The List: managing family life and finances

Once again, life took over and the blog (and my Insta) took a back seat. Spending time supporting family; travelling with work; and generally taking a bit of time to Think About Stuff means that I have been focused elsewhere. Photos throughout this post from a trip to South Africa 🙂

One of the things which I spend a lot of time thinking about is The List. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that every woman has The List, following us around like a puppy widdling on the carpets. If you ignore it, it only gets worse. And you’ll end up having to replace the carpets as well.

I am sure other people have The List. But I suspect you also have your own corners of the Internet to chat about it, so you’re welcome here but my focus is on women, and single mums in particular.

It’s a significant focus of the book/film I Don’t Know How She Does It where it’s used as a literary device to show how busy the main character, Kate’s, head is. She’s constantly shown to be in the middle of her List that includes everything from preparing packed lunches or a leading a high level business meeting to remembering to have sex with her husband (“It’s been three weeks! Move up the list to Urgent!”). Actually I loathe this film because at the end she realises she can’t have it all and quits her corporate role to have better work-life balance. I mean, I love a work-life balance as much as the next person, but it would be amazing if we could have some media which actually says – go ahead and do your thing, whatever it might be. And by the way, it might be the high-status, high-stakes power moves. If you’re there, it’s not a mistake until YOU decide it is.

Anyway, The List represents the cognitive and emotional load that (mostly) women hold in terms of day to day responsibilities to make it all work. Any single parent regardless of gender will have this, because it is literally just you keeping food on the table and the wolves as far away as possible.

Research found that this silent labour is divided into three categories, which overlap, making it harder to measure the time spent and the impact. Cognitive labour means thinking about keeping the wheels on: the practical elements of household management including shopping, cooking, household maintenance etc. Emotional labour is managing family reactions and sentiments: not just organising the playdate for your kids, but making sure they are confident and happy, the other parent knows what the pitfalls might be, ensuring they are well rested to they are calm enough to enjoy it etc etc. The third area is where these two overlap, and all of the anticipation and planning needed to make both the practicalities and the emotional responses to them run smoothly enough to keep things moving.

There is a lot of research about how this burden falls largely on women – and extends past kids to taking on responsibilities for extended family, remembering and navigating family and cultural celebrations etc – compared to men. And on the impact this has on women’s ability to make career choices, work over time, get promoted and achieve higher salaries and more successful careers in the long term.

To be clear, this isn’t just women whinging about doing the washing up. It has an impact globally. The UN estimates that unpaid and domestic labour equates to 10-39% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) a figure which can contribute more to the economy than transport or manufacturing in some countries. The fact that the labour contribution is unpaid also makes it silent, and therefore much harder to combat.

Anyway, all that to say that we all have The List. There are short, medium and long term things on it, and also Zombie Apocalpyse things which we should probably plan for, just in case. This latter is usually what comes up in the middle of the night.

In April I really took time to try and work on some of the medium and longer term things, even taking days of work to get to them. I involved the kids in some of them to share the responsibility, and we had joint rewards when things got done. Items included:

  • Painted the front door
  • Tried to fix the doorbell: couldn’t do so, bought and fitted a new one
  • Cut back all the roses, random other plants I don’t know etc in the garden
  • De-cluttered all the random piles of books, donated those we don’t want and organised the keepers
  • Ruthless de-clutter of surfaces where things gather
  • Discussed, planned, wrote my updated Will, had it witnessed and sent it in. This also took a lot in terms of planning Guardianship of the kids if the worst happens, discussing it (in an age appropriate way) with them, and with the potenital Guardians. Pretty heavy going
  • Moved an old JISA into my daughter’s current ISA plan
  • Put an offer in on a rental property
  • Got the boiler serviced
  • Got the Quooker (hot tap thing) fixed – this has taken MONTHS to find someone to do it
  • Organised daughter’s birthday party and presents for later in May
  • Son’s hospital / doctor / dentist and what not appointments all lined up including a half day of really working through plans and options with him
  • 50 work things which needed to get done including performance reviews, tidying up my CV, and applying for new jobs

And to be honest I do have a sense of feeling lighter. I know that The List is self-regenerating and many of the things on it will not biodegrade but will continue, widdling all over the carpet. But for now, it’s less of an albatross and more of a homing pigeon, and I can live with that.


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