Today we’re talking about ALL the “invisible” work that we do as moms, and making sure our family and partner realize all the work we’re doing.
Today’s guest is Whitney Archibald. She is the host of the How She Moms podcast, and a mother of five. She crowdsources motherhood, parenting and home management so you can pick and choose ideas that work for you and your family. Find her at the How She Moms: https://howshemoms.com/ Find her family worksheets here: https://howshemoms.com/product/familyworksheets/
Big thanks to our sponsor The Organized Home — if you’re looking to make your house easier to mange, it is the course for you!
In this episode
What IS invisible work?
Having a chart for your family as they progress into being able to do more on their own
Showing your family all the work that is on your plate (and spread it out)
Other things that might interest you
Producer: Drew Erickson
Check out my other parenting podcasts:
[00:00:00.130] – Hilary Erickson
Hey, guys. Welcome to the Pulling Curls Podcast. Today on episode 163, we’re talking about invisible work. It sounds like we’re Batman, but we are not. So let’s untangle it.
[00:00:20.670] – Hilary Erickson
Hi. I’m Hilary Erickson, the curly head behind the Pulling Curls Podcast: pregnancy and parenting untangled. There’s no right answer for every family. But on this show, we hope to give you some ideas to make life simpler at your house. Life tangled, just like my hair.
[00:00:42.190] – Hilary Erickson
Hey, guys, before we get started, big thanks to everyone that’s left a review, shared the episode, and subscribed. Thanks.
[00:00:48.890] – Hilary Erickson
Today’s guest is the host of the How She Moms Podcast. She is the mother of five. She has so many good tips on keeping your household organized. I want to introduce today’s guest, Whitney Archibald.
[00:01:00.730] – Hilary Erickson
Do you ever just feel like it’s unfair that some people can have company over at a moment’s notice? Their house is just super easy to clean up, and they can relax on the couch with Netflix, where you feel like you always have things to do around your house that can totally be you? The organized home is here to help you simplify organizing. We’re talking about decluttering zones, organization systems that actually work. We’ve got assignments and challenges. I hope you’ll join us. You can use coupon code UNTANGLED. Look For the Organized Home link in the show notes.
[00:01:30.310] – Hilary Erickson
Hey, Whitney. Welcome to the Pulling Curls Podcast.
[00:01:32.900] – Whitney Archibald
Thank you. So excited to be here. Yes.
[00:01:35.320] – Hilary Erickson
So today we are talking about invisible work, right?
[00:01:38.690] – Whitney Archibald
Yes. There is so much invisible work that we all do.
[00:01:42.000] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah, it sounds like we’re Batman, but it is not nearly as cool as Batman.
[00:01:45.370] – Whitney Archibald
Yeah, not quite.
[00:01:48.250] – Hilary Erickson
Okay, so let’s give people like, what is invisible work? Let’s define it first.
[00:01:52.360] – Whitney Archibald
So really, invisible work, I think, falls into two categories, and I think a lot of it is just the work that we do that you can’t really tell that you’ve done the work, but you can tell if you haven’t done the work. You know what I mean? If you come in and the house is a mess and everything’s chaos, you know that the work hasn’t been done. But when it just is running smoothly, nobody’s really noticing the invisible work that’s going on. So that’s kind of the work work. But then there’s this other side that is the mental load, which really basically makes up the management part of invisible work. And so that is anything from managing people to managing things to your home, your family, all of those things, they have that management component which makes up the mental load, all the things that are swirling around your mind.
[00:02:44.710] – Hilary Erickson
Yes. Okay, so let’s talk about let’s give some examples of the work work first. I do, like, a ten minute tidy around my house every day. I don’t think my family really notices I empty the drainer. I just pick up crap people leave around and deposit it in the right spot. Would that be like invisible work?
[00:02:59.840] – Whitney Archibald
Oh, absolutely. And taking out the trash, all of those things are invisible work. But there’s also all the things like bathing your children, you know, taking care of the people side. So I feel like there’s three categories in invisible work and it’s taking care of individual people, taking care of the family as a group and then taking care of the home. So a lot of the things that you are mentioning were the home thing that is ideally, eventually should be taken care of by everyone in the home. Right, right. Taking care of individuals, that’s another thing that you start off when you have little tiny babies. You are completely doing all the work of taking care of that individual. And the idea of course is to gradually get to a point where all of those individuals are taking care of themselves. And then there’s that family category where you’re taking care of things. Like some of this is actually really fun. These are things like planning vacations or making sure you’ve all got bikes so that you can have this family hobby. And even things like the work that it takes to create a family culture and traditions and things like that.
