For lots of people, the expectation to do the behind-the-scenes traditionally prescribed  “women’s work” is overwhelming. So, what do you do when, regardless of your gender, orientation, or marital status when you feel like you need a “wife”?

Examine Expectations

First off, you need to figure out where the expectations are really coming from.  Do bath towels folded in perfect thirds make your life better when you’re super busy, or is that something you’ve internalized? Do you really feel like your house has to be spotless at all times, or are you fearing judgement from your mother, neighbors, and/or they guy coming to fix your furnace? Don’t be surprised if you need to seek some help untangling the myriad of mixed messages you’ve probably been receiving all your life.  Whether you turn to friends, siblings, and/or a trained therapist, it can be helpful to get multiple perspectives to shed light on your own expectations.

Decide what’s actually important to you. 

Maybe you really do enjoy cooking, or folding clothes puts you in a zen-like state; if there are things you value and wish to keep in your routine, that’s great!  But if you’re overwhelmed, maybe you can leave some things for others to do.  

Speak with your partner, kids, and anyone else involved about adjusting their expectations and/or helping out. If you are in a loving relationship, start a conversation about all the tasks that need to be done, who’s doing what, and what’s not getting done. It can be eye-opening to have each person involved make those lists, and then compare notes:  you might find that not everyone is even aware of all the tasks that you feel are essential! The trick here is to make it a conversation, not a battle. If there’s an imbalance, talk about how to rebalance it. 

(“I feel like I have a lot on my plate; it would be helpful to me if you’d take on this and this…)  If both partners’ plates are stuffed full, perhaps there are teenagers around dying for money in their pockets who can take on certain housekeeping chores like laundry, watering plants, filing paperwork, caring for pets, or running errands. I myself helped a lot of neighbors growing up and I had a bunch of CDs at the time to show for it!

When two people have different standards and expectations, that can easily become a stress point.  For instance, you may think mail should be sorted within 3 days, while your partner is content to let it be done once a month when bills are paid. These are differences you’ll need to talk about and determine whether it makes sense for either of you to lighten up or step up — or both.

Sometimes we have impossible standards, both for ourselves and for our partners. It can help if a partner says you can let that go, it’s not that important.  On the other hand, there are some tasks that can lead to undesirable consequences if they’re neglected (think that credit card bill that was paid 3 days late).

But, you might be thinking, with the dishes/laundry/cleaning it’s easier for me to just do it myself.  No!!  That sort of thinking is a recipe for burnout and resentment.  Instead of dismissing people who could otherwise help out, teach them.  Keeping in mind, of course, that you may in fact need to adjust your expectations as well (see above).

Outsource tasks that no one in your household has the bandwidth for. Even if this isn’t a good long-term solution for you, it might be what you need to get through a crunch time, whether that’s a particularly stressful season at work, or a few years while your kids are small, or some other variety of “temporary.”   Here are some tasks traditionally relegated to wives, and alternatives for modern times: 

Wife traditionally…

  • Keeps house clean – hire a housekeeper
  • Grocery shopping – use a delivery service
  • Cooks  – order takeout, or find a friend or neighbor who likes to cook to prep meals for you 
  • Does laundry – use a laundry service. Dry cleaners often also do regular wash by the pound, and added bonus, it’s folded when you pick it up!

If you notice that you’re feeling down on yourself for not keeping up with all the chores of daily living AND pursuing a career, take a moment to ask yourself:  Does Elon Musk working from home think about doing laundry while he’s building his company?  I’m trying to build the best car… but hang on, the dryer just went off, gotta fold… Do you really need to carry everything?

Utilize experts.  Don’t have time to plan a vacation?  Use a travel advisor. Too overwhelmed to make sense of your garage, clean out your closets, or sort out your kids’ rooms?  Call a professional organizer. We are not your wife, but we can help with these things. Also look into a personal assistant. The Personal Assistant Network is a resource for SF and NYC based folks. Of course, I’m partial to my friend TJ @HoneydewSF here in the city. But, there are lots of great folks who do PA work for others on a part-time or project basis.