Relieving the Mental Load: It’s a Power Structure Change

It’s undeniable that modern society doesn’t understand how difficult it is to be a mother. We give lip service to it, but we don’t truly understand it. We mock the entire process by putting one mother on the task of raising an entire family. And, yes, I say “mother,” not parent. This overwhelmingly falls on women’s shoulders.

I was excited that maybe my child development work could help with this. I document when children “act up,” going through a “stage.” I figured by fleshing out so well what parents actually deal with, it would bring some quantification to the issue. Here are the toddler milestones alone. People constantly joke, “It’s one long leap.”

I can tell you assuredly there are days in there where your wife is not going to get any laundry done. In fact, while carrying a load of laundry and walking in on two screaming children, she might finally get to her utter breaking point, where both her hands and mind are finally full. Whereas before she could at least talk the children through the conflict, now she just shuts down. Because you can’t give this much crap to one person.

Before around 3,000 BC, society was designed much more around child raising. Women worked, out in fields, bringing their children with them. It was an entire web of women tending to children. And then humans figured out how to trace paternity. Before this, perhaps they knew sex led to babies. But all natural rights to children were with the mother, because people simply didn’t know who the father was. When they could figure this out, women’s role changed from then on. They were pushed into their houses (creating the need for slaves) and monitored. The punishment for adultery was death. It essentially created eugenics–a concept that has been verifiably awful for humans. I know people have a very big issue with too big of a government, power structures, privilege, and large corporations who wield their power to crush small business through unsavory means. But I think it provides both a sobering reality and yet, strangely, hope, that this has actually been with us for thousands of years. If we understand that, perhaps we can truly needle out the systemic problems. Power structures, slavery, and disrespect for women have not always been with us. In fact, they are quite a mere blip on the timeline of history.

I think the issue is one versus many. One women doing all the work or many women spreading the load. This plays out in many ways. One way of living as being superior or many as being accepted. If you study psychology, such as Freud versus Jung, it is again one versus many. Freud said the Oedipus Complex explained all human behavior. Jung said many ancient legends give insight into human behavior. One versus many. I am now of the belief that this is kind of everything.

I am going to do everything I can to push for “many.” Many mothers, many resources, an abundance in how we go about life Now, we operate on scarcity. We inflict it on others, as if it is wise. We cruelly think that 30 children can be handled by 1 teacher in a classroom; that all duties in a family can be on one set of parent’s shoulders, etc. Is “individualism” some kind of cruel joke? It really should be more spread out, without these single points of failure. That we live in mega houses, fenced in, with cars going by 40 mph, without any network at all anymore (fewer have aunts, sisters, etc.), is driving many of us into very desperate situations. We have little to no hope of our children spontaneously meeting up in the back yard, back streets, or alleys anymore. That any mother is still standing in modern times is truly a testament to human resilience.

As noted, I thought my child development work would help quantify the issue. Maybe people could appreciate just how much work it is to be a parent. But I think I was a bit naïve that quantification itself will help. I learned not too long ago that when industrialization took over Europe, and they started quantifying how much work was done, they purposely left women’s work out. They wouldn’t even record it as work. This patriarchal thought has also been with us for centuries. So why would it change now?

But, I mean, it might. There are studies, already. In All the Rage, Darcy Lockman cites research that proves, with everything accounted for, women do about 65% of all work needed to run a family and men do 35%. This is including hours worked at official work, etc. And it’s been like this for decades. It did shift in the early 2000s, but not much has changed since then. What is it going to take to get even a semblance of equality?

To be sure, I am not necessarily looking for perfect egalitarianism. The goal isn’t so much, “Make men do 50% of the work.” Rather, I’m looking to bigger solutions. If women were in more of a community where they were supported, division of labor goes into effect. If other children were around, children can go play, without demanding their mothers be the only source of play. The goal is to relieve the mental load. People who live in villages dedicated to child care say they get far more free time. From We Are Wired to Raise Children in a Community:

How is parenting changed through intentional community? Here are a few things I’ve learned. Our children’s newfound autonomy to roam and seek out friends translates into the biggest luxury we as parents can ask for: more free time!”

