There is a theory in family therapy called homeostasis. You may or may not remember it from biology. The definition, according to the dictionary is:
the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.
When it comes to family systems, the concept refers to relationships. We live within a family system, connected to larger systems such as school, work, friends, organizations, extended family, etc. Whether we realize it or not, these systems are interconnected. Change one thing, and everything else is affected. As such, we will do whatever we can as a system to maintain that homeostasis even if it no longer serves one member of the system.
Right now I am trying to change my family system of over 26 years and it’s been exhausting.
I have been a stay at home mom since the birth of our oldest 24 years ago. Over the years I would notice that I was doing more and more in this role, but because my husband’s job included travel, things weren’t going to change. I could wait for him to come home to pitch in, or I could just do it myself. As a first-born, practical, German-raised human, it just made sense to get it done. To be fair, my husband has never considered himself the babysitter when he was around. He’s up for splitting up the work. It’s just that many of these tasks don’t occur to him unless I point them out.
It took a global pandemic for me to realize that we needed a change.
I lost my work, then my husband lost his. There were seven people in one house week after week and in that time I started to notice how much I did to keep the family running. I began to wonder, if two parents are in this house together all day long every day without jobs, why am I still doing all of this?
We can start by blaming the patriarchy.
My friends roll their eyes when I blame our patriarchal systems for some of this (even though they know I’m right). If you are in a heterosexual relationship, the household/childcare tasks mostly fall on the humans identifying as women whether or not both partners are working. Research shows that those identifying as men are doing more than previous generations, but they are still not doing as much as women (even when both partners believe they are doing equal work). Pushing against these social norms is incredibly exhausting. AND, because the men benefit from it and often don’t see it, it is even more difficult to expect change (thus causing an imbalance in familial homeostasis).
My family supported me when I started grad school last fall, but I don’t think they realized how it would affect each of them. My husband started a new job that no longer involved travel, but I do believe they thought I was capable or interested in carrying my full course load PLUS doing all that I had been doing for them. I’m not so sure my family thinks grad school is all that great anymore. Since May, I’ve started internship in addition to my coursework. I am now often out of the house until bedtime or way past it four nights a week. This will not change until I graduate in May. After that, we’ll reassess my hours.
What I have found most interesting is how hard my family has pushed to get me back into my original role. I’m no longer available 24/7 and there are some strong feelings about it.
I am too busy and carrying too much in my brain to notice most days. But I have noticed in subtle and not so subtle ways how hard they are pushing me to go back into what I once did. It has taken some real energy on my part to hold my ground. I do this partially because I physically and emotionally can’t, but also because they are all capable of doing more of it themselves. They just would rather I did it because I made their lives easier. In the end, I do not think it is the big stuff that I did that they missed (because Dad is capable), rather, I think it is the minute details that I handle without notice to keep our family running smoothly. Those are the things that we all miss.
I can hope that they can appreciate all the work I’ve done for them for the last 24 years, but I think they’re too busy trying to get me back to homeostasis.
Good thing that German upbringing made me stubborn.
The thing about homeostasis is that eventually this will become our new norm. Eventually we will all adjust…