The Mental Load When There Are Two Moms to Carry the Burden
There's an overwhelming expectation in our society that moms are naturally better caregivers than dads and they're expected to be able to handle more of it as a result. This leads to a mental load imbalance in two-parent heterosexual households. But the reality is gender does not define parenting abilities and raising kids in a same-sex, two-mom household has its own share of burdens to navigate.
My wife and I have learned parenting under normal circumstances is difficult, but parenting amid a pandemic is extremely hard. We've navigated the homeschooling experience for our three kids—4-year-old twin girls and a 13-year-old son—and tried to figure out how to keep them busy during a summer of social distancing.
We've done this while trying to tackle our long to-do list of household chores, grocery shopping, paying bills, and keeping up with our careers. Add in the racial injustice conversations we've been having in our house and our parental obligations are more important than ever. Just like other parents, we are exhausted by the time we get into our bed each night.
But while we deal with the typical duties of parenthood, we also have to shoulder the burdens of being a same-sex couple, which is a constant battle of educating people about who and what makes a family: Love. There is also a misconception within society that moms can do it all and are never saddled with too much. The reality is, burdens exist even when two moms carry the load together.
We Need to Defend Our Family to Others
It's not unusual for us to have to explain our family to strangers who ask questions like, "Are those your kids?" or say things like, "She's so tall—her dad must be very tall." Even worse: we also have to question whether or not to sign our kids up for a particular program because of fear the staff might not respect our family or allow our children to feel welcomed. It's an added burden to be on guard constantly and have to both try to educate the person or improve the "system" in some way for all LGBTQA parents and their kids. And it can also be a burden for our kids—it's not easy when our teenage son has to defend his family in the middle of a social justice class.
Jada Jones, mom to 4-year-old twins living in New York, understands this struggle all too well. "One of the first questions many still ask is about my husband or my children's father. My girls are going into kindergarten and now I have to be that person that crosses out 'father' and writes in 'mother' or 'parent' [on school forms]," she says. "It's annoying and I'm over it but I want the community to have a positive association with one of the only LGBTQ families so I will continue to smile and happily say, 'We're a two-mom family!'"
Pay Inequity Is All Too Real
But the struggles don't stop there. Many two-mom households have to deal with pay inequity. "Any couple that doesn't include a cisgender man has lower lifetime earning potential, and if one or both women are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), we see an even larger disparity," says Genya N. Shimkin, MPH, founder and CEO of Q Card Project, a Washington-based company with a mission to help queer/trans youth communicate better with health care providers about who they are, their gender identity, sexual orientation, and preferred pronouns. Research shows women earn about 82 cents for every dollar men earn and the wage gap is larger for women of color. Black women earn about 62 cents per dollar.
My Sri Lankan-American wife is a hospital chaplain, working on the frontlines of this pandemic, and the only lesbian and woman of color on staff. I work as a director of programs at a New York City-based nonprofit. As two moms of color working to pay the bills, we feel pretty lucky not only to work in careers we love, but to also have a paycheck that allows us to provide for our family. We recognize we are very fortunate because this isn't the case for many other women in our position, especially during this challenging time in our country. Prior to the pandemic, women made up 77 percent of the education and health care workforce in the U.S., but accounted for 83 percent of job losses in those fields in April 2020, according to analysis from the National Women's Law Center.
The Burden to 'Do it All' Doesn't Go Away
Ultimately, the problems exclusively bogging down same-sex couples do not start or end with how much money one brings in or which medical forms don't include our family. But they really add to the mental load of parenting every single day. That's on top of the fact that the burden to do it all is not singular to moms partnered with a cisgender man; it can also affect how we parent in a two-mom household.
I've noticed this even more so during the pandemic when time at home together has increased significantly. Jennifer S. Miller, M.Ed., parenting, social, and emotional development expert, says that makes sense. "If you adhered to particular roles and responsibilities before COVID-19, our busy lives helped us ignore inequities. But with so much time together, we can no longer ignore power imbalances," says Miller, also the author of Confident Parents, Confident Kids; Raising Emotional Intelligence in Ourselves and Our Children—From Toddlers to Teenager.
Solutions at Play
I've learned just how important it is to have open communication with your partner and to make a conscious effort to split duties in the house. I've been the parent who stays home with our kids during the pandemic and between managing our household's day-to-day tasks, especially the chores, I had no choice but to ask my kids to do more. They each have their own duties and receive a small allowance for when they complete them. The girls are in charge of feeding our dog and carrying laundry to its respective room. Our son has taken on a few landscaping tasks and washing the dishes at the end of each day.
We all have a role to play in our family. We are counting on each other. And at the end of the day, it's important to be easy on ourselves. All we need is love and respect for one another as parents and for our children, who are luckily confident in who they are and the love they receive from their two moms.
Parents.com dives into the mental load—the unseen burden of parenthood and that endless to-do list that makes up caring for children—and how the labor imbalance is impacting families. Read more here.