What The Heck is Emotional Labor and Why Does It Matter?
If you haven't already read the incredibly-viral essay on emotional labor called “Women Aren't Nags–We're Just Fed Up” (complete with a visual depiction of just how fed up we are) by the talented Gemma Hartley, you should probably go read it now.
If you read the article, you are aware of how Hartley delves into the topic of emotional labor and how it affects women, their partners, and society in general. If you haven't read the article, you may be wondering what on earth all the fuss about emotional labor is and why the heck it even matters. As Hartley's article so eloquently explains emotional labor is basically well, everything you do as a mom that the rest of the world (cough men cough) expect you to take care of without really acknowledging.
You may recognize emotional labor in the following forms:
- The fact that your partner leaves all of the doctor appointment, school paperwork, and children's activities scheduling to you.
- The fact that you alone are solely responsible for keeping a running inventory of every product in your household at all times and knowing precisely when said items run out.
- The fact that you keep tabs on which child got hurt feelings at school that day or when your in-laws are due for dinner again or when it's time to catch up with so-and-so-friend so you don't look like complete jerks to the rest of the world.
- Everything that you do because “you're so much better at it.”
Sound familiar? That's because it is. Every single woman and mother I know, including myself, will recognize these common traits of emotional labor. And every single woman, including myself, deserves to realize that we aren't giving ourselves nearly enough credit for how much we do that goes unseen on a regular basis.
Emotional labor is labor that goes unrecognized by the rest of the world, especially men who are so used to women taking care of the tasks that require emotional labor. And because it has been unrecognized for so long, we may mistakenly believe it is unworthy or consists of tasks that really don't matter all that much. I mean who deserves applause for changing the toilet paper roll, right?
Well, a man certainly feels the need for accolade when it's him. So why not you? I'm not saying you need to demand your whole house stop and throw you a parade every time you restock the pantry, but for heavens' sake, if we want more recognition as women, we need to start with realizing how much we do on a regular basis that even we don't acknowledge.
In one day, I might run payroll, do marketing, manage my business content, work a solid day, network with coworkers, book 5 doctor appointments, return phone calls, create a meal plan, clean the house, do the laundry, cook several meals, clean the house again, remember who is out of clothes (usually my son), go shopping, workout, and run kids around, all while taking care of four kids. But at the end of the day, I usually still feel like I haven't done enough. I mean, really.
It feels like our tendency as women is to overlook all the things we do as “normal” or “just what we need to do” instead of acknowledging the freaking warriors that we are. You, mama, are doing amazing things! You are taking care of a family and staying on a budget or bringing home a paycheck or rocking the meal prep or being the breadwinner or keeping a home or vacuuming like a boss or baking up a storm. You are doing all the things and a lot of those things are emotional labor. Each and every time you spend emotional labor on remembering someone's schedule or tending small hurts from your children or reminding your husband to pick up the milk on his way home (again), you are expending emotional energy.
And emotional energy is just as real and draining and exhausting as physical energy. It's why stressful events are so exhausting and it explains how moms can feel so depleted, even if they feel like they aren't “doing” anything. Because even when you feel like you're not doing anything, the behind-the-scenes tells a different story.
Emotional labor is the labor that you put in each and every day, even when it's not recognized, to keep everyone else lives running smoothly. And while that's an amazing and wonderful thing, it's also important that as women, we recognize the toll that it takes–and invest some of that energy back into taking care of ourselves too.
What are some ways emotional labor affects your life?