The Adult Drudgery Years

Martin* and his wife are tired and at each other’s throats. “Every chore becomes a tense standoff, its like she thinks I have this hidden extra time that I’m not telling her about, but I’m busy too!”. The couple have two small children and both work. “I know she needs some time off; I’m just too stretched myself to give her what she needs!”

“I get home at 6pm, then its meal prep for the kids, then meal prep for us, then it’s the kids’ bedtime (which is my main quality time with the kids). By the time all that’s done, I have time for one Netflix show, then I’m so exhausted I crash”. Sally* was at a loss how to introduce healthy habits and bonding time with her partner.

I often reflect on the bizarre way our society dictates the onset of life demands.

After your fully dependent years of childhood and adolescence, come your 20’s, a period of freedom, exploration and leisure, in western culture. Perhaps we study, undertake training and perform entry-level work, but nothing too serious.

Then, from around age 30, in quick succession we are urged to partner up, purchase property, push out some pups and panickily climb the greasy career pole. For the next 20 years, you are trapped in the kids/work/debt matrix. Life demands coming especially thick and fast around the time that the kids are little, the time you can least afford them.

Sure, the 50’s and 60’s are no walk in the park. There might still be adolescents, adult children and parents to care for. But the mad life scramble of earlier years has slowed down. Time to start to fade away (only you are going to live for another two or three decades, so better get a hobby!).

And many of my clients live are travelling through this life period – the Adult Drudgery Years.

These clients often feel trapped in an impossible bind. Mental health may decline when faced with saturation-level adulting. Anxiety about not meeting demands. Despair at never having time to satisfy all commitments and so doing none properly. Relationship stress due to resentment and real or perceived inequalities and the deprioritisation of the attachment bond.

What can we do to ease the burden of adult drudgery?


To some degree, the adults doing well in the Drudgery Years are the ones that have accepted it – “oh well, it is what it is”. This type of acceptance can stop the stress of struggling with an imperfect reality: “I can’t believe this is my life now, this can’t be right”. Once we accept, we can just get on with it. Many others have had it worse.

On the downside, acceptance can mean giving up hope of improvement. Hope is vital for becoming creative and trying new things. Without new solutions, we may enter the demoralisation of deep drudgery.

Creating Slack

Want to get out of a hole? First stop digging.

As I’ve written previously, we make ourselves antifragile when we create some slack in our life. Slack is redundancy or dead time, time that is not directed toward productivity. This time is to be used when the (inevitable) crisis or opportunities come our way. If we structure our lives to maximise productivity, we don’t leave anything left over when circumstances change, and we need a little extra time.

Ask yourself: what is the easiest and cheapest way to get a few hours back in my life?


A recent global study headed by French researchers looked at parental burnout. Their key finding? Individualistic cultures have higher rates of parental burnout. Parents in cultures where the raising of children is more collectively done seem to take the parenting in their stride.

It can be hard to extinguish individualism. Our 20’s are often our most me me me decade. By the time kids are born, we are fully indoctrinated into the never ask for help, never give help mentality. Asking for help can be hard. Letting go of the expectation and perception that you can do it all can be hard too.


A final method to escape Adult Drudgery is through play. Introducing playfulness into your relationship could mean engaging in silly in-jokes, starting new and fun shared activities, a spontaneous and inventive sex life.

A recent study reviewed the scientific literature on playfulness in adult relationships. The authors concluded that playfulness has positive effects on “reducing conflict (e.g., by solving interpersonal tension) and monotony (e.g., by engaging in an active and fulfilling sexual life), and building trust with the partner”.

It isn’t easy to break out of drudgery. It can feel like adding yet more tasks to the list. It can be hard to break out of drudgery, but what’s the alternative?



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