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emotional labor

Invisible Labor: How Women Can Set Boundaries

Monday, November 21, 2022

Do you feel like you are constantly anxious, fatigued and short on time? Do people in your life have unrealistic expectations about what you can or should do for them? This type of burnout is due to a phenomenon called invisible labor. According to the U.N., women do three out of every four hours of unpaid work like cooking, cleaning and child care. Here’s what you need to know about emotional labor and boundary-setting skills.

What Is Invisible Labor?

Invisible labor is a term to describe daily chores such as laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation, budgeting and organizing appointments and schedules. Any task that helps a household run more smoothly falls into this category.

The expectations associated with invisible labor do not only occur at home. They’re also apparent within workplaces, where women often take on unpaid, time-consuming tasks that maintain office culture and do not typically lead to career advancement. Scheduling and organizing events like birthday parties and team retreats is a responsibility many managers expect women to be naturally good at and enjoy doing.

Other examples of emotional labor include:

  • Keeping a mental or physical list of what food and household items are running low
  • Remembering birthdays and buying greeting cards or gifts
  • Planning healthy, nutritious meals for the entire family
  • Tidying up after everyone
  • Going to parent-teacher meetings and other school events
  • Taking children to and from school and sports practices

The Trouble With Emotional Labor

Outdated, sexist ideas about what constitutes “women’s work” have placed an unfair share of these burdens on women. Perpetuating the cycle, many parents of young girls teach them people-pleasing behaviors like not saying no from a very young age.

Since invisible labor takes place behind the scenes, it can seem effortless to the people around you, leaving you exhausted and frustrated. Your partner and children never have to ask you to do all these things, and if they don’t notice how hard you are working, they might not thank you for it. Even when you know they are willing to help, constantly having to delegate chores and remind people to do them is yet another form of emotional labor that can compound your fatigue.

How to Break the Cycle in Your Family

While it can be challenging to start a family conversation about the imbalance of invisible labor, setting boundaries is essential for your mental health. If you have children, the boundaries you set today can change the expectations around emotional labor for the next generation. Children who see their parents’ behavior will model it themselves, so sons can learn what it looks like to carry a fair share of these responsibilities, and daughters can learn not to do extra work without being asked.

For a more equitable division of housework, start by making a list of all the household chores you do to keep your family members’ lives running smoothly. The eventual length of this list will probably surprise everyone – including you! Then, sit down with your partner and family and agree on a schedule that divides the workload more evenly. When everyone understands their assignments, it can help prevent the burden of invisible labor from falling squarely upon you.

Reinvent Your Life

The stress associated with emotional labor can cause women to use alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism, which can further complicate your life by leading you to develop a substance use disorder. At Canyon Crossing, we will set you up for success in addiction recovery at our women’s-only treatment center. To learn more and verify your insurance coverage, request help today.

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