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Being a parent carer – a feminist perspective

Sharon Foxwell by Sharon Foxwell Additional Needs

Sharon Foxwell

Sharon Foxwell

I'm Sharon, I have a daughter with epilepsy and a severe learning disability. I blog about our livewire life.

Being a parent carer – a feminist perspective

The mental load is well documented but poorly understood. I remember a few years back, Women’s Hour on Radio 4 created an online quiz to reveal how chores are broken down in relationships. I duly completed it only to find that the split of chores in my relationship was more equal that I thought. I was shocked as I knew this not to be true.

I then realised – the quiz just asked about visible stuff, cooking, cleaning, putting the bins out etc. It failed to include the hidden chores, the mental load: organising presents for your child’s friend’s parties, filling out school forms, school WhatsApp groups (find me one with an even split of men and women), sorting GP appointments, dentist appointments – the list continues.

The mental load is largely carried by women. What mainstream media rarely if ever touch on however, is the explosion in the mental load when you are parent to a disabled child. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it increases approximately by 6-10 times (not a scientific estimate but I bet I’m not far off).

This mental load is turbo charged, XXL, untameable.

This mental load is like no other mental load a woman is likely to see. DLA forms, EHCP forms (those two alone are weeks of work each), appointments, appointments, appointments, corrections, calls from school, pushing back, fighting for services, this list is infinite. It is unpredictable and often charged with painful emotion.

Pretty early on into this journey I realised that I could not carry this on my own. I work part time but the time I had ‘off’ was barely enough to keep the basic stuff going, let alone the mental load that comes with being a parent carer. I felt like I had three jobs. I knew I had to split this with my husband. The key thing here though is I did not want to delegate.

That does not reduce the mental load for me, it merely makes me a project manager. I knew that if I asked by husband to book an appointment, or order more meds, he would. But it was the thinking of, remembering, asking and then (inevitably) checking and chasing that was the mental load. Meaning I may as well have done it myself. There is an excellent cartoon description of this here.

So, here’s what we did.

We split the main load into two categories – medical and social. My husband became Head of Medical and I became Head of Social (we actually jokingly call ourselves this and treat it like jobs, perhaps we should get business cards made). It has worked brilliantly.

By doing this my husband is responsible for doing all of the thinking, liaising, ordering, booking and attending of all medical stuff, from meds to appointments. I don’t think about it. If we run out of meds it is not my responsibility. While I attend medical appointments, I do not book them.

I do all the social stuff, education, social care respite / enablers, DLA, EHCPs. There are frustrations, namely that medical secretaries will call me first, because I am a woman. I politely inform them that I do not deal with medical things and, while I of course complete the call so as not to waste NHS time, I request that next time they call my husband and that they need to update their records to specify this.

The last time I had to do this was a few weeks ago. We split the load about five years ago. Make of that what you will. It still enrages me that women are called by default.

I want to share this method in case it helps other families. Women continue to carry an unfair share of the mental load. I can only imagine what more we can achieve if this was more evenly shared.


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