New York Times

10mothers-master675MOM: THE DESIGNATED WORRIER
by Judith Shulevitz / May 10, 2015

THERE’S a story my daughter loves to hear me tell: The day after I came home from the hospital with her big brother, my first child, I was seized by the certainty that I was about to die. I sobbed; I asked my husband: “But who will keep him in socks? Who’ll make sure he’s wearing his little socks?”

“Didn’t you think Daddy could put the socks on?” my daughter exclaims, delighted that I’d been so ridiculous.

“I wasn’t sure he’d remember,” I say, “or have enough on hand.”

New parenthood, of course, does things to your brain. But I was on to something, in my deranged, postpartum way. I should state for the record that my husband is perfectly handy with socks. Still, the parent more obsessed with the children’s hosiery is the one who’ll make sure it’s in stock. And the shouldering of that one task can cascade into responsibility for the whole assembly line of childhood. She who buys the bootees will surely buy the bottle washer, just as she’ll probably find the babysitter and pencil in the class trips. I don’t mean to say that she’ll be the one to do everything, just that she’ll make sure that most everything gets done.

Sociologists sometimes call the management of familial duties “worry work,” and the person who does it the “designated worrier,” because you need large reserves of emotional energy to stay on top of it all.

With new generations come new hopes. According to research done by the Families and Work Institute, more millennials share domestic labor — and the management of it — than Gen Xers did. Jenna Fiore, a 21-year-old major in organizational studies at the University of Michigan, told me that she and her longtime boyfriend, Giancarlo Anemone, 21, a computer-science major at Kalamazoo College, have discussed how to allocate labor fairly in the household they’re planning to set up after they graduate this spring — down to “how we would divide getting birthday presents or keeping grocery lists,” Ms. Fiore says.

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