Even though my husband and I try splitting up life’s responsibility, I constantly feel like out of the two of us I’m the one run down mentally, physically and emotionally. It turns out I am not alone and there is even evidence based information on why this happens. Keep reading to learn more about the invisible mental load of motherhood and what to do about it.
What Science Says
Some household chores like cooking and cleaning are physical, but there are plenty of household to-dos that don’t fall into this category. Things like scheduling doctor appointments, keeping track of school scheduling, buying gifts for birthday parties and making sure your LO has pants that fit are all items research classifies as cognitive labor. It’s the work of comparing options, making decisions and monitoring (1). Cognitive labor is draining, is often a source of arguments (I know in our house it is) and tends to fall more on women in heterosexual partnerships.
Another name for these to-dos is “worry work” and requires “women to be not just parents and caretakers but also unofficial keepers of where the entire family needs to be and when and perpetual guardians against anything falling through the cracks (2).”
With more dads pitching in than ever before, 9 in 10 women still feel solely responsible for this work (3) which can lead to major burnout. A clear example from Aliya Hamid Rao, Ph.D., is “Even when husbands do unpaid work (like housework and child care), they still depend on wives to tell them what to do and when. So let’s say a husband is going to grocery shop for the family. The wife will be the one who looks at their fridge, their pantry, thinks about what they are missing, what they will need in the next week or so, and makes a list. The husband goes and shops, often even calling the wife if he can’t find an item to get her to guide him.”
What To Do About It
Have an honest conversation about how you are feeling. Let your partner know you want them to actively participate instead of waiting to be told what to do. Explain that you aren’t just worrying too much and that the things you are asking for have to get done. Have this conversation at a time you are both calm, instead of waiting for a blowup at the end of a long day. Your partner needs to truly understand how the mental load is impacting you in order to make changes. This will most likely not be one conversation. Keep checking in with each other to make adjustments along the way.