You’re a new dad. You’ve been scouring the internet. You’ve been asking your colleagues. Now that you’re a parent, what do you get your wife for Mother’s Day? Here’s the answer: your share of the mental workload.
Your kids’ mom is a rock star—an exhausted rock star
Sure, you should do something this Sunday: Buy her jewelry or send her out for a massage — if only to say, “Here’s a one-time token of my appreciation.” But if your wife is like the vast majority of moms, she is busting her butt every day in ways you don’t even realize. Remember that little study about how “the average working mom clocks in a 98-hour workweek”? That’s probably your wife. And if she stays home with the kids all day, she’ probably working just as hard with even more potential for burnout. Moreover, she’s probably carrying the mental burden of the family schedule and ” perpetual guardian against anything falling through the cracks”.
A change you can own
What she really needs is for you to make one change that you will stick to for the rest of your shared role as parents. Maybe you pick one day a week that you will make dinner, forever. Perhaps you step up to plan all the kids’ doctors appointments until they are 18. Try to take over laundry — including washing, folding and putting away — for good. Whatever it is, owning it is key — taking it from start to finish. For example, say your son’s soccer jersey gets stained at practice, and you slap some Shout on it the moment he gets home. Then you see it through until it’s folded in his drawer the next day. You should be ready to commit — it’s not a one-time favor. (That’s not how any of this works.)
Talk to her first
Your wife may have been managing the household for years now, and there are things she likes and things she hates. So talk to her before you pick one. Maybe buying groceries feels like an outing to her (though I doubt it). Maybe she likes the peace and quiet of folding laundry. So tell her what task you are thinking of taking over, and make sure you both feel good about it. This is also your chance to ask her not to interfere — you will have your own method to household tasks, and you can ask for her patience about letting you do it your way. You won’t feel good about stepping up if she’s always telling you how to do it. For example, if you’re taking over packing the kids’ lunches, you can tell her now: “I won’t always cut their sandwiches into star shapes, but they will have healthy meals every day, and you will have an extra 15 minutes every morning.” Also now is the time to ask about conditions, find out if peanut butter is forbidden in school lunches, etc.
Do it for you
You will feel good about doing your share and owning it. You will get less grief from your wife — and according to research, more sex. Your daughters will find more equal partners in adulthood, and your sons will be better partners and fathers. But — sorry — you won’t get a pat on the back every time you do it. Neither does your wife. She gets one Sunday in May full of macaroni necklaces and hand-print heart cards (which she loves with all her heart). May you be so lucky!