How to Manage the Increase in Housework on Maternity Leave

Our family is growing.

Today’s post is very much inspired by a fantastic Psychologist I enjoy following on Facebook.   Dr. Psych Mom is like the 2017 version of reading advice columns! I LOVE her perspective and how she encourages community participation and input around topics of importance to us all.

She has a really interesting one today on the division of household responsibilities. I was chatting with a new friend about this the other day – how there are so many different combinations between partners when it comes to our families and household responsibilities, depending on dynamics, socialization, culture, gender norms, schedules, etc.

Maternity leave is interesting because you are at home so much more than you are used to, and naturally you find yourself taking stock of the home, responsibilities and are putting a bit more time in on the home front.

Personally speaking, I struggled on my first two maternity leaves with what felt like an increased load, because this is an area where I have a deep need for equality – not only out of preference, but also because I manage chronic back pain and am actually quite limited in what I can do in the house without totally blowing up my back.  Now on my third maternity leave, I am actually really enjoying the household responsibilities but also have the confidence to communicate and negotiate a balance that works for me.  This is the real crux of my blog today. What is the right balance for you and how do you communicate that and set those boundaries?  This is so important to the health of your marriage or partnership or even family dynamic.  And even your happiness.

The housework HAS  increased to more than when I am at work full time, but what is important to note is that it is the right amount – and I don’t feel any resentment at all. Household work is something we all do, when it become a hot-button issue is when the topic of gender and marriage and relationships comes into play.

Household work is something we all do, when it becomes a hot-button issue is when there is a subtle undercurrent of inequality or resentment, whether actual or perceived.

First off, there is something really important to check in on with you, the reader.  What is your background?  Because it informs your way of perceiving your situation, and any hot buttons you may have around the issue.

For example, what were the gender roles in your family home growing up? What was expected of you? What did society expect of you?  Who did you look up to? What did you feel you needed to do to earn their love? Did you learn to associate pain or pleasure with housework?

In coaching, we often refer to all of this stuff above as an “invisible background” – it’s not like we bring all of these things up when we are tackling housework / chores right?  But it is there, influencing every action, and every decision, every response and feeling we have.

We call it invisible because our partners often don’t know about it until we bring it out from behind the veil or totally lose our shit over something.

One of the best things you can do on mat leave is have a friendly chat about the obvious, there is a little shift here in who’s at home.  It’s really important to set expectations on both sides, and boundaries on both sides – you also need to take some time to figure out what works for YOU.

Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you are bound to a certain way of doing things.

Before I get into a deeper talk I did want to share to two things that have worked so well for us as a couple!

List the weekly household responsibilities.  A while ago my husband and I sat down and chatted about what we love / hate in terms of house duties. Actually sittin gand listing what needs to be done weekly versus monthly was pretty eye opening. An important tip is also to add how much time each task takes.  Unloading the dishwasher happens in a blink compared to say, 5 loads of laundry, folding and putting away. We split the responsibilities so they play to our strengths (and limitations)

Find one activity you can approach with lightness. We also have a fun little challenge we try to do.  It’s called the 15 minute clean – we pump up some great tunes and set a timer and do a surface clean / tidy up. It has actually become a fun ritual and it’s so shocking how much you can do in 15 minutes with a competitive edge! We kind of make it a workout, running around the house trying to beat each other in how much we can get done, then we come together and compare. It works really well especially for my ex athlete husband!

Now, let’s get into some super duper interesting stuff!  There is also some interesting influence upon our household roles depending on personality type. This below will be is an interesting read for you MBTI enthusiasts.

Did you know Sensors (S) are very good at the details. My husband will notice a stain, or a crumb, or something that needs to be cleaned. He is also amazing at laying out household management in a nice, systematic way and has a preference for a sequential cleaning approach. Kind of like A leads to B leads to C leads to D.

Whereas I have a slight preference toward intuitive (N) – I am talented at systems thinking – my wheelhouse is organization, putting things in the right places, globally assessing rooms / taking a snapshot and making sure things are in the right places. I quite literally don’t see crumbs or stains immediately because my brain responds to the stimulus of the big picture snapshot and how systems fit together. I’m too busy thinking and miss the details. My thinking function is introverted though, so I do it all inside of my head, so I have to remind myself to let my husband in on my rationale for doing things, which to him, make ZERO sense haha.

Even when it comes to cleaning, I tackle things seemingly at random like, all the door knobs in the house being disinfected. Randomly. On a tuesday at 9am.

Usually if there is a “theme” in my mind, ie: preventing colds and flu, what I begin to notice for extra house projects will fall into that theme. A classic mark of an intuitive type.

Kind of like X is related to Z but there’s a bit of Y in there too (as opposed to my A-B-C-D partner.) I can watch him go room to room in this sequential approach and it all makes so much sense just from observation.

Interesting, isn’t it?

One of the most important things to remember is this: our partner is never out to specifically piss us off with their action (or inaction) around household responsibilities and duties. I don’t think many people walk around in this world with the intent to piss others off.