This is what I want to see as a solution. My goal is to set up a village where families can come and live. I would love to support struggling mothers, who have no network or whose network is abusive. Not just a shelter but a place to go thrive. This is my dream.

But what is it going to take to get there?

To be honest, you are dealing with entitlement. It’s popular to hear now that “hurt people hurt.” Thus, when someone is abusing someone, we are to give the … abuser … compassion.

It quite simply isn’t true. Hurt (traumatized) people are capable of not hurting others. And people who hurt may never have been traumatized.

Lundy Bancroft worked with abusive men as a counselor and has penetrating insight into the issue. He says the issue with abusers isn’t trauma. Trauma plays a complex role, of course, but it isn’t the whole issue. He asks men who say they had a bad background who are treating their wives terribly, “So shouldn’t you know yet better why this is wrong?” No, he says to imagine it like a young child was promised a piece of land from birth, to become an adult and realize he had no such rights. That’s how abusers feel and why they do what they do when they rape, steal, hurt, and hit. They feel utterly entitled. And this is how men feel. It is in wider society that this message is given. Men feel entitled to a job where they climb the ladder, to a wife, and for that wife to serve him. Virtually all modern moral paradigms grant to men these inherent rights.

Bancroft also says it’s in their moral paradigm in which abusers abuse. They don’t feel they are “abusing” anyone. They feel they are dishing out rightfully earned punishment. They’ll take their girlfriend’s phone and throw it against the wall–the bitch deserved it. But they won’t kick her in the head–that would be wrong. They have a place they go to and don’t cross. And he says they are utter masters at lying and covering up their BS. They know they’re wrong. I wish I could give many of his great quotes in this tiny blog, but I strongly encourage you to read Why Does He Do That?

Bancroft also says no amount of compassion changes them. The only time he saw change, which was rare, was if the abusers knew, truly, they would lose their wives forever or they, truly, were going to go to jail. Tough love is all they know.

The fact is if you are in a situation where you are doing 65% of the work, being grossly under supported, perhaps even verbally berated for how “little” you do or, worse, physically beaten or pressured into sex, you aren’t dealing with a mere misunderstanding. You are dealing with abuse.

And if you can identify the real problem, you can deal with it more effectively. It’s a bubble to have popped, for sure. No one wants to think they are living with an abuser, a predator, or, worse, a murderer (and a long, slow psychological murder counts as murder, as does medical neglect). But unless you can keep inching by as is and don’t really mind the situation, nothing will change unless we treat abuse as abuse.

And I make my position no mystery: I think we are dealing with cultural-wide abuse of women and children. Yes, still. It’s not openly laughed about anymore, but it’s there.

I’ve read many, many books on relationships, parenting, emotions, etc. Their advice is very lovely. It’s all about positivity, sitting with pain, working through differences, etc. I’ve used a lot of it. In times of intense emotion, I’ve been able to keep myself composed. I’ve been able to endure a lot of situations that might otherwise cause one to lose their mind. I’m mildly proud of that. It has helped. I honestly think I had it in me from birth to do that, however. But under an avalanche of trauma, it got buried and twisted. The common perception about people is that no one can keep their head. We’re all just hot heads on the verge of violence; that has to be contained. I can say for myself: it’s not true. I can keep my cool, even in heated situations. And what I am saying is: sometimes you need to utterly lose your shit for change to happen.

If you are challenging someone’s sense of entitlement or their past bad behavior, honestly, it doesn’t go well. Abuse is abuse. They are good at this. They will turn it around on you: how DARE you bring that up again? They are good at keeping the shame with you, not them. It’s not fun. Being able to push through that shame is one of the things that has to happen to push change. I have a process for dealing with shame. It involves a hot bath, a nap, water, turmeric, and a good talk with someone who knows me. I encourage you to develop a similar process if you find yourself feeling shame. No one deserves intense shaming. The problem is abusers are so quick to wield it and the moral will not. Thus the state of the world now, where the good live in shame and the evil do not. Know this: shame deserves no permanent home in your mind.

