had a minor back injury recently, I gained a new appreciation of just how gross collecting the household garbage and emptying the diaper bins is. I’m on maternity leave right now, so all things child-related fall more on me, while my husband will be taking paternity leave in a few months and things will shift again. Communicating through these changes about who will lead in each area will make them less stressful and keep a household running smoothly. Like for example - my spouse letting me know that I’m slipping back into control freak territory again while on maternity leave, and reminding me that he’s there to help and knows how to handle things too!
One thing I’m also really looking forward to is getting the kids involved in leading in our family. At age 1 and 3, they’re a little young now (although the 3 year old would probably tell you he’s running the entire household from his point of view!) I’m planning on starting small, like asking them to plan dinners once a week or lead a family game night. Then maybe working up towards more complex tasks like helping with the family finances towards planning a vacation or special outing. Having children help in leadership roles at home offers so many opportunities for learning new skills.
Managing a family and a household is a job, and not an easy one - as any parent knows. It does take leadership – but it doesn’t have to fall all on one person. Sharing the responsibilities and leadership of your family can help avoid burnout and resentment. Communication is key, as is staying flexible through all the changes that life will throw at you. And consider getting your kids involved too, to teach them leadership skills and have them feel involved in family decisions. And if you’re a control freak like me – try letting go and sharing the load. I promise you’ll be amazed at how much your family is capable of, and how great it feels to let go of some of that control. Plus you may even get the chance to put your feet up and relax while someone else handles a task – for a few minutes at least!