[00:04:11.490] – Whitney Archibald
So these aren’t all drudgery. Not all invisible work is drudgery. But it’s all stuff that’s on our plate.
[00:04:17.920] – Hilary Erickson
Yes, I totally agree. And for everyone, the Drudgery is going to be different, right? Because I really sort of enjoy organizing. But for a lot of other people that would be invisible work that they absolutely hate.
[00:04:27.510] – Whitney Archibald
Right? It’s all work. But there’s I guess if you want to categorize it even further, you could categorize it into what you really think of as work and what you’re passionate about and what doesn’t feel like work. And that’s kind of a beautiful thing of being in a family is that those are going to be different for everybody. So we can get more into how you divide this labor. But while you’re figuring that out, you can play to people’s strengths and kind of figure out what people’s talents are as you divide it just as if you were in a corporation. Your marketing guy is probably not going to be the same person as the woman who does your accounting. And everybody is going to have their strengths and have their place. And when that works right. Everybody feels so much more valued and just part of the family organization, if you will.
[00:05:15.600] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah, but let’s jump back also to the mental part because I think that’s something that I think moms are slowly bringing to the forefront is all the things that are in their brain that nobody knows about, like birthday presents and what other things would you think? Like grocery shopping? I’m constantly just assessing ourselves to see what needs to be bought.
[00:05:34.660] – Whitney Archibald
Not only that, but when was the last time so and so showered has so and so brushed their teeth. What about these photos that I haven’t categorized and haven’t saved or like all these things that are swirling in our head? Somebody has to be accountable for it. And often we kind of as mothers, we take on the lion’s share of these even when other people are willing or able to help.
[00:06:01.910] – Hilary Erickson
Yes. Or maybe they’re not necessary, right? Like if we print out every photo, that would be an endless supply of photos anymore. So maybe you just print out what’s important.
[00:06:13.690] – Whitney Archibald
Right? And maybe it’s just something that you deliberately put off for another season, because won’t that be just fabulous? When all the kids are out of the house and you get to have this wonderful nostalgic time sorting through all these photos, then it will be a joy instead of a chore. So part of managing all this invisible work, which I would love to talk about next, part of that is just recognizing what your current priorities are, what your future priorities are, and just what you have the bandwidth for.
[00:06:43.120] – Hilary Erickson
Yes. How do you figure that out? It’s just a discussion with yourself.
[00:06:47.530] – Whitney Archibald
So what I’ve done back when I was pregnant with my third son oh my gosh, he is. How old is he? He’s twelve years old. So twelve and a half, 13 years ago, I was just in one of those seasons of overwhelming that we’ve all been in. I had two toddlers, I was pregnant. We were staying in Arizona for a little rotation for my husband’s medical training. It was hot, I was pregnant, we were drowning. And I just decided I need to treat my home like a corporation, like a business organization. And so I divided everything into different departments.
[00:07:28.290] – Whitney Archibald
So I had like, culinary Arts and Facilities Management and Housekeeping Technology, Education, all these categories that I just divided my house into. And I realized that each one of these departments had to have a manager. And my husband was in medical training. As I mentioned. Most of the management went to me. But for some reason. Parsing it out into those different departments and recognizing that each one took different skills and different management strategy helped me to instead of being overwhelming with the sheer number of departments that there were. It helped me actually compartmentalize it and be able to identify which ones I wanted to work on at the moment.
[00:08:19.040] – Whitney Archibald
So I didn’t feel like everything was on my plate all the time.
[00:08:22.200] – Hilary Erickson
Right, because even if you were the CEO of like a small business, you wouldn’t be working on content and marketing and ads and creating the product all at the same time. So I think that’s a really good way to look at it.
[00:08:33.590] – Whitney Archibald
It’s easy to kind of lump everything together and then get really overwhelmed. So it’s a way for me to kind of digest it and then I could learn the skills that I needed. Because none of us are born with all these skills to run a full household, a full family organization. Often, especially in that season where I had so many people to take care of, I wasn’t even taking care of myself. So that’s kind of something that has evolved since then. I’ve basically created two different charts. So one is taking care of my family, and it’s a chart with everything there, starting with the executive duties, like establishing your mission and values, your culture, traditions, rules, holding meetings, that kind of stuff. Then finance childcare HR, which I consider like assigning jobs and figuring out because even figuring out who has what job is part of the mental load. Right. We have to supervise jobs. We have to assign jobs. So there’s a big HR component, even if it sounds a little crass to think of your children as your employees.
