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What Is The Mental Load?

February 7, 2021

This week we will be discussing the Mental Load and who is most affected by it. If you haven’t heard of this phenomenon before, allow me to explain. According to “The mental load is a term for the invisible labor involved in managing a household and family, which typically falls on women’s shoulders. Also sometimes referred to as “worry work” or “cognitive labor,” the mental load is about not the physical tasks but rather the overseeing of those tasks. It’s being the one in charge of having the never-ending list of to-do items constantly running in your head, remembering what needs to get done and when, delegating all the tasks to respective family members, and making sure they actually get done.” Essentially, The Mental Load is an umbrella term for anything and everything that needs to be done around the house. This is even more powerful if you are a mother. Every day, tasks need to be competed in order to run a household. These can include waking the kids up, feeding them breakfast, packing them lunches, getting yourself and/or your partner ready for work, packing your own lunches, laundry, dishes, bathing the children, help with homework, grooming the dogs, cooking, sweeping, getting yourself ready for bed, etc. The list could go on for days. And normally, we as women take on the brunt of this emotional labor. Have you ever been so overwhelmed, knee-deep in responsibilities only to be asked by your partner “how can I help?” And your brain, in that moment, feels like it’s going to implode? You might react in anger. “What do you mean? Can’t you pick up a rag and start dusting without me having to tell you?” Or you may dismiss them completely, as it’s just easier for you to do it yourself (and you know it will get done properly). When we react in these ways, we are subconsciously taking on more than we can reasonably handle. (I say reasonably because I know you CAN do it, you just shouldn’t have to if you have the help available.) 

A common theme that I’d love to bring more light to is when your partner says “you should have asked!” Oh boy. The misunderstanding of The Mental Load can lead to so many arguments. SO MANY. I highly recommend this comic to further clarify the “should have asked” mentality and why it’s harmful. The main takeaway is: if I have to tell you to complete a task, I am still bearing The Mental Load of completing that task. I still had to stop what I was doing to think about what needs done and how to accomplish it. THEN I had to explain it all to you in great detail to be reassured that it will be done correctly the first time, and I won’t have to waste my time redoing it. Take for instance, cooking dinner. Seems easy enough. Take out food, cook it, and eat. Right? Not so much. The first thing you have to do is see what food is even in the fridge or pantry. Once that is established, you will need to research recipes to find out what to make. In order to research recipes, you will need to be experienced enough in cooking to know what is easy for you and what you will like. If all of that works out in your favor, then you need to cook appropriate portions for your family (if you’re lucky enough to only cook one meal!) and then, maybe you can eat. But then the dishes need done. The counters need wiped. Leftovers will need put away. Then starts thinking about dinner for tomorrow. Do I have enough here left over or will I have to cook again? And God forbid you run out of something and have to grocery shop on top of all of this. Budgeting, finding ingredients that will make tasty meals, the list goes on. While you’re cooking, maybe you’re also trying to watch the kids or do homework or even clean up as you go. 

If this sounds like a lot of work, ask yourself why we as a society put all of that on women’s shoulders. 

Why is one partner expected to carry all of this Mental Load? According to “Since 1968, the percentage of employed women working full time has always been between approximately 72 percent and 75 percent.” So why hasn’t The Mental Load shifted over the past 5 decades? Most of this comes down to traditional gender roles. There is nothing wrong with practicing traditional gender roles in your household. If this works for you and your family, I commend you! However, many women and mothers are slipping through the cracks. They are feeling overwhelmed and practically drowning in responsibility. And they aren’t taken seriously. I can’t express to you how many times I have listened to friends who feel like their partner just doesn’t get it. 

Now that we have a little bit of knowledge on The Mental Load, what can we do to lessen it? My first rule of thumb is to communicate with your partner. This is much easier said than done, believe me. But I do have a few communication tricks up my sleeve. 

1. Stay calm

It is so important to stay calm during a discussion like this. If your partner came to you and yelled that you weren’t pulling your weight, how would you feel? If you calmly and thoroughly explain your feelings, things will come through a lot clearer. The second somebody raises their voice, we tend not to hear their words. We only hear their tone. That won’t get us very far. 

2. “We” not “You”

This is a practice that will take some time for those even in long term relationships to master. I still struggle with this myself from time to time. When communicating feelings to your partner, especially sensitive topics, it is important to remain as neutral as possible. This can seem confusing at first, so let me break it down. If I sat you down and said “Jane, I just don’t know why you can’t do more around here. Look, the house is a mess. And what are you doing? Sitting around while I do all of the work!” Jane would probably slap me. Let me rephrase this conversation. I sit Jane down and begin again. “Jane, we both work full time. Sometimes the housework can be a bit overwhelming. Is there any way that we could make a list of responsibilities and split them evenly?” Now Jane is thinking. Remember “We” not “You” The last thing you want to do is sound like you are accusing your partner of being lazy, or not caring. Chances are, they do care. It is their space too. They just won’t know if you are carrying all of this if you don’t express it. 

Don’t suffer in silence. Express your feelings to those you love in a kind, gentle way. This will get you a lot further than starting an argument. Don’t forget to take care of yourself as well. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Burnout is real, and there is no need to feel guilty about it. I have some homework for you this week. If you ‘re somebody who wants to help your partner out every day, don’t ask them what needs done. Just start doing something. Then when things are completed, sit your partner down and talk about how you can better help them. 

And don’t be surprised if they give you a long list. 

For More Information:

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

More of Emma’s work!

Other Articles of Mine

Thanks for reading, Friends

Veronica – Weekly Wellness Blog

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