Does this sound familiar? You put a load of laundry in the washer 20 minutes ago. Now you’re making dinner while struggling not to forget to put the laundry in the dryer the second the washer cycle is complete, because you need to pack your child’s clean soccer uniform before bed tonight. As you chop vegetables, you make a note to remind yourself that you’re low on paper towels, you need to call the dentist to make an appointment for everyone in the family, and you have to tell your manager that you’ll be missing work next Wednesday to chaperone a field trip. Oh, and don’t forget to fish out the checkbook to pay the photographer for class picture day.
This is what sociologists, psychologists, and journalists are now calling the “mental load”. Sure, it’s no big deal to pick up the phone and call the dentist. Of course, writing a check only takes a few minutes. But remembering all of these details, coordinating their timing perfectly, and knowing that letting a detail slip through the cracks could mean a child sitting on the bench during practice or an absence of paper towels the moment a gallon of milk spills on the carpet, can make a parent feel as if the weight of the world is on their shoulders. The constant juggling of details, reminders, and schedules is invisible work that others may not notice, but which takes an enormous toll on the bearer of the load.
In families, one parent often takes on the majority of this load alone. A friend who is a psychologist recently said that in every relationship, someone must realizes that all of the details must be managed, and takes on the weight of these details themselves. How can parents share this load, so that neither partner becomes overwhelmed?
First, identify where your family has an imbalance. Is one parent taking on all of the household duties? Is someone bearing the brunt of scheduling every detail of everyone’s lives? Acknowledging that this person is overwhelmed can go a long way to easing the stress of the mental load. Second, begin delegating. The person who bears the mental load needs to learn to delegate, and not just a task here and there. Telling your partner to put the laundry in the dryer just takes a physical task off your list––it doesn’t actually ease the burden of remembering that each task must be completed. Ask your partner to take on an entire piece of the mental load, whether it’s remembering and scheduling doctor and dentist appointments, handling all of the grocery shopping and meal planning, or staying on top of household purchases.
How much of this rings true for you and for your family? Do you feel the burden of the mental load? How much does it contribute to your overall stress level?