[00:09:35.870] – Hilary Erickson
Well, sometimes you also have to hire out, right? Yeah, I’m an electrician or whatever.
[00:09:41.270] – Whitney Archibald
Yes. So the HR department is also in charge of outsourcing, right?
[00:09:44.640] – Hilary Erickson
[00:09:45.120] – Whitney Archibald
So food facilities, I mentioned already, anyway, all those departments fall under the Take care of my family. But then there’s a whole other chart that I have that I’ve developed for my kids called the Take Care of Myself chart, and that is things like hygiene, sleep, food again, but more personal fitness, clothing, all the personal belongings, personal finance, things like that. So having those two distinct has helped me. That’s been a newer development as my kids have gotten older and more helpful. That’s helped me to know how to train my children to then start to take some of that work off of my plate because they’re learning to take care of those things for themselves. So just having it all compartmentalized helps me, but also helps them to know what they should be working on and how they can get to the point where I’m not micromanaging them because that becomes a reward in and of itself that I get off their back and they get to be in charge and competent.
[00:10:46.450] – Hilary Erickson
Well, and how important is it to make these type of invisible tasks that you and I really just I don’t think every day I need to brush my teeth. Like that’s not on my to do list.
[00:10:55.820] – Whitney Archibald
[00:10:56.800] – Hilary Erickson
But it’s something that I need to do and take care of. And with me, as we’re recording this, I have one graduating from college, so he’s going to be moving to his own apartment, and one going to college, so he’s going to be on his own. And there’s all these invisible tasks that maybe I really haven’t talked about, although, believe me, I’ve talked about brushing teeth.
[00:11:16.030] – Whitney Archibald
You’ve probably talked about most of them, but that doesn’t always necessarily translate into them learning this.
[00:11:23.130] – Hilary Erickson
Right. And then you get the phone call while they’re at the grocery store. That’s like, do we buy salted or unsalted butter?
[00:11:30.370] – Whitney Archibald
Right? Well, and the thing that has helped the most, I think, is that in addition to the kind of the charts that list everything that they are in charge of or will eventually be in charge of, I created a selfevaluation that’s in the same format so that they can kind of sit down and have a reckoning with themselves about where they fall on that spectrum. And I have it divided into being a helper, a worker and a manager.
[00:11:57.010] – Whitney Archibald
And having that nomenclature has really changed things in our house because it shows that even the youngest have some responsibility to be a helper in all of those categories. If I’m brushing their teeth, I need them to be a helper and open up and allow me to get back there and get all those teeth cleaned and everything like that. I need to be able to bathe them and have them cooperate, let me wash their hair. That’s when they’re kind of in that helper category. And like I said, the youngest of children can do that. They can help make little snacks or they can help dress themselves. They can help me do laundry at a pretty young age.
[00:12:38.920] – Whitney Archibald
I just have them, they’re just kind of there assisting and soaking it all in and learning in that helper stage from a very young age. And then it’s so exciting when they can move into the worker stage where they’re doing the work. I’m probably doing all the reminding. I am teaching them how to do the work I’m supervising. But they’re the ones that are doing the bulk of the work and so that’s kind of graduating to the next level.
[00:13:05.510] – Whitney Archibald
They can brush their teeth, I might need to inspect them afterwards or make sure they washed all the shampoo out of their hair, but they’re doing the work. And then eventually they get to the manager stage. And I’ve been actually surprised at how intrinsically motivated my kids have been to get to the manager stage, partly to get me off their back, like I mentioned earlier, but also it feels good.
[00:13:29.710] – Whitney Archibald
That’s where self esteem comes from, right? Being competent and being able to do things for yourself. And I wondered at first if I would need some external motivations to get to this manager stage. But I haven’t with any of my kids. They are excited.
[00:13:45.090] – Whitney Archibald
And I remember when one of my I guess he was a tween at the time, he came to me and he’s like, mom, I am now officially a shower manager. I’m taking a shower at this time every night and this is what I’m going to do. And he was like, probably disproportionately proud to be his own shower manager. But I was so happy. I was like, thank heavens I don’t have to remind you anymore to take a shower.