Your reactions are just that. Your reaction to a neutral event.

I don’t think many people walk around in this world with the intent to hurt / offend / piss off their partner. So much of it simply comes down to misunderstanding.

To much of a degree, it is because of misunderstanding the “invisible background” that informs our actions.

We all act on the unconscious conditioning that we acquire through the society, family, gender even the media environment we grew up in.  But then we expect our partners to read our minds and know alllllll of that background.

The key to creating a new system that works for both parties on maternity leave  (and prevents resentment) is understanding how each others’ brains / personalities work (this is precisely why I love doing the couples MBTI personality coaching so much.)  We need to know how life has shaped the way we look at housework and our role in the home / domestic arts.  It is about making the unconscious, conscious. About knowing what each others’ beliefs are.

How on earth do you make the unconscious conscious?

Ask yourself things like, what are my negotiables around the house? What are my non-negotiables. Why is this such a touch point / hot button for me? Where does it stem from (often childhood or the environments we grow up in.)  What triggers me the most?  Why?  (and if you are feeling really brave, ask yourself “Why to the third degree” basically do what your own kid does… ask why over and over again, digging deeper and deeper into the answer to the question.

I’ll give you my own example, because I’ve really noticed that some people are really uncomfortable  with mess in a house.  No joke,  I’ve watched family members rush around my own house compulsively cleaning when they are just visiting to get my house to a place they are comfortable with!  Though it is totally appreciated and I know they are also doing it to help, I also find their discomfort interesting, and I love observing what everyone’s set points are in terms of house maintenance.

I grew up on an acreage in the English countryside. We spent our days playing outside in the forest. Our house was messy, chaotic and full of animals (we had chickens, ducks, goats, cats and dogs) but it was a house full of love, laughter and action. I associated pleasure and happiness with a home environment that was full of crafts and activities, random sticks we had bought in, wax jackets tossed over the kitchen chairs after a long walk in the woods with the dog in the rain. An extraverted family, our house was somewhere to come home to at the end of the day and sleep, but our orientation was going out into the world, exploring, playing, traveling.  The house wasn’t the centre of our lives … the world out there was. That was what grounded us.

My husband grew up in a lovely house in the suburbs, in a family that takes pride in its homes and inner spaces – both literally and subjectively, as there are many introverts in his family.

For introverts, home is somewhere sacred, the place from which they ground themselves and need to be based out of. It is where they come back to recharge, as opposed to an extrovert whose natural need is to get “out there.” Their homes are ordered and clean and there is a regular schedule of cleaning and house maintenance and a different level of expectation with regards to orderliness and cleanliness. This is made complex further by each individuals’ experiences in the world they grew up in and how they were trained to see household duties.

With a centre of gravity around the home and “inner world”  introverts’ homes are often ordered and clean and there is a regular schedule of cleaning and house maintenance and a different baseline of comfort with regards to orderliness and cleanliness. This is made complex further by each individuals’ experiences in the world they grew up in.

You can see vast differences here, between two families, two ways of growing up. Not only are there different rituals and habits, but also different cultures and ways of seeing things. There is NO

Not only are there different rituals and habits, but also different cultures and ways of seeing things. There is NO wrong . There is NO right.

There is only sharing and understanding and respect.

The most important lesson to take from all of this is always have a spirit of curiosity. When you butt heads over the home, or tasks…. be vulnerable and brave.  Just open up and shaaaaaare.  Make that invisible background visible!

Your partner is not trying to be a jerk.  They are acting from what they know and how their brain works.  Most of the time all of us are on autopilot mode, and the way to get some intention and consciousness back is to have a conversation.

Practice gentle curiosity. Endeavour to dig deeper and understand that person’s motivation.

You may still agree or disagree, but at least the communication line has opened up.

Communication is the antidote to resentment.

And here, attached for your reference, is the article that got me thinking and writing about this topic today.


How to divide household chores and obligations so that everyone flourishes.

3 thoughts on “How to Manage the Increase in Housework on Maternity Leave”

  1. When you’re heavily pregnant or you are back home with a newborn, I think the housework responsibilities should move lower down on the priority list. Your health and wellbeing, and that of your baby are far more important than having a tidy house.

    I say let it slide, allow other people to help you, and just focus on you and your baby!


    1. Love love your take on this! I couldn’t agree more! I think so much of what we struggle with is the inner dialogue that isn’t even our own, it’s what we’ve inherited from society, media, etc. around us. If we can manage that dialogue and also realize that it’s not necessarily our own, we can truly embrace what we should be doing which is exactly what you mention here!


    2. Remembered your comment here as I concluded mat leave #3 in the early spring! 🙂 🙂 Lots of asking for help, lots of saying f*** it, it’s their problem if my house is messy, and generally feeling a bit more defiant. Could be the 30s, could be 3 under 4, but definitely was also your support. xo.


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