Many of us are hearing this rather newly coined phrase “mental load” that surfaced very
poignantly in a feminist comic in May of 2017 (see https://english.emmaclit.com/2017/05/20/
you-shouldve-asked/) entitled You Should Have Asked. It details a scenario wherein the mom
is trying to feed toddlers, prep the house and meal for two guests, and all while the husband is
somewhere in the background. He only appears when a mess has happened and as he sees
his wife overwhelmed, he exclaims, “Why didn’t you ask for help?” The point of the comic is
that when a male partner expects his wife to know what and when and how for each need
under their roof, he has put her in the position of Manager; while he is then in the position of
Underling. The comic writer pleads for dads everywhere to take a more active and managing
role after babies are born and help bear the mental load of a family.
Here’s how mental load impacts my day.
7:00am Wake up. Immediately remember that an insulated thermos is better for my
sons’ camp day since they’ll be in the sun. Tell myself to go switch out
thermoses before I forget.
7:01 Begin walking to the kitchen to do said thermos switch-out.
7:01 Walk past the bathroom and see wet underwear and an unflushed toilet. Stop to
flush and pick up wet clothes and walk them to the hamper by the garage door.
7:02 Realize a certain pair of pants in the hamper needs to be ready for the next day.
Decide to go ahead and start a load of laundry in time for the “pants” deadline.
7:02 Start the washing machine and realize I never paid the sitter on Venmo the day
before. Take my phone out of my pocket (it starts the day by my side) and pay
the sitter. Done. Good.
7:03 Head back in the house from the garage and notice the date glaring on my
phone. It’s my brother-in-law’s birthday! I think to myself, “I should get my boys
to shoot a quick video to send today since I forgot to get a card in the mail on
time. So glad I remembered it was his birthday!”
7:04 Standing in the kitchen trying to remember what I was initially there for, I realize
we’re having chicken for dinner, so I get chicken breasts out of the freezer to
7:04 Notice my computer is on the dining room table likely out of gas. Plug my laptop
in to charge so that it is ready for my online counseling client at 9am.
7:05 Feel a general sense of dread that I’m forgetting something and a growing need
7:05 Notice a text from the day before that I never responded too. A friend was in a
panic - I should probably text back as soon as I can.
You see where this is going right? Do you think I ever got around to the thermos? Does it even
Mental load is quite frankly a bit of an epidemic with moms everywhere juggling the roles of
wife, daughter, friend, mom, neighbor and often alongside of working either outside of the
home or from home. Many moms tell me that they naturally are decent multitaskers and enjoy
the work of kin-keeping, home organization, and child-rearing. However, the limits are REAL.
Being naturally decent at something may not always mean you are the person for all the jobs!
If you are a dad reading this, here’s one way to know if your wife is dealing with mental load.
Walk around your home with a post-it notepad. As you come to each room or area of your
house, stop and consider who is generally responsible for this area. Then write ‘his’ or ‘hers’ or
‘ours’ on the post-it and stick it in that spot. If you’ve got mostly ‘hers’ and very few ‘his’ or
‘ours,’ your wife is probably under this heavy burden. When I work with couples and we are
talking about parenting and household roles, I often encourage a middle ground. Take a look
together at all of the roles, tasks, and regular chores of your family. Pick a manager for each
main area. If you’re the manager for that one, you have a choice of doing it all yourself or
soliciting help in that area. However, if you are not the manager of that area, it is your
opportunity to ask how you can be of help. This provides a healthier dance of managing and
helping and your marriage will be better supported during these task-heavy years of raising
your children. Good luck! You’ve got this! (or else hand it to your husband to manage…)
Leslie Bley, LPC
Leslie has been counseling for over 13 years and earned her MA in Counseling in 2004. She currently practices in Austin, TX and she is a mother to two wonder twin boys. Leslie believes we were made for MORE and she provides counseling for individuals and couples. Her focus areas are motherhood challenges, sexuality, couples counseling, shame recovery, and female life stage transitions. She runs a counseling group called Brave Motherhood where she helps moms navigate through the many challenges of motherhood.