[00:14:10.530] – Whitney Archibald
This is a great moment and we kind of celebrated it. So we try to celebrate every time they level up in any category. And we have these little dots that they can use to show which one they are, whether the color shows, whether they’re a helper, a worker or manager on our master chart. And they’re super proud of it when they can level up.
[00:14:32.860] – Hilary Erickson
So how many jobs are on this chart? I’m invisiting a chart that goes the length of my living room, so I.
[00:14:39.780] – Whitney Archibald
Have a two page chart to take care of myself. And so I think I read through the first page. The second page has education. So they’re in charge of ultimately their own education, social, their schedule, their talents, transportation. Sometimes those are down the road when they’re teenagers, technology and spirituality. So it’s a two page sheet for that Take Care of Myself and then for the Take care of my family. It’s a three page chart. Yeah, but each of those charts has everybody’s name on it, and I indicate who is in charge of those things.
[00:15:16.660] – Whitney Archibald
So even the Take Care of Myself chart, my husband and I are the manager of many of those categories. For instance, even putting them to bed, that’s one of them. So waking up and putting them to bed, since they have to be managed, there has to be a person that is in charge of that. And I guess that’s kind of the best part of the chart, is that it allows you to divide the labor and have a visual representation of who is doing what so that you can say, look, I have all this on my plate.
[00:15:50.030] – Whitney Archibald
What are some of the categories that you could take over being manager? And that can be a conversation you have with your kids and with your spouse. And the dots are there. They can see it laid out so they can see visually how much work is on each person’s plate. And that’s what makes this invisible work visible. And that was kind of the main point of making the chart, is to show that this is real work.
[00:16:15.070] – Whitney Archibald
Just because it’s invisible doesn’t mean it’s meaningless or unimportant. It’s vastly important, even down to the entertainment and recreation. Like, aren’t you glad somebody’s planning vacations and figuring this out so that we don’t just sit there twiddling our thumbs every time we have a school break or something like that? So having it all, there has been a real wake up call for my family to be able to see, oh, yeah, you’re really doing a lot.
[00:16:41.670] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah, and that’s way better than you, like, going in the kitchen, stomping around saying, it looks like the drainer cleanup.
[00:16:47.690] – Hilary Erickson
Ferry is here today. Yes.
[00:16:51.610] – Whitney Archibald
Did you ever see that commercial where there’s the magic coffee table where these guys are sitting around and they start loading their beer cans and snacks all on the table and they’re like, this is amazing. It’s a magic coffee table. In the morning, all of this will be gone. And of course, there’s someone behind that doing the magic. And then it’s actually come in handy because my son wanted me. He had tried on some pants. No, he had bought some pants without trying them on at the store.
[00:17:20.630] – Whitney Archibald
And of course he brought them home and they didn’t fit. And he was like, hey, mom, will you return these for me? And like, I have a really busy week. I don’t have time to return those. I think you can find the time to return those. And he was telling me how busy he was and everything, and he’s like, you’re just a stay at home mom. You totally have time for this. You have way more time than me. And of course, I had to catch my breath and not lose it at the moment. And I started to be like, well, let me tell you what I did just today.
[00:17:46.550] – Whitney Archibald
And I started rattling it off, and I was like I stopped myself and I said, Wait. And I ran upstairs and I grabbed my binder with my charts in it, and I was like, this is what I do as a stay at home mom. This is what makes me so busy. And I said, do you see all these green dots? Which is the color of our manager. And I was able to show him instead of just lecturing him. And way more effective and way more peaceful also, right.
[00:18:15.580] – Hilary Erickson
Because nobody goes the CEO. And it’s like, hey, can you screw in this light bulb for us today?
[00:18:22.120] – Hilary Erickson
[00:18:22.530] – Hilary Erickson
It doesn’t look like you’re doing anything now. That doesn’t mean that the CEO couldn’t come down and be like, oh, my gosh, you have your hands full. Can I just screw that in for you?
[00:18:30.950] – Whitney Archibald
Right. I try to make sure that this isn’t couched in bitterness. Like, look at everything I’m doing. It’s more of an awareness. Like, I can’t do this for you right now because this is my priority right now, and this is on my plate. And I think talking that through with our kids, explaining why and what your priorities are, is going to help them, because someday these are going to be their responsibilities. They’re going to be in charge of taking care of a family, and they are to some degree, now they have their shores, and that also teaches them, but it kind of helps them so that it’s not such a wake up call when they are in charge of their own household, how much goes into it if they’ve kind of grown up seeing that along the way.
