“What do you do all day?”

Most jobs have a degree of complexity and/or nuance not visible to people outside of the job, even if they’re in the same work place, and running a household is on that list, especially if there are children involved.

Babies are time- and energy-consuming. Even babies with lovely dispositions without food issues who sleep well at night and take naps (see: unicorn babies) take a lot of time and energy. Even the “easy” babies have sleep regressions and cut teeth and so on.

The difficulty of getting the house cleaned or meals made while caring for one or more babies and toddlers seems to be more widely understood, even if a lot of people still need the lesson.

But what about when the kids are in school? Then there’s not really much to do, right?

As a side note: this is not a long post complaining about how stuff is divided in my home—some of this pertains personally and some doesn’t and the list today would look different than this one does—but it’s a thing in most households with children and fewer-but-still-too-many without children.

Additionally, this post assumes Mom is in the “running the household” role, because the majority of the time it’s Mom. There are Dads that assume this role as well. Consider it a gender-neutral “Mom.”)

On a couple of school days, I kept a list of the things that I was doing for the child or the household.

Household tasks one might expect were on the list:

  • open dog door
  • start dishwasher
  • empty dishwasher
  • put away dishes in drying rack (2 to 5 times daily)
  • make dinner
  • feed the dogs
  • water for the dogs
  • vacuum
  • wash/dry/put away towels
  • grocery shopping
  • put food away

Child-specific tasks on the list:

  • wake him up
  • make breakfast
  • make part of his lunch (typically two or all three of us chip in on this task)
  • fill water bottle
  • remind him to pick up dog poop
  • remind him to take a mask and a book to school
  • remind him to return specific papers to school
  • remind him to take headphones because it’s Tuesday and he needs headphones on Tuesdays
  • remind him that the schedule after school is different today
  • check the backpack when he got home
  • remind him to take care of his lunchbox when he got home
  • oversee homework
  • run with him (read: make sure he gets physical activity)

Tasks that don’t happen often but happened to be in these few days:

  • put up baby gate in the doorway (re: dogs)
  • hard boil eggs
  • wash mat by the back door
  • run an extra rinse after washing the mat because the washer is coated in dirt
  • peel label off sauce jar for reusing the jar and I don’t want to pick pieces of label out of the bottom of the dishwasher
  • make chickpeas
  • divide chickpeas into jars and put in freezer after they cool

Of course, some things happen weekly or less that didn’t happen in those few days (other laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, changing the sheets, buying the child pants/shoes that fit, etc.). The list also doesn’t include anything I did those days that was just for me—my laundry, preparing or cleaning up meals I ate solo, writing, and so on.

Dishes and laundry cycle continuously. Meal planning and making is constant. Bathrooms get dirty. Even with shoes off in the house, floors get dirty. The to-do list is relentless.

Despite the never-ending list of physical tasks, the exhausting piece to me and many other moms is keeping track of everything. Remembering that the child needs headphones for school on Tuesdays. Or that he needs a checkup. Or that the bi-annual insurance bill needs to be paid. Or that Joe asked for help on Saturday. Or that school needs a volunteer for an upcoming event. Or that there’s a birthday party on Sunday…and we need a gift…and what the birthday child would like. Or that we need to look into summer camps or next season’s sports or find a new piano teacher. Or that his pants are too short or shoes are too small.

It’s draining to be in charge of everything, to be the one who has to ask everyone else to pitch in, then follow up to make sure it got done. Why do other adults or near-adults (in the case of teenagers) need to be asked to take care of laundry or dishes? These are basic things that need to be done on a regular basis. Just do them. 

And to keep expectations in check—the parade you get for doing it will be just as big as the one I get for doing it.

The problem as I see it is twofold.

First, it disrespects Mom. Because no one can be bothered with doing their part to maintain their household until Mom asks. Sometimes not until Mom yells. (That’s double-edged because Mom has trained everyone to ignore her until she yells, and while that might be on her to adjust how she interacts with her kids, Dad needs to step up.)

Second, it’s non-stop. Even if one partner works 60 hours a week (which no one should, honestly, but I know too many who do), they still have down time because they’re tired when they get home and take time to relax. If one person is in charge of keeping track of all the moving parts in a household, that person doesn’t get down time. The more people or special needs in the household, the more moving parts.

Even if one parent is a stay-at-home parent, they need and deserve time off from work, too. And Mom who works full time and comes home to her second job doesn’t get time off.

If you’ve never been in charge of all of the moving parts, you might not have any idea how many moving parts there actually are.

The activity above—making a list of all of the things for a day or a week—really sheds light on how much the person running the household does. 

If you’re one of the adults who is benefitting from having a housekeeper, secretary, bookkeeper, nanny, cook, etc. in your home and you’re presented with this kind of time/energy audit, do your best not to be defensive and just learn how much they’re doing.

Then take on some of it. Without being asked. Even though you’re tired and don’t want to.

She’s tired and doesn’t want to, either. 

2 thoughts on ““What do you do all day?””

  1. Good points. This has been especially clear during the pandemic with everyone at home more often and with more endless chores to monitor. Keeping a list of what we have done in the day is a great idea! Instead of feeling like we’ve accomplished nothing at all in the day, we can see where our time and efforts have really gone.


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