A Mother’s Invisible Burden of Disease Prevention

Back in the early days of humanity, roles and responsibilities of men and women were well-defined. They varied by cultures, but hunting, gathering, building shelter, and eventually cooking and keeping house weren’t a point of contention or conversation. Thank goodness things have changed because I would make a terrible 1950s housewife. But we’ve entered a new phase of murky waters when it comes to gender roles in scenarios that go beyond providing the bare necessities of survival.

I recently opened up my calendar for a week and a half to speak with women – mostly mothers – about their home detox goals. And while the conversations were both inspiring and rewarding, when I sat back and reflected on the recurring themes, they also made me frustrated.

Because it became clear to me that women are carrying the burden of disease prevention almost entirely alone.

The majority of women I spoke with said their children are the driving force behind their efforts to reduce toxins at home. These mothers know the ingredients in everyday products are harming their health. And while they might not know exactly what to look out for or what the specific risks are, they know enough to be seriously concerned. And yet most of them were not satisfied with their ability to make healthier changes.

Among the hurdles to achieving a healthy home, they cited overwhelm, not knowing who to trust, not knowing what they don’t know, and difficulty finding products that work. These are all things that are totally solvable, and on these Home Detox Audit Calls we talked through the steps they needed to take to overcome these hurdles.

What Husbands Are Saying

But at the end of the day, the majority of the women felt totally blocked by their husbands from achieving their true goals. Here’s a selection of what I heard in my conversations:

“My biggest hurdle is my husband. He’s old school. And my family thinks I’m crazy.”

“My husband won’t use the green cleaners I buy. He’ll go out and by the conventional stuff to clean with.”

“My husband needs hard proof before he’s convinced to change his habits.”

“My husband is not concerned about toxins at all.”

One woman I spoke to sent me an email after our call because she had some major ah-ha moments. She gave me permission to quote her anonymously, so we’ll call her Mary. Mary wrote:

“I think it’s such a woman thing to worry and care about these things and I actually feel lonely in my quest to get a healthier home/life for my family… nobody cares but me.

Maybe because we don’t have any specific health issues he doesn’t realize the need for healthier choices in the house. He’s just not into that kind of information and when I share facts with him he doesn’t seem to pay to much attention or just doubts it because I don’t have THE source.”

What I was hearing from most of the women I spoke with is that they would be willing to put in extra effort – both time and money if needed – to truly create a healthier home, if only their husbands would support them in doing so.

And so, they continue to dabble in the trial and error approach to detoxing their home. If I may be so blunt, this is all so they don’t “disrupt” their husband’s view of how important (or not) the products and habits they use at home are to their health.

They’d test new products for themselves and their kids, read blog posts and try random DIY recipes.

But ultimately they don’t make any real progress and (silently) still feel overwhelmed and guilty that they weren’t doing the best they could for their kids (their words, not mine).

The Exhaustion of Emotional Labour

This speaks to the notion of the hidden emotional labour that women tend to bear the brunt of. Gemma Hartley wrote a piece in Harper’s Bazaar in 2017 that appeared over and over again on my Facebook feed over the last year – a testament that she struck a chord with mothers. She echos a lot of what I was hearing from the women I have been speaking with:

“Bearing the brunt of all this emotional labor in a household is frustrating. It’s the word I hear most commonly when talking to friends about the subject of all the behind-the-scenes work they do. It’s frustrating to be saddled with all of these responsibilities, no one to acknowledge the work you are doing, and no way to change it without a major confrontation.”

Now, I shouldn’t discredit every husband or male partner out there. I have had several clients and know women in my community who’s husbands are completely on board – or at least willing to learn. But one of two things have to be in place: either they already understand the link between toxins and health or they know how important it is to their partner.

If you’re struggling with a “non-believer”, I would argue that clearly articulating what a home detox means to you (with facts to back it up) is likely a faster process to get them on-side than arming them with all the science they claim to need. (I share more tips on talking to skeptics here.)

Burden of Proof

In another follow-up email to me, “Mary” shared:

“The thing is that I feel he doesn’t see how important it is to me because honestly, I haven’t shared it with him in a direct open way. I take this type of house managing in my hands and he’s not really aware of the efforts that go behind my actions because I do it for my family’s health. He might think I do it out of joy because my frustration and worry about health issues is not really evident. I struggle with it internally. And I didn’t realize how much it bothered me until now!”

Somehow, wanting to reduce toxic chemicals in our homes has become thought of as a fringe belief system instead of what it is: a science-backed effort to support our children’s long-term health and prevent disease.

But despite this, the husbands of the women I speak with don’t have the evidence they need to change their minds.

So where does that leave the women who continue to carry the burden of prevention silently?

For some, the idea of having another conversation with their husband about why they’re switching to non-toxic cleaners or why they shouldn’t use regular deodorant any more is just too exhausting. So they continue to make changes where they can and avoid the conversations that question their husband’s beliefs or ask him for any support (financial or otherwise).

Ultimately, this leaves moms continuing to feel guilty and frustrated that they can’t make all the changes they want to make for the health of their family.

For others, they take all of it on – the cleaning, the product sourcing, the home maintenance – in a more “my way or the highway” kind of approach. Again, this avoids the conversation that really needs to happen.

You’re Not “Crazy”

My question is this: Why do the men get to control the conversation? Why is it the woman in the relationship who has to shy away from our so-called “beliefs”? Especially considering there’s more credible science to back them up than anything supporting the long-term safety of the ingredients in conventional cleaners, cookware, body care, and other household products?

Why are women wrong (or “crazy” as some have been told) for wanting to do the absolute best we can for our children? For ourselves?

The truth is, you aren’t wrong. And you certainly aren’t crazy. You just might not know how right you are. Because you don’t have all the science stats and research to back up your decisions in the heat of the conversations that often feel like an attack more than anything.

How to Move the Conversation Forward

You don’t need all the stats and studies to know what you’re doing is important. But chances are your husband does. And he also needs to know that you believe in what you’re doing, which means you have to be able to tell him with conviction how important it is to you and your children.

He still might not “believe” in the cause, but if it’s as important to you as I’ve been hearing from the women I speak with, then you need to tell him that. Because if it’s weighing on you, bringing you down, making you worry and feel guilty and frustrated, then I’m sorry but he should care.

So if you’re feeling frustrated at your husband’s lack of support, ask yourself if you’ve done a good enough job at telling him how important it is to you. Do you know enough to convince yourself that it’s important to you?

Yes, it’s super annoying to add more to your invisible emotional burden, but it’s a short-term fix to what otherwise is a longer term or even permanent state of overwhelm, guilt and frustration.

If you’re truly ready to make healthier changes at home, and want the support of others who get it plus expert guidance to help you do it right, then I invite you to join my monthly membership, the Healthy Home Collective. It’s less than the price of a coffee a day! Learn more here.

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