Justin Baldoni and Wife Emily Get Real About Sharing the Mental Load of Parenting
When it comes to shouldering the mental load, partners often have differing ideas about what they're bringing to the table. It's been no different for Justin Baldoni and his wife Emily Baldoni. The Jane the Virgin star, co-host of The Man Enough Podcast, filmmaker, and Man Enough author has been open about doing the work of partnership with Emily, co-founder of AMMA, a company that produces fashionable breastfeeding wraps. It's been an ongoing process neither shies away from getting real about.
Here, they each share their perspectives on the ongoing journey to step up—and show up—for one another and for themselves while raising their two children, Maiya, 6, and Maxwell, 4.
Emily Baldoni on Why Asking for Help Matters
When we had Maiya, Justin was on Jane the Virgin, and my career was a little bit slower, and as I was getting more and more pregnant, I worked less and less. We fell into that natural thing of him being the breadwinner while I stayed at home with our new child. It felt like the right decision, and we were both very happy about it. But all of the sudden, trauma kicked in, and I felt like, "Oh my God, I have to be the perfect mother. I have to shoulder all of this on my own, because that is something to be proud about. I'm gonna handle this. I'm going to be the best, and I'm gonna figure it out." And meanwhile, he was lost in his patriarchal wounds of "Oh my God, now I have to be this father, and I need to be the best breadwinner, and I need to provide, and I need to achieve, and I need to have a great career." And we started going in two separate directions.
We ended up in this place where he would come home at the end of the night, and we spoke two different languages. We felt like we were on two different planets.
I was doing all these new things—learning how to take care of a little human being that was completely dependent on me to survive. And then poopy diapers and laundry and spit-up. This world was entirely new to me and does not come with a frickin manual—although it should.
Nothing could have prepared me for the mental and emotional load as a mother and all the invisible work that I did. It was even invisible to me, because I looked back at my day, and I was like, "I did nothing. Why am I so exhausted?" Because we don't count all the diapers, we don't count all the stress that we feel when our kid is sick for the first time. But at the end of the day, you're exhausted because you're holding so much that nobody else sees, that nobody thanks you for. Mothers and fathers—but mainly mothers—are just expected to show up and do the work and stop complaining. You're at home. What are you complaining about?
I felt like I had nobody to lean on. But in my victimhood, I completely forgot that here's this father—the love of my life—who has to leave every morning and separate from his new child, whom he loves more than anything in the world. All he wants to do is stay at home and cuddle with her and be with her all day long. And he has to leave and go work endless hours and kick ass and provide for his family. He wanted to be with a baby, I wanted to be with adults. And resentment started to grow.
Fast forward to Christmas a few years ago. It was after our son Maxwell had been born, and it was the perfect situation. Happy little kids, something wonderful cooking on the stove. And I looked around and realized how unhappy I was. It killed me in that moment. I was like, "Look at everything you have. Why are you not happy? Why does everything feel like a chore? Why does trying to be happy feel like a chore?"
When you start asking those questions, that usually takes you to therapy. Everybody talks about self-care, and I'd been annoyed by that as a new mother, thinking, "There isn't time for that! Leave me alone." But I realized there's a reason people talk about this, and that's the fact that self-care has to be a priority—just like my kids are a priority. I realized that I can't serve from a cup that is empty. I need to fill my cup. And that has been a major learning curve for me.
Now, we have both been deep diving into therapy—couples therapy, individual, trauma therapy. In those safe spaces, where you can just put it all on the table without running the risk of hurting anyone, where somebody is there on the receiving end to listen and go, "Oh, I'm sorry. I get that. I understand. I hear you," the healing begins. Thank God, I have a partner that is willing to do the hard work of the heart work, like he says. Because now, we're growing together.
I love therapy so much, because I get to be OK with my imperfections. I get to even find a space to hold the things that I'm really embarrassed about. And if I am that person, that means that my partner is also out there humaning and trying to figure out how the hell to do this. Compassion and patience showed up. We began to talk to each other differently, like, "I have my needs, and I know you have yours. And there's a way that we can figure out how we can both be happy in that place. And I know I fell short here. You fell short over there, but I get why you did. And I'm not going to make you feel like shit about it. Because I get it. I understand why we misstep and why we make bad decisions." That just seems to be the best space for healthy solutions to grow.
Balancing the mental load with Justin has taken years, but it always starts with open, loving, truthful communication—really speaking about the crap that you're in, and then together, figuring it out.
