The Mental Load of Motherhood

Do you know what mental load is and what it has to do with the distribution of tasks in the care of children?
The Mental Load of Motherhood

Written by Elena Sanz

Last update: 26 October, 2022

Try to answer this question: how is the workload distributed in your home and in your family? Many couples are quick to respond that the chores are shared equally by both partners. For example, one cooks and the other washes, one bathes the kids and the other gives them dinner. At first glance, the situation seems fair and balanced, but who really bears the mental burden?

If we go beyond superficial analysis, we’ll see that a home isn’t sustained by physical efforts alone. In fact, maintaining daily dynamics requires a deliberate mental effort to plan, organize, anticipate, and make decisions. This task usually falls mainly on women.

If we stick to the domestic tasks of life as a couple, it’s common to observe imbalances. However, when a family is formed and children arrive, this gap increases, and the mental load assumed by mothers is much higher than that of fathers. We explore these differences below.

Woman exhausted by stress
Mental load in motherhood can generate stress and anxiety.

The mental load of motherhood

The mental load to which we refer includes all those previous and invisible processes that are required to be able to carry out physical tasks. For instance, in a company, an employee is limited to arriving at their job and fulfilling their mission. Nevertheless, behind it, lies all the work carried out by an analyst or group of analysts. They must analyze, process information, plan, organize, set goals, anticipate possible failures and solutions, distribute tasks, etc.

When we translate this into the day-to-day life of the home and family, both members are employees. They’re workers who carry out visible tasks. That said, in addition, women fulfill a double function as all the management tasks fall on them. To differentiate both concepts, let’s see some examples. Physical and visible jobs might be as follows:

  • Putting on the washing machine.
  • Cooking dinner.
  • Putting the baby to bed.
  • Taking the child to school or to the doctor.
  • Sweeping and mopping the floor.

On the other hand, the mental load is reflected in tasks of the following nature:

  • Remembering the day and time of a medical appointment.
  • Planning weekly meal menus.
  • Identifying and replenishing any necessary products that are running out.
  • Signing the authorization for a child’s school trip.
  • Organizing children’s clothes so that they have them available for their various activities.

The consequences of the mental load on the woman and the couple

As we can see, the first part of the tasks can be distributed equally, but not the second part. However, the idea that this task corresponds to the woman is so normalized that it’s even expected that she’ll be the one to tell her partner what to do.

Men aren’t expected to take this initiative, be equally involved in family needs, and know how to anticipate, organize, and take charge of this kind of mental work. It causes consequences at various levels.

Stress and anxiety

Undoubtedly, taking on the burden of a family is hard. Taking care of the needs of each member, organizing everything so that it runs like clockwork, remembering appointments and dates, anticipating, making decisions, and solving problems is a full-time job. However, in addition, today, many women must combine this work with a job outside the home.

As a matter of fact, women have joined the labor market, but the division of domestic tasks and responsibilities hasn’t progressed accordingly. For this reason, it’s common for many of them to feel overwhelmed and stressed in their daily lives. This situation is significantly aggravated when children are born, and the mental load multiplies exponentially as the children have to be brought up and cared for.

Invisibility

One of the hardest aspects of mental loading is that it’s invisible. No one notices the importance of women and how exhausted they are. Many women aren’t even aware that they’re carrying out a task alone that should be shared, they simply assume that it’s natural. In addition, their environment doesn’t recognize or value the time and energy they’ve invested in these tasks.

Couple problems

This situation isn’t only disadvantageous for the woman but for both partners, since it can easily lead to arguments between the couple. Exhaustion, the feeling of inequity, and that their own work isn’t valued can generate dissatisfaction and resentment. In fact, it can end up alienating both members of the couple.

Couple arguing in living room
The perception that all the work and effort involved in the mental load isn’t valued can cause relationship problems.

Spreading the mental load at home and in motherhood

To avoid the consequences described, it’s essential to be aware that mental load exists and begin to distribute responsibilities fairly. Although there are different ways to achieve this, one of the simplest is to divide them into areas. For example, cooking, health, after-school, and hygiene. Then, each member of the couple can physically and mentally deal with those that correspond to them.

Cooking won’t only consist of preparing meals, but also planning menus and buying food. Health won’t only consist of taking the children to the doctor, but also of being aware of when visits are due and making appointments. With this division of tasks at a deeper and more complete level, a fairer and more satisfactory situation will be created that’ll benefit the entire family.

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