[00:19:17.300] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah, well, ultimately, I sort of feel like every invisible work is just stuff you’re not doing, right?
[00:19:22.680] – Whitney Archibald
[00:19:24.310] – Hilary Erickson
Like, the garbage man is so loud. That’s really the only reason that I know that he comes. Otherwise, I’m just, like, clapping garbage in that bin, and it just magically disappears.
[00:19:34.060] – Whitney Archibald
Right. It actually helps me. It has helped me appreciate what my kids do as opposed to showing me what they don’t do, which was a nice surprise for me. I was able to see, like, okay, this child is totally incompetent in the kitchen. He cannot even prepare himself a sandwich without, like, making the whole kitchen a disaster. You can easily focus on their incompetencies, but when you can see laid out there, but like, oh, man, he wakes himself up in the morning.
[00:20:01.900] – Whitney Archibald
That is something that I don’t have to do. He is so good at he’s a manager on his chores, so that I don’t even have to remind him. When you can see it laid out there, it also helps you appreciate the other members of your family and recognizing how much they are doing. And yeah, there are always gaps and things that you can work on, but that was another surprise for me to just be like, okay, they all have their different strengths, and I really need to appreciate the things they are doing, the things they have taken off my plate.
[00:20:34.220] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah, I think that’s awesome. All right. This has made me realize that I need to see all the work that everyone in my family is doing, because it’s not just me, even though it feels like that a lot of the time, and I have to remember that my kids feel like that, too. Right.
[00:20:47.210] – Whitney Archibald
They’re like, right.
[00:20:48.140] – Hilary Erickson
Mom doesn’t even notice that I cleaned this bathroom. She only yells at me when it’s not done. Right.
[00:20:52.280] – Whitney Archibald
It’s true. Yeah. It really is nice for everybody when you can make that invisible work visible and to also recognize the other things that are not that they’re in charge of outside of the home, too, and the mental load that they’re carrying with their homework or with their jobs and different things like that. Recognizing the mental load in one area allows you to kind of see that in another.
[00:21:17.730] – Whitney Archibald
Like, for my husband, who owns his own practice, seeing my home organization allows me to realize that the HR he has to think about is, like, making sure his employees are happy and all these things, which you know about. But when you chart it out like this and you think of it in one organization, that helps you appreciate all the work that’s happening outside the home, too. And everybody just appreciates everybody a little bit more, which isn’t that great.
[00:21:46.300] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah. Well, I mean, gratitude is always a win. Me or my kids, for sure. All right. I really like this. I think this is such a good idea. Wendy, can people buy this chart off of you?
[00:21:56.490] – Whitney Archibald
Yeah. So just right at my homepage at how shemom.com you can buy all of the charts and the self evaluation. There’s a link right at the top of the page. And, hilary, I’ll send you one so that you can just have it. I hope it helps. My goal is just to get it out there and help as many people as they can make invisible work visible.
[00:22:18.150] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah, I think it would be great to do, even with your spouse. Let’s say you have small kids and you’re not quite ready to jump into the whole family yet. Do it at least just with your partner so that everybody feels a little bit more valued.
[00:22:29.110] – Whitney Archibald
Yeah. And that’s when those management roles on the taking care of individual members of the family are really heavy, and that’s a great thing to be able to divvy up a little bit.
[00:22:39.450] – Hilary Erickson
[00:22:39.960] – Hilary Erickson
[00:22:40.310] – Hilary Erickson
Thanks for coming on, Whitney. You guys go check it out. I think this would be super helpful. Even if you don’t, you’re like, I’m not going to use it. I think it would be good to bring it out and at least talk about it with your spouse, with your kids, and then decide how you want to implement it in your house. So thanks for coming on.
[00:22:54.160] – Whitney Archibald
[00:22:55.020] – Hilary Erickson
Okay. I hope you guys enjoyed that episode. Before we talked about it. I was literally just thinking about all the chores that are in my mind. Kind of like birthday presents. Stuff like that. But I loved how much we opened this up for and how this could really help communication in our family about all the things that we’re doing that maybe nobody is noticing and all the things that our family is doing that we’re not noticing. So hopefully you guys will download that thing and just think of it in a whole new way.
[00:23:18.650] – Hilary Erickson
Thanks so much for joining us on today’s episode. The Pulling Curls Podcast grows when you share us on social media or leave a review. If you do, please tag us so that we can share and send you a virtual hug, which, frankly, is my favorite kind of hugging. Until next time, we hope you have a tangle free day.