Mental load is now a commonly understood term in contemporary Western society. A quick Google search reveals many newspaper and magazine articles about this issue in the past couple of years.
Most articles explain the concept of mental load and the impacts it may be having for women’s mental health and their close relationships, but few actually offer practical steps for sharing the mental load.
This article offers some suggestions.
For anyone not familiar, the mental load is the unseen work (knowing, thinking researching and planning) necessary to keep our lives running smoothly. Think of it as the oil that lubricates the car’s engine. When it runs dry, everything grinds to a halt.
Mental load, for the most part, falls to women.
This unbalanced gendering of mental load stems from childhood, where still, girls learn how to keep a house running. Their mothers may not be actively teaching them that mental load is their responsibility, but nevertheless, it is perpetuated generation after generation. We need to regain some balance and find a way to equalize the mental load for future generations.
Women are the project managers of households. They have to know when appointments are scheduled, where any possession might be at any point in time, that the dishwasher tablets need topping up and that the house insurance needs renewing. It’s a relentless job and it often goes unnoticed by those who aren’t picking up any of that load – the partner and the children.
Mental load equals mental exhaustion for many women.
The impacts are far reaching – anxiety, depression, strained relationships and perhaps even physical health issues such as headaches.
So, what can we do about this?
Research shows that women worry more than men do. This is due to a complex combination of hormones, brain chemistry, genetics and culture. It’s not so easy to simply stop worrying, to simply stop taking on the mental load. It seems women are hard-wired to do that worrying.
Before we can effectively share the mental load with our partner, we need to make sure he understands what it really means. It’s not about the doing of the task – either of you can drive your child to a birthday party. The mental load includes:
remembering that your child has been invited to a party and when and where
planning the journey to fit in with other activities happening on the same day
thinking about and buying an appropriate card and gift
thinking about what clothes your child will wear and making sure they are clean and dry on the day
remembering to have the child sign the card
wrapping the gift
remembering to take the card and gift, as well as the child
And that’s just one in a long list of things that women have to manage every day. No wonder we are exhausted by it. If your partner is going to take over the responsibility for the child’s party invitation, they have to take on all the thinking, planning and doing, not just the final part of driving the child there.
A True Partnership
So here are some ways in which we can share the mental load:
Have a meeting weekly with your partner, just like you would with your colleague at work or business partner about everything that needs to be done. Share it out; it may not always be a 50/50 split but sharing some of it will help.
Set up a Google calendar with the family diary. Share it with your partner so you both know what is going on. Stop leading on all activities.
When you are out, allow your partner to take care of things in your absence. It may not be to your standards or your way, but trust he can get on with it. If things go wrong, this is great learning for next time.
Stop keeping tabs on him about everything. Agree on the areas that will be his responsibility and let him take responsibility. Don’t bail him out if he forgets or gets it wrong. He will have no incentive to do better next time if he knows you will simply pick up the pieces.
Accept that whilst you are transitioning from being the one who leads on everything there will be some chaos, mistakes, and omissions. You are on your way to designing a new system and way of living and managing this load- surely this is worth it. Shifting roles and responsibilities in a marriage takes a lot of time and patience but will be well worth the extra time and headspace that you will have.
What about you?
I would love to hear your experiences of how mental load affects you.
Are you struggling to cope?
Could you do with better processes to help you reduce your mental load?
Or do you have a great experience to share about how you successfully reduced your mental load.
Please do contribute in the comments below.