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Asking Your Partner to Share the Emotional Labor

Mommy SOS

It was probably a burned-out mother who first uttered those famous words: “it takes a village.” Child rearing—especially in the blurry, early days—is as exhausting as it is magical, and as tempting as it can be to think we can do it all, the truth is, we all need help.  

When baby first arrives, the floodgates might open and that proverbial village will come pouring in. Often they’ll show up on your doorstep, casseroles in hand, ready to make you coffee and snuggle the baby while you shower.  

Then slowly, the visitors wane—but the sleepless nights and full-time days do not. This is when you’ll need some help from that villager living right in your home.  

It’s OK to ask your partner for help. Actually, it’s perfectly logical. But as simple as it may seem, asking for help isn’t always easy—especially for moms.  

“I think women sometimes have trouble asking for help,” says Maria Pokluda, a certified birth and postpartum doula and founder of Dallas-based Great Expectations. “There’s a certain sense that all of this should just come naturally, and we can be hard on ourselves for even needing help in the first place.”  

Just as many moms-to-be make a birth plan, Pokluda recommends they also make a Plan B—Plan Baby—for the time after the little one arrives. Postpartum planning allows families to have conversations around each person’s responsibilities and anticipate areas of need—before they’re sleep deprived and in the throes of caring for a tiny, needy human.  

“It helps to have these conversations before, when communication is good and when you’re not overwhelmed,” she says. “Plan for this before the baby comes out. Sit down and think of things you’ll need, then set expectations around that.”

Relieving the Mental Load 

Let’s face it: many families don’t have it all planned out before the baby comes home, and the bulk of household and childcare responsibilities often fall on mom—or at least she feels that way.   

Helena Kean Nguyen, of Irving, remembers those exhausting first few weeks with her newborn son three years ago. On top of adjusting to motherhood, recovering from birth, and caring for the baby, she felt overwhelmed by trying to keep up with every chore in the house, too.  

“My challenge as a new mom was I felt like I still needed to do all the house tasks. Washing dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning,” she said. Nguyen gives her husband credit for stepping up to the plate; he was perfectly able—and willing—to take over the domestic duties. The real struggle was the expectations she placed on herself.  

“The house keeps going, life keeps going on,” Pokluda agrees. “Laundry still happens, and people who live there still need to eat.” Even in households where partners split the chores evenly, there’s often still one person who takes on most of the “thinking” work—the mental load.  

This invisible labor of managing a family and a household isn’t necessarily about the physical tasks, but rather the thinking and overseeing of those tasks—that never-ending, constantly running to-do list in your head. Studies find this emotional labor almost always falls on women. It’s exhausting in its own way, but often overlooked.  

So when asking their partners for help around the house, Pokluda suggests women not only focus on the tangible, physical chores.  

“Say, ‘hey can you look around and see the things that we need right now?’ Sometimes, just making the list can take a lot of that emotional load off.”

Loosen Your Grip  

When Abigail Campbell had her first baby, she struggled not only asking her partner for help, but also accepting it. She had a hard time letting go and letting him take over tasks like bath time or even diaper changes.  

“I didn’t understand how my husband could watch me do something, but then do it ‘all wrong,’” the mom of two from Murphy said. “It made me not want to ask for help even though I desperately needed it.” 

This is a common challenge for couples, says Pokluda, who’s heard from many frustrated partners that are trying to help, but being told they’re doing everything wrong. Everyone handles parenting in different ways, and just because you and your partner do things differently, it doesn’t mean either of you is wrong. Sometimes, you will just have to let go.  

“There were things I needed to teach him and walk him through and other things I just needed to let him do his own way,” Campbell realizes. 

Letting your partner do things their own way will strengthen their bond with the baby and boost their confidence—and not to mention, give you a break.

Ask and You Shall Receive

If you need help and are willing to accept it, but still aren’t getting what you need from you partner, consider this: have you actually asked?  

You may know how stressed you are, but your partner may not unless you explicitly tell them. Don’t assume that anyone knows how much you’re struggling. 

“Nobody is a mind reader,” Pokluda warns. And when you do ask for help, try to be specific. Think carefully about what you need and what precise actions your partner can take to help you meet that need. It can be a small task, like washing pump parts, or something bigger, like taking over nighttime feedings.  

The point is, you can’t do it alone. Everyone needs help. You won’t lose any mommy points for putting out an SOS—we promise.

RELATED: Mommy Burnout: Why Moms Are So Overwhelmed and How to Fix It


Image: iStock