Academic Nonfiction Written Works

You Should Have Asked… by Shannon Schumm

While chopping tomatoes next to a gently boiling pot of pasta, Sarah, still in her work clothes, navigates the following from her family: “Mom, have you seen my baseball pants?” (In the dryer). “Babe…are we out of mustard, I don’t see any in the fridge?” questions her husband staring into the icebox abyss (top shelf far right behind the jelly), her phone vibrates, “So excited to see you Annie’s BBQ birthday party! You’re still bringing pasta salad, right Mom?” (Gift purchased, needs to be wrapped, pasta salad -check), dog whines by the door to go outside for wild rodent and avian century duty (lets the dog out).

This barrage of questions is a fatigue driven example of typical weeknight wayfinding for any mom. This mild interaction with Sarah summarizes how many irons a family unknowingly puts into the mom fire. Even today, social norms hold women as the inside head of household. Are these unspoken rules what govern the natural balance of nature and nurture in the family dynamic?  Although women have narrowed the gap for equality outside the home, they are expected to carry the extra work to ensure the household runs smoothly. Women are still expected to pick up the slack for the family regardless of their own priorities.

Looking at the role of women over the last 100 years, society quietly deems women as the internal CEO of the household. It took decades to gain the right to vote and to be considered worthy to vote responsibly, however, there was unquestioned worthiness to raise the men that ran the country. In World War II, while men were away fighting, women filled manufacturing and agricultural positions to keep the country running. These “Rosies” built ships and tanks, yet once the war was over, they were expected to return to more feminine appropriate duties such as secretaries or waitresses, but most importantly, return to the home as a happy housewife, mother, and homemaker. Enter Ward and June Cleaver, the 1950’s baby boomer’s perfect portrayal of the resurgence of the cult of domesticity, the ideology that emphasized women’s role within the home as mothers and wives. There became a definite line between the gender roles, the subservient wife handling “woman’s work” (cooking, cleaning, child rearing) and the man the breadwinning head of household. A child asking his father for a snack is almost a laughable offense, since he handles the yard or poker night with the fellas after a long day at the office.

The homemaker’s job isn’t just 9-5, which started their thinking that there were unequal responsibilities. This encouraged women to rejoin the workforce. Let’s face it, the Department of Labor would have a hay day with any employer requiring a 24/7 job without lunches, holidays, paid vacations, or even an unaccompanied bathroom break. This re-entry began the unconscious bias towards women, from, “you’re just a stay-at-home mom” to doctors or lawyers. Jeffrey Klueger, author of “The Power of Birth Order” suggests, that even having a first-born female was not seen as beneficial, “In the past girls were knocked out of the running for the job and college perks in their place in the family should have accorded them” (2). While it is more prevalent to have women in the workforce, who took on the responsibilities at home? With the definitive line being blurred, women today are struggling with the identity of being a strong working female, while also silently running the assumed duties as the full-time caregiver to the family. A woman’s DNA is an integral part of conquering these challenges.

So, how are women hardwired for maternal bliss? If nature is considered, a woman arguably has genetic edge in design and ability. A baby’s nature or temperament is impacted by their parents’ genetics. However, with nine months advantage of connections and shared genetics, it becomes a woman’s nature to nurture. She becomes the loving caregiver during the sleep deprived 2 am feedings or threenager temper tantrums defining what “no” actually means. She is the source of calm in a turbulent sea of stomach flu. If you consider who kisses boo-boos or who coined the phrase “rub some dirt on it.” there are underlying mom versus dad roles. Moms are presumed to have the multi-colored band aids, while dads have a piece of duct tape that can serve as a catch all wound mender. Men view the post stomach flu sheets as part of a woman’s ‘nature’ to nurture, and leave the work to those best suited.

