The past two-plus years have put a spotlight on many aspects of family life. In some ways, the challenges we’ve all faced have allowed the good things – like enjoying time together, reconnecting, and changing our priorities – to shine. In other ways, these many months have highlighted a number of very real things that are not working well. Childcare issues. Work-life balance. Structural and community support for parents. Mental health care for kids. And as families have dealt with all of these challenges, and more, the topic of invisible labor has become impossible to ignore.
Invisible Labor refers to the constant work, often mental or emotional, that has to happen for a household (or workplace) to continue running smoothly. Everything from keeping mental track of household supplies, to plotting the most efficient errand runs, to knowing who needs a clean T-shirt for Field Day at school, falls under the category of invisible labor. And one of the biggest contributors to invisible labor at home is family meals.
It’s not just the cooking and the cleanup. I decided, recently, to keep track of all the little actions – mental or physical – related to one day’s worth of feeding my family. Here’s what I found:
This is just a small sampling of the hundreds of dinner-related thoughts and actions that might take place in a single day. No wonder parents so often feel burned out on family dinner!
One of the biggest hurdles with invisible labor is that it so often seems to fall on the shoulders of one adult in the household – and usually, that’s Mom. But there are signs that at least in some families, things might be changing. As the invisible labor discussion heats up, two-parent households are starting to discover that more flexibility and burden-sharing can benefit everyone.
In other words, Dads are stepping up in ways that weren’t as common a generation ago. We talked to family therapist Dr. Anthony Chambers of the Family Institute at Northwestern University about how he sees the division of labor among couples evolving, what he recommends couples do to keep invisible labor from becoming a crushing load, and especially how fathers are starting to renegotiate their roles in household management.
“Given how busy everyone is, with dual-income families the norm, to be able to become middle class or even just survive…It really requires couples to work together even more and to have much more clarity and communication about their roles. Time is no longer people’s friend,” says Dr. Chambers. Read the full interview to learn the strategies he recommends to help get couples on the same page, share the mental load, and navigate a healthy, happy family life.
Meet the Eddy family! Art Eddy is the blogger and podcast host behind The Art of Fatherhood, and he pitches in to make dinner a family priority.
Real Family Dinner Projects: The Eddy Family
Let the kids take over the kitchen to make this Pizza Ravioli recipe from our friend Art Eddy!
Summertime is picnic time! Bookmark a few of our Family Picnic ideas for the warm weather dinners ahead.
Celebrate the fathers and father figures in your lives with these conversation starters.
2023 The Family Dinner Project