What I see in myself and a lot of my female friends is that it's still new to us to ask for what we want and what we need. I started by asking myself questions. What do I love to do? Do I want to go back to my career? Or do I want to invent something new? What do I actually want? What makes me happy? When I started building on that and feeling a little bit stronger and a little bit more comfortable in my own skin, then I was able to show up and actually make requests. And he did the same thing.
Now, I'm actually getting busier and building a successful company, which is fun for me. And Justin is working on doing less, slowly pruning his career garden and getting clear on what really matters. We're also figuring out what kind of help we need. When do we reach out to grandparents to get help? And how can we make sure that we have time for date night and maybe a weekend trip to take care of our first baby, which is our marriage. And it's all tests and trials. You eventually figure it out as long as you're committed to figuring it out.
Justin Baldoni On Becoming Self-Aware
Looking back on the beginning of our parenthood journey, I think about how unprepared both of us were. No one really prepares you for what it's like to have the responsibility of having a child while also trying to provide and support each other emotionally and all that comes with it and being so young. Emily and I were 30 when we had Maiya, and we were the first of our friends to have kids. We were doing the best that we could. We were very much in a place of reacting versus being proactive and figuring out like, "OK, how do we want to be here? What's best for our kids, or what's best for us?" We were just more like, "Holy shit. We have a child." I remember when the midwife left, we were like, "There's no one else here that's gonna help us? This is it, just figure it out? OK."
My concept of being a good dad was largely influenced by my dad, which was like, you show up, you emotionally support your wife, you provide for your family, you figure out how you can be helpful—versus owning the whole thing. And I think that's how it is for a lot of men. Because of the patriarchy, we're expected to go, "OK, I'm a provider. I need to protect and take care of my family." It's all about "fixing" versus the emotional labor that we should be taught about from an early age.
Meanwhile, I was working, and I had very little time off. The entertainment business is terrible when it comes to family leave. If you're lucky enough to win the lottery and get on a television show, and you have a baby, you can't shut down a production with the hundreds of people who work there just because you have a child, and you want paternity leave. It doesn't work that way. With our second child, I think I got three or four days. And we're on the privileged side.
In the midst of all of this, it's easy to not even realize you're not happy or that you're stuck on the hamster wheel, and you have no idea what you're doing or how you're living. You're just kind of a robot. You're enjoying aspects of life, and you're enjoying your kids, and you're enjoying each other at times. But something's missing. And so it just comes down to communicating and talking and being like, "Is this working for you? It's not working for me. I'm not really happy here. How do you feel?"
I remember when Emily first told me she was feeling lonely. That was one of the first times when I was like, "Wait a second, how am I contributing to that? Why do you feel that way?" It also allowed me the space and the freedom to say, "Well, honestly, I've been feeling lonely too." It wasn't like, "Let's compete about who's more lonely, tired, or exhausted." More so, it created an opportunity for us to share and talk about the reason why we're feeling lonely.
We realized that actually wasn't our fault. It's the system we're living in. If she's feeling lonely as a result of her responsibilities related to the kids, then it's my job to go, "Let me figure out how I can relieve some of that burden." And if I'm feeling lonely, because I'm working so much, and I'm not getting a chance to be with my kids enough, she can look at that and say, "Let me see how I can help you feel less lonely, maybe by bringing the kids to set." It's about making an effort, little by little, day by day.
Emily and I talk about this idea of self-work being the greatest activism, which is this idea that you cannot impact the world around you or show up for your family if you're not showing up for yourself. And if you're not doing that healing work on your own, if you're not self-aware, if you're not actually looking at the root of your own behaviors, your own frustrations and anger or sadness, or even aware that you have it, how the heck can you ever show up for your partner or your child?
Therapy has allowed me to do the healing work that I've needed to do, that I didn't know I needed to do as a man for so, so long. I figured out what my own trauma was and my response to that trauma and how that's influenced my life and how that's influenced my marriage and my parenting style. We learned how to communicate with each other and hear what the other person wants and needs and what they're actually saying underneath what they're saying versus being reactionary and trying to solve a problem.
Most of us are just trying to survive. But it's possible to take a step back and ask yourselves, "Why are we doing this?" For instance, are we just engaging in a certain type of parenting style because that's what everybody else is doing versus what works for us?
Then, you can decide together what is best, what is enough, how you want to show up for one another, and how you want to show up for your children.
That has been the big thing for us: healing and stopping long enough to recognize what's really underlying our emotions. That's where Emily and I are right now. We are both on this journey together and taking our kids with us as we try to be as conscientious as possible.