Dave Barry shares the male perspective for urban domestication in “Turkeys in the Kitchen”, “I would no more enter that kitchen than I would attempt to park a nuclear aircraft carrier…” (73). Does a man’s grit with domestic responsibility naturally fall to “messy frustration” (Useem 32), urging him to assume an “I quit” perspective because he knows the natural nurturer in the house won’t let the house fail? Perhaps…or maybe he is still genetically hardwired for the 1950’s view that a woman’s work is inside the home.

Meet the invisible load. Let’s bring Sarah’s family back into the picture. Sarah returns from Costco on her way home from work. She starts the oven for alfredo chicken pasta, places new toilet paper and soap for the upstairs bathroom, her son’s new hoodie, and husbands’ socks on the stairs with the intention that the next person going up can lend a hand. These items are overlooked a multitude of times, until a frantic cry for assistance is heard from the throne room demanding a magical roll be brought in. When she asks her son why he didn’t bring the TP up, he said, “I am not a mind reader.” Or seeing the “Clean” sign on the dishwasher from the night before; after her husband has shopped from it to get a clean cup yet does not bother to empty the entire thing. When Sarah gets frustrated and starts unloading it, he replies, “You should have asked for help.” Sarah wonders when the role of housekeeper became hers, in THEIR house.

The invisible load is the additional work that women do without thinking to maintain the household running smoothly and efficiently. It is everything to include the groceries, the preparation for camping trips, the bills being paid, the coordinating/transporting of kids to events, managing the logistical details of family schedule, homework, cooking (or ordering a pizza), house and human cleaning, socks finding, bringing dogs to the vet, and the general well being of the family unit. It is the silent full-time job (possibly in addition to a woman’s paid full time job) that is shouldered unconsciously and automatically -and unpaid. It is the behind-the-scenes determination to get things done in a loving way, because if they don’t…who will? Perhaps it is what Jerry Useem qualifies in his article “Is Grit Overrated”: “Embrace challenge (with the qualifier). Do it in private. Grit may be essential. But it is not attractive” (32). A woman’s grit is like a New York City map, there many complex opportunities to arrive at a destination, and it is not attractive.  

The lack of attractive can be said when Sarah states that company is coming and “we” need to get the house picked up right now. Sarah frantically carries her family’s piles to the appropriate rooms. When no one else helps, she hears the excuse from her husband lounging in his recliner over the Avalanche game, “You didn’t tell me what needed to be cleaned.” And when her son slowly puts the toys in the basket, she takes the toys out of his hands and does it faster, more organized and her way. Generally, women are incredibly patient except when it comes to their expectations. Do women add additional stress on themselves because it is done better and faster when they actually handle it versus asking for help?

Women can move the dial on their own responsibilities by releasing ownership of tasks. Inside or outside chores are just that, they are for all to share and embrace. The delegation shouldn’t be “men only mow the lawn or shovel snow” and “women only fold the laundry and vacuum” tasks. It is known that children have chore blindness, or the “it’s too hard” mentality, likely because “someone” will come along and just do it. They need to see that both men and women (moms and dads) pitch in on the greater good of the family. After all, it is the kids that eventually grow up to their own households, and they become the “someone” to get it done.

In fairytales, when the knight and squire arrive on the white horse, is it ever questioned who woke them up for battle, organized their battle gear, or determined if they had a good breakfast? Doubtful. For women, the modern-day house responsibilities are never outlined as yours, mine or ours, they are just assumed hers until further notice. In a two-income household, women are balancing the drive to be successful outside the home and equally condemned for buying cookies for the bake sale vs baking homemade. Delegating is a valuable life skill…one that women must have missed in home economics.

Works Cited

Barry, D. (n.d.). “Turkeys in the kitchen.” Miami Herald. Accessed 18 September 2023

Kluger, Jeffrey. “The Power of Birth Order.” Time Magazine, 17 Oct. 2007,,33009,1673284-1,00.html.

Useem, Jerry. “Is Grit Overrated?” The Atlantic, vol. 317, no. 4, May 2016, pp. 30–33. EBSCOhost,