14 things on every mom's invisible-tasks list

A recent survey shows women still take charge of most childcare and household duties—but what about the "invisible tasks" moms handle?
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Photo: iStockphoto

My favourite part about The Jetsons was Rosie, the robot maid—she cleaned up every little mess and kept the family organized. Unfortunately, the dream of housework being done by a non-human hasn’t quite come to pass (sorry Roomba, you just don’t cut it). And it seems that women still shoulder most of the visible—and invisible—tasks around the house.

The Working Mother Research Institute surveyed more than 1,000 working parents in dual-income families and discovered that household chores are still divided by gender, with the women in charge of household and childcare duties and the men with outdoor projects, like mowing the lawn. Guess what else? If the couples outsourced some of the chores, they were more likely to hire someone for the traditional “male tasks.”

But before I write one more word, I have to come clean. This isn’t the case in my house, thankfully. In our family, my husband is the neat one, and he’s the one who cleans the kitchen, vacuums and starts the laundry. He also does the yard work. So now that I’ve admitted I don’t vacuum, I’ll tell you that, like most women, I’m still laden with the “invisible tasks.” These invisible tasks can suck up a lot of physical and mental energy, and both working moms and stay-at-home moms are weighed down by them. What’s more, the men in our lives are often unaware of the burden we feel from these extra duties.

After a quick social media callout, I’ve identified the most common invisible tasks. If you sat down and made yourself an invisible task list, would it look anything like this?

Invisible-tasks list

Arranging/managing all the family celebrations: This one is a category unto itself. Have you ever called your partner to remind him of his family members’ birthdays? Have you searched countless stores for the perfect gift for his favourite aunt? Did you wrap each gift and sign everyone’s name on the card? Have you arranged your own Mother’s Day brunch? Of course you have.

Family feast days: Christmas, Easter, Passover, Victoria Day, Back-to-school extravaganzas—you’ve sent the emails, bought all the food, done all the cooking and set the table. Maybe you even took the tablecloth to the dry-cleaner and remembered to pick it up on time. You deserve a toast!

Camp sign-up: Arranging camp schedules is like a jigsaw puzzle, and the organizing starts when the snow is still on the ground. It takes military action, and the strategic planning of a genius. You have to wake up early to fight the lineups, battle ancient websites, remember passwords, and write multiple cheques. It’s a Jenga tower of organization and you rocked it. (Or like me, you panic when you realize that summer is approaching and you haven’t planned anything.)

Managing carpools: When Kid A needs to go to hockey, Kid B is headed to gymnastics and Kid C has a birthday party across town, who calls the shots? Who arranges the driving so that no one gets left behind. We know who!

Buying friend birthday presents: At a conference last week I asked a roomful of women who bought birthday presents before they went out of town for a few days. More than 90 percent raised their hands. When you’re running around getting ready for a work trip, naturally you’ll also have to think about what Evan wants for his 10th birthday, too.

Your kids’ social calendars: It takes the skills of the prime minister’s secretary to remember the details of each child’s social life. Plus, you have to remember their parents’ names.

Your social calendar: Sometimes my husband asks me why we don’t go out with friends more often. Maybe it’s because I’m so busy managing the kids’ social lives that I don’t have the mental capacity to manage my own?

Meal planning: This is the ugly companion to cooking. The thankless task of meal planning because your family needs to be fed every single day, and usually more than once.

Babysitters: My husband has no idea what it takes to scout and successfully book an appropriate babysitter. Not to mention remembering to go to the ATM to get the cash.

Paperwork: Anyone else get writer’s cramp from filling out school permission slips? The administrative tasks take time, and offer no payoff.

Doctor/dentist/vet appointments: It’s like a little bell goes off in my head when it’s time to schedule the kids for the doctor/dentist/ophthalmologist/haircuts, etc. I’ve had weeks when my full-time job is the kids’ various appointments. And then on top of it all, there’s the dog.

Toilet paper: The changing, the buying, the making sure it’s the right way around. The tossing of the empty roll. All me.

Clothes shopping: What was once a fun way to spend a Saturday, is now an unsatisfying attempt to buy all the kids’ clothes the day before camp/school/big event/holiday. I’m fairly certain that my husband doesn’t know that our daughter needs a new bathing suit.

Making sure there’s enough coffee: It’s my job to make sure that coffee is bottomless. Actually, of all the invisible tasks, this one is most related to my own survival.

If you aren’t sure what’s on your invisible task list, try going away for a few days and see what falls through the cracks.

Do you have anything to add to the list?

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

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