Tackle Life Together

A blog by Sally Waters

sally [at] homescrum .co.uk

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Things you don’t think of as work that are actually work

What counts as work? Here’s an incomplete list of different types of work:

  • Working for money (a job)
  • School work (or learning in general)
  • Housework
  • Child care
  • Other care (e.g. for elderly relatives)
  • Pet care
  • Self care (e.g. exercise, hygiene, cooking yourself meals, meeting your own needs)
  • Emotional labour (e.g. staying cheerful when expected to, as in customer service jobs, or masking a neurodivergence such as autism to appear neurotypical)
  • Creative work
  • Mental/organisational labour (see below)
  • Life admin (e.g. paying the bills, budgeting, going to see the doctor)
  • Relationship work (being a good friend or partner, spending time and effort doing things for and with others)

In short, anything that takes effort is a type of work. Hopefully, some of it you enjoy, so it doesn’t feel like onerous work, but it is still work.

I’ve heard that ideally children help with housework.

We might not consider some of this to be ‘proper’ work because society puts drastically different values on these different types of work. As a general rule, any type of work which has been (and to a very real extent, still is) traditionally assigned to women is massively devalued: housework and child care are up there, as well as the emotional labour of being ‘nurturing’ and soothing the hurts and tempers of others. Another ‘invisible’ type of work is the mental load, which is the effort it takes to organise a household. Women are often expected to be the manager of household tasks as well as one of the main doers of tasks; she is in charge of knowing when each member of a family needs to be where, what they’ll need to have with them, and what needs to be prepared in advance. This is why even if a mother and father physically split the housework and childcare and earning money equally, it could still be unfair, as the mother could still be taking on the mental load of telling the father what needs to be done.

In Home Scrum we are already externalising and visualising work of all types on a board in front of us, it is a good opportunity to think about whether you harbour any of these biases about which work is worth more than others. It also brings to light if there are any major discrepancies in how much each member of the family is expected to do, or if one family member is stuck with one type of work by default. It’s not usually realistic to expect a perfectly even split of responsibilities between partners, for instance, but that’s not to say it’s not worth aiming for. And if, like we do, you split up the work by type according to which member of the household is most suited to it (I take on a lot of the mental load and the life-admin, such as managing our money, while Francis takes more of the ‘straightforward’ jobs such as the grocery shopping), at least this also gives an opportunity to acknowledge that this is the case, and explicitly show your appreciation to your family or team-member for helping support you with things with which you would struggle.

One more thing that reflecting on all these types of work helps me with is to acknowledge that I have a lot more going on than I think I do. I tend to discount anything that isn’t a creative project, like this blog. All the mundane, routine effort that goes into keeping life on the road seems boring and unworthy of my notice—something that I should easily and efficiently ‘get out of the way’ so I can get on with the real work (i.e. the impressive work, or work that is needed by other people). But this is just my perfectionistic and people-pleasing thought patterns trying to trick me. None of this stuff is effortless or beneath notice. It’s not nothing. You’re managing more demands and responsibilities than you think, and you deserve to give yourself credit for that.

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