The unseen inequality in polyamorous relationships when you’re a caregiver
A friend of mine said recently “I just don’t have the energy for dating anymore, it’s too much to organise, I’m tired before I’ve even left the house.”
I agreed, and we wondered how other people found it so easy.
The reality for both of us is we have children, and not just that, we’re the primary caregivers in our household.
I’m going to completely ungender this post because it affects everyone, it’s not about what gender role you grew up with or currently identify as, it’s about the role you have within the home.
As parents we make the best choices for our families and those come with compromises all round. I wouldn’t want to live my life in any other way, but it’s hard sometimes.
When my husband goes on a date all he needs to do is say “I’m out on Thursday night” and get to where he’s agreed to be.
When I go on a date, I have to make sure there’s childcare; sometimes I have to pay that childcare. I must ensure there’s easy to cook food for them to eat and anything they need for the morning is already sorted and organised.
(As a woman I also need to think about whether where I’m going is public enough and do a sneaky google of the person I’m meeting to make sure they are who they say they are. But I promised to ungender this post so that’s another subject.)
My husband is a great parent, he does an enormous amount but he’s not 24/7. That’s ok. It’s the choice we made but carrying the mental load is exhausting.
When I go out, I have to remind them to brush their teeth, and what time to set their alarms in the morning. I need to think about dinner money and letters for school and whether the PE Kit has been washed.
Yes, they should all know these things, but the reality is as primary caregiver you’re responsible for all of them happening. Even when you’re a brain fogged bipolar donut like me, without your reminder they literally don’t.
Trust me, when I’m in a depressive mode and am asleep for 70% of the day the kids literally walk round with unbrushed hair and teeth and wear yesterday’s bolognaise stained shirt to school. Most primary caregivers and mental load carriers haven’t tested the “they’ll just do it themselves” theory. I have. They don’t. I promise you.
Being primary caregiver also doesn’t mean you don’t work. Many of us manage jobs and children, it’s just we aren’t out the house for as many hours and therefore carry the childcare load.
The mental load of the childcare doesn’t stop when I’m out the house.
My kids might still message to ask where their socks are and if they can eat something completely different to the meal I put aside for them.
When you aren’t the primary carer, you can insist on complete separation between different parts of your life. You can do the (I assume Veaux inspired) practise of “do not contact me when I’m on a date, for this is my time and if you do so you’re controlling me” without a second thought.
As the primary caregiver you can request peace and space, but you don’t get to completely switch off. When the babysitter needs something, they’ll call you not your partner. You also can’t remember every single thing every time you go out or expect your partner who doesn’t usually have to remember to do so, that phone has to be on.
It’s no one’s fault and it’s incredibly difficult to change but once one partner is used to being in the house more often and responsible for the kids, the mental load ends up being carried by them.
Or in one of my friend’s cases, they carry the mental load and work fifty-hour weeks. They’re superhero levels of organised for sure, but every now and again they crack because four people are relying on them for their life laundry.
Just this week my carefully planned dates were cancelled because one of my children was sick. My husband still got to go on his. Again, I don’t begrudge him this at all, but the reality is he didn’t even have to stop for a second to think whether he would need to.
In polyamory it doesn’t even matter whose biological children they are. In triads and polycules there’s often still a primary caregiver who then carries the mental load for all kids. That’s beautiful and I have all the time in the world for it, but it still makes it harder for that person to date.
By striving for equality, we forget some things are naturally unequal and measuring time between partners doesn’t always create fairness.
As someone dating a primary caregiver, you probably don’t notice all the balls they need to juggle to simply leave the house and spend time with you.
You have no responsibility towards my children and I’ll never expect you to.
I also don’t expect my partner who does have parental responsibility to take on elements of the mental load themselves.
I am asking you however to recognise when my face is tired, and my brain is fogged it’s because I had a lot to organise before I could eat a meal out with you.
When my WhatsApp is pinging it’s not because I don’t respect the time we have together, it’s because my twelve year old forgot where the Nutella is kept.
If I’m slow getting back to you with calendar times it’s because I need to figure out where the rest of my family will be before I agree to meet you.
When I’m stressed because you cancelled last minute it’s because the effort it took to arrange our date was more than simply “I’ll be there at that time”.
Yes, my children have two parents but that’s not how the mental load of a household works. I’m doing my best but sometimes you’ll find partners who aren’t primary caregivers have fewer needs and you might have to work around me.
Equity not equality.