Sometimes what started as a question about chicken is suddenly about so much more than chicken.
The scene is 7:30 p.m. on a typical quarantine day in our new COVID-19 landscape.
I am working full time from home, as is my husband, and our five children are basically running feral. I am exhausted on pretty much every level, and we are preparing what feels like the 875,736th meal for them.
Everyone is hungry, tired, and truthfully, a little cranky. My husband pulls the chicken out from the oven where it had been baking, turns to me, and says,
“Is it OK if I cut the chicken up?”
I stare at him blankly like he, himself, has sprouted chicken wings. Why is this grown man of 34, a father of five, a professional and business owner, a person fully capable of taking apart an entire tractor to fix it, asking me if he should cut up the chicken we are about to eat for dinner?!
Well, the answer is, good people of the world, because in my house, like many households, all decisions — both big and small — tend to fall to me, the mom. And in the post(mid?)-pandemic landscape, that burden has only seemed to intensify about triple-fold. And honestly?
That night I snapped a little.
I’m not going to lie to you: decision-making fatigue is not a new concept to me nor to my husband. I have often had the conversation with him about how exhausted I feel as a mom responsible for five little lives, as well as, in many situations, his too.
From remembering the doctor’s appointments and the new favorite snacks (because it changes week to week, right?) to making the “big” decisions on things like schooling and vaccinations and breastfeeding or bedtimes — the energy surrounding decision-making always ultimately falls to me as the mom.
And most of the time, on a normal basis, I’m OK with it. I am fine deciding on the style and budget for clothing our children will wear; I’m OK with deciding what sports they can participate in and if so-and-so can go to a friend’s house. I’m OK with being the one who decides when it’s time to take the baby to the doctor or wait that fever out.
But recently, life has not been normal. It’s been anything but normal.
The truth is, pandemic life has compounded the struggles I have had as a mom with decision-making fatigue. Largely, because, no matter what I do, there is no guarantee that the decision I make will be the “right” one.
Should our family isolate longer? Is it OK to see grandparents? What about that summer vacation? What would our family’s risk be if we did get COVID-19? How the heck do we navigate childcare now?
There is no one right answer to any of those questions, and with those types of “big” decisions looming constantly, I have found that I just don’t have the energy to deal with the “little” decisions anymore. Like what side dish we should have with a meal. Or if kid #3 needs a bath tonight. Or, especially, if we should serve the chicken in chunks or strips for dinner.
My husband has tried to argue throughout the years that his deference to me in decision-making is done out of respect for me as a mom, or as a proactive means of avoiding what he feels will be an inevitable argument if he makes the “wrong” decision.
But I — along with wives, girlfriends, and partners everywhere — am calling the bluff. It takes way less work to be the one who gets to opt out of decision-making. It also very much removes the mantle of responsibility if — and when — something should go wrong.
That night, the night of the “chicken incident,” I admit I felt a bit guilty for snapping and losing my patience over something so seemingly small and innocent. What was the big deal, after all? Couldn’t I have just answered his question instead of getting all snippy about it?
Well, sure, maybe.
But the thing is, it wasn’t just about that night’s chicken dinner. It was about years and years of being the default decision-maker.
It was about the enormous emotional energy I have spent as a mom wrestling with big decisions about my children’s health, safety, and well-being.
And it was about dealing with the stress of a pandemic that has heaped even more responsibility on my shoulders as a mom.
Acknowledging all of that to myself helped me to see that dealing with decision-making fatigue doesn’t make me a bad person or a bad mom — it makes me human.
So, to all the partners of the world: Please don’t ask your wives or girlfriends or whoever the decision-maker in your relationship is if you should cut up the chicken or not.
Because it just may be the last straw for some of us.
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer and a newly minted mom of five. She writes about everything from finance to health to how to survive those early days of parenting when all you can do is think about all the sleep you aren’t getting. Follow her here.