The Hidden (Mental) Work In Housework

I’ve been doing extra chores this week, since my wife Jessica is out of the country. Even with the freezer full of food she left us, it still takes a lot of time and effort to keep things going around here. Dishes and clothes and bathrooms don’t clean themselves, and it doesn’t matter how many times I brush the floor, it’s dirty again. I knew this was coming, and I do housework anyway, but there’s another side of the job that I’ve found more difficult than the extra physical labour involved in being the only adult in a house with three children. There’s a hidden weight in housework that is heavier than all the dishes and laundry and dirt combined: The mental strain of keeping up with all the various things that need to happen, and when, and how.

It’s not just about doing the laundry, it’s about making sure the clothes are ready and dry before school so the children have clean uniforms. It’s not just about making dinner, it’s about making sure we also have everything needed for tomorrow’s breakfast. And it’s about a dozen other similarly time-sensitive tasks colliding simultaneously. Add in the normal interruptions of life, especially with children, and you’ve got enough to keep any brain spinning. I’ll admit that I’ve only been able to keep up this week with the help of Jessica’s pre-planning and multiple alarms going off on my phone throughout the day. Even with the alarms, I’ve had a few moments of wide-eyed remembering that one of my tasks is behind schedule.

I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m more appreciative than ever for the unrelenting hidden work Jessica has been doing for our family. The sheer volume of decisions alone is astonishing, not to mention the work involved in planning and carrying them out. The physical jobs may be visible, like the turning wheels of a car, but they are powered by an engine of mental effort working tirelessly (or tiredly, but still having to work) behind the scenes.

Under the weight of this, it may at times feel like repetitive individual chores and constant choices about everyday things are insignificant. But the truth is that these rhythms of physical and mental work are a bass line providing the structure and shape needed for the melodies and harmonies of our lives to grow. Without them, our house would descend into a chaos that would spread quickly to every other area of our lives. With them, our family has stable ground to grow and flourish in, stable ground to give to others from.

There’s nothing insignificant about that.

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