No, I’m not pregnant, and I’m not sure when it started exactly, but with the start of residency looming and more free time on my hands right now than I’m used to, l have this strong desire to declutter and reorganize. Thanks in part to a nudge from Mommabee’s recent post on feeling stuck, I dove into Marie Kondo’s Netflix series.
I hoped that I would get some practical tips for decluttering, and I did, but I also found something much more enlightening. It clicked during the 4th episode, when a family of four was working to control the clutter after downsizing from a large house to a 2-bedroom apartment. The crux of the episode was when it became clear that the mother was responsible for essentially all of the “stuff”, both physically, cognitively and emotionally, to the point where her adolescent children and husband would call her throughout the day because they couldn’t find anything. She had taken on the role and implicitly assumed the responsibility while working a full-time job outside the home. I won’t dive into a full analysis of the show (although there’s a good one on the show’s gender dynamics here). The invisible labor of womanhood and motherhood becomes visible.
Suddenly, I saw my impulse to reorganize our home and life in stark clarity. While I’m grateful that my husband is committed to gender equality in our marriage, we’re still fighting generations of inequality and implicit assumptions about men and women’s roles at home and in managing family life. So while some things are straightforward, ie, if I make dinner, he cleans up, and vice versa, other forms of emotional labor are not. Looking back, we can both see the impacts of very unequal emotional labor on each of our mothers. And the “stuff” is just one example. We both moved at least 10 times throughout our childhoods, sometimes internationally, and usually lived in rented housing. While my father was the “packing expert”, my mother managed the bulk of the organizing and cleaning and knowing where everything was, on top of knowing who needed what doctor/dentist/chiropractor appointment or freshly laundered uniform and what we were going to eat for dinner. And I subconsciously still assume that’s my role too. I’ve been able to keep up (mostly) with this invisible work while keeping up in medical school, although it’s gotten a lot harder since my son was born. I’m actually pretty good at managing a lot of this in my head.
But here’s the thing – I know it’s taking energy away from other areas where I want to be excellent, like being really present with my son when I’m with him, and developing into an excellent physician, and building the career that I actually want, rather than just slogging along on a one-size-fits-all career treadmill. I know the other members of my medical-student-mom squad feel it too. We’re constantly exhausted and we’re not even in residency yet. And while decluttering is helpful, it’s not the answer. Delegating is definitely part of the answer, but first I have to list out all of the things that I’m trying to do and then figure out how to delegate them. So keep an eye out for my household organizing/delegating app once I actually figure out how to do all of this. (I’m kidding – this is way beyond the scope of any app.)
No, I put this out there not because I’m expecting someone has a magic answer, but because I’m grappling. And I’m also grateful. I’m grateful for my wonderful mother and mother-in-law, who managed two large, chaotic households with so much love and way more patience than we ever deserved. They fell into bed at the end of every day exhausted for reasons they couldn’t even name. I’m so grateful to them for managing all of our “stuff”, both physical and emotional. And I hope to honor them by finding a way to both love and care for my own little family while letting go of some of those expectations and responsibilities. I hope to honor them by sharing some of the empathy and intuitiveness that I learned from them with my patients and colleagues too. And I’m grateful for the #momsquad that lets me vent without judgement about how hard all of this is, and the husband and toddler who love me just as I am.