The busiest years in a couple's life are when both partners are building careers and raising young children.
It takes many different types of work to keep a household running: the physical tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and laundry; the mental tasks, like coordinating schedules and managing finances; and the social-emotional tasks of keeping tabs on everyone's wants and needs.
If a task isn't your job or a leisure activity, it goes into one of these "buckets" of household work. One of the most contentious issues during this stage of life is the question of who carries the most buckets -- or the heaviest ones.
Sharing household chores was in the top three highest-ranking issues necessary for a successful marriage, according to a 2007 Pew Research Poll. (The first two were faithfulness and good sex.)
In the past half-century, the majority of mothers have moved into the paid labor force. The labor force participation of women with children under the age of 18 has risen to 70 percent. And mothers are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data.
Now more than ever, the distribution of household labor is an issue of fairness and respect.
In a 2015 Pew Survey, more than half of the working partners in two-parent households said they split household chores equally. But nearly half also said working mothers do more in handling children's schedules and activities, which requires significant effort before children can drive or manage their own time.
And there's a gender gap in how mothers and fathers describe their household's distribution of labor.
"Mothers in two-parent households, regardless of work status, are more likely to report that they do more on each of the items tested in the survey than fathers are to say their spouse or partner does more. For their part, fathers are generally more likely than mothers to say that these responsibilities are shared about equally," the report found.
One mother I talked to expressed that very sentiment regarding her own family situation.
"I think in his perspective I do 60 to 65 percent of the work, when in reality, I do 90 percent," she said. "And I'm being very conservative with that 90 percent."
The so-called "invisible work" can often fall to women by default. Part of that may be because the gender-chore gap hasn't changed much in more than a decade. Bloomberg reported last year that the Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual Time Use Survey reveals that the percentage of men and women who are involved in household activities -- defined as housework, cooking, cleaning up after cooking, and generally taking care of the household -- has barely moved since 2003, when the bureau began tracking Americans' day-to-day activities.
Everyone wants to be appreciated and recognized for the contributions and effort put forth in their home life. If left unchecked, an unfair division of labor breeds resentment and alienation between spouses. It can erode intimacy and the sense of being supported as an equal. If one person is constantly feeling overwhelmed or tired, a redistribution of responsibility may be in order.
Part of the solution is raising awareness of all the tasks that require labor -- whether mental, physical or emotional -- in raising a family and managing a household.
To that end, try creating a comprehensive list of all the various tasks it takes to run your household. (I compiled one such list for my local paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which is available online. Another good list to work from is Alexandra Bradner's from her 2013 piece in The Atlantic, also online.) Then sit down with your spouse and determine who typically handles what -- and where things might need to shift.
Perhaps one person prefers to take primary charge of an area, such as school communication or vacation planning. Maybe one spouse wasn't aware of the way certain tasks pile up into stressful mental clutter, and can work to alleviate that. Perhaps one partner needs to try not to criticize the way certain tasks get done in the future.
These may be difficult conversations, but they are necessary to the overall long-term happiness of the family.