And what I have also found is that conversations, explanations, etc., just plain aren’t enough. You can sit virtually anyone down and say, “I really want what’s best for children and for them to be truly supported in a loving home.” And literally everyone on the planet will nod their head in agreement. But then there is their actual behavior and their actual acknowledgment of their own behavior. They don’t see it. You bring it up and it’s “Oh, well that’s because _____.” It’s very hard to penetrate people who will not recognize the damage they are causing.

I have found that something has to be at stake for true change to happen. Here are things that I’ve seen actually cause change:

  • A health scare
  • Divorce
  • The threat one partner might leave
  • Infidelity
  • Job loss

These things border on what our society considers immoral–for a reason. Some of the methods of challenging abuse are so effective that abusers intuitively outlaw them or make them highly immoral. It was commonly seen, until recently, that if someone estranges a family member, that they are “disloyal” or “holding a grudge.” (Going “no contact” is now common therapy advice–things are changing.) Female infidelity is one of the strongest ways to get men to behave. If she doesn’t have to put up with one man’s shit, because she can go to another, that is serious competition. And female infidelity is seen as highly immoral. Let me ask you: who do we shame more: an abusive male or an adulterous female?

Basically, people allowed to run away from the entrenched power system are a threat. What do religions typically call an “immoral” person. “Infidel!” Or something similar.

I’m arguing that mental load is a power structure. All power structures are about slavery. Getting women to sign up for a larger load is a type of slavery. Men have life a bit easier–and they don’t see it. They scoff, “God, I just want ONE NIGHT to myself, is that so much to ask!?” I remember watching Louis C.K. do a comedy routine in which he tried to go to the bathroom and his wife was upset for how long he was in there. I was aghast. Does he not realize how hard it is for a mother of young children go to go the bathroom? Going to the bathroom is not a luxury you have as a mother of young children, when child care is entirely on your shoulders. But he painted his (ex) wife as a henpecking nit picker because he couldn’t have the luxury of going to the bathroom. He felt utterly entitled and he thought it was a small thing. But, you see. It isn’t.

And power structures don’t go down in a nice way. They don’t. No one got out of slavery except by fighting it. They exposed themselves to punishment, shame, and ostracization.

This can cause change. It can create better parents and caregivers. You have to be a bit of a ball buster to do it. In some cases, you might not have a choice. At some point, a deep inner well in you might take over. Humanity can’t be this abused and asked to go this against their nature forever.

But be advised if you do go through this tumultuous process–which really is the stuff of epics and legends–things will not be the same afterwards. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. There is a certain happy, delusional bubble to stay in if you don’t ever rock the boat. Mentally, it can be a nice place to live–if you are able to live. But, physically, things will eat at you.

If you resolve it, through the typical less-than-fun means, there is a recovery process to put in place. Imagine the ego bruise faced by a patriarch when his wife almost leaves him. These are mildly to highly entitled beings we’re talking about. At some point, this ego bruise will need patched up. If you go through the process and you see actual change, have a “Yes, now all is forgiven” moment. Ironically, it is deep in men to be women’s knight in shining armor. I think it quite hurts them to find out they are not. It is part of the evolution of men and women. Women teach men this.

And if you do go through this transformation, honestly, rejoice! Not everyone is capable of this transformation. Delight in your new respect, care, and way of living.

To break down patriarchal systems, I think this is where it has to start. Women have to say “no.” They have to risk the shame and punishment that might come their way. We can’t remain “good girls.”

With men on board, we might see authentic change. I envision the ideal as neighborhoods set up as villages, with a communal area for children and cars kept well away from them. And men are essential to make that happen.

I quite delight in my children, knowing they are my husband’s and mine. I want lifelong commitment to him–one relationship. But humans can only hand so many “ones.” We can’t set it up solely around one: one marriage, one mother, one house, one narrow way of living. The numbers don’t lie: some of us will have married the wrong person, we might not make it 20+ years with all responsibilities on our shoulder, and none of us do well being in a servant position to another (one narrow way to live). We need at least a few “manys” thrown in there. Many mothers, many friends, many people willing to lend a hand.

Open it up. Liberalize it. New ways of thinking. My book Towards Liberalism calls for this as a moral paradigm: that society is structured around the proper nurturing of children.

Liberating the wild feminine

And “liberal” quite means “abundant”–many.

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