How many of these invisible labor tasks have you done this week?

She has a vague recollection of setting down her coffee somewhere between the kitchen and her bedroom, but now she can’t find it. Maybe she did go into the bathroom and just has no memory of it? Or maybe she didn’t actually make her coffee yet… Who even knows anymore? 

Almost every week, I have a woman tell me that they are seriously concerned about early-onset dementia or that something is simply broken in their brain. They are struggling to remember names, getting home having forgotten an errand, and feel foggy and disjointed the majority of the time. 

The reality is that it’s exceedingly rare to develop early-onset dementia, but it’s exceedingly common, particularly as a woman, to be afflicted by the insidiousness of invisible labor. 

The concept of invisible labor has become more widely understood in recent years, though recognition of it in action and solutions for its distribution have remained fairly elusive. 

Invisible labor is the unpaid and unacknowledged work done to maintain a household, person, or business. It was a concept initially conceived of by Arlene Daniels back in the 1970s, but made all the more relevant through the exacerbation of invisible labor by mothers in the pandemic. 

Invisible labor, as indicated by its name, is sometimes hard to witness. This could be because it involves the mental and emotional work that cannot necessarily be seen by the naked eye, as well as because it’s so devalued in our culture that we fail to notice it. 

Today, I want to encourage us to evaluate the invisible labor that we are personally doing. This is simply about recognizing places where your energy is going so that you can both understand why your brain is so often mush and so that you can make informed choices about how you want to proceed. 

And, of course, this list is non-exhaustive (though very exhausting). 

  • I anticipated the needs of family members before they had to recognize or express them. 
  • I communicated with my children’s school. 
  • I did memory keeping work (taking photos, organizing photos, documenting events). 
  • I researched a medical or mental health condition for someone in my family. 
  • I provided emotional support for family members. 
  • I coordinated logistics for transporting family members to various places. 
  • I remembered, researched, and/or purchased gifts for friends or family. 
  • I registered someone for an activity. 
  • I remembered, researched, and/or purchased supplies or educational materials.
  • I planned the weekend’s activities. 
  • I was the “first responder” for an incident that happened in our family/home. 
  • I remembered, researched, and/or contacted someone to perform a task in our home.
  • I checked in on a friend or family member. 
  • I signed up for or performed an unpaid contributory activity or volunteering. 
  • I had a difficult conversation or had to set a limit or boundary with someone in my household. 
  • I remembered, researched, and/or purchased clothing for family members.
  • I performed care tasks for a parent or other family member. 
  • I prepared meals, washed clothes, cleaned a home, and performed other domestic tasks for which I received no acknowledgement. 

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