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How can we share the daily invisible mental load?

Not feeling supported can lead to becoming overwhelmed with stress.

This impacts and limits our ability to find moments of grace, presence, and authentic appreciation for our child and our family that are so desired and necessary for a healthy state of mind.

Not feeling supported in a relationship as parents can lead to overwhelm and even burnout. And with support I mean not only the share of the household chores and parenting.

Mothers are often responsible for not only their half of parenting and household duties and their job, but also organizing, reminding and planning everything else. This burden is called the "mental load," and is very familiar to many mothers around the world.

Compared to many other working mothers, I have it so easy. (I even hear it in my ear now that my girlfriends are saying that sometimes). My husband loves cleaning the kitchen, he enjoys organising the garden, he is the “tooth-brusher” of the kids. If I would ask him to run to the store he would. If I tell him that the wire of my bike is flat he would quickly repair it so I can bring the kids to school. If I am almost in tears, running and biking short in time because of my work appointment in heavy rain to pick up three kids from three different locations, shopping bread and milk on the way and the birthday present for my kids invitation the other day and cancelling the swimming lesson for the next day because my son has a cold, he would say :” you should have asked me to do some of this, I would have helped you”.

Yes, I should have. And he would have. But I want more. I don’t need HELP. What I am talking about is the Mental Load I want to be shared and it feels sometimes rather like a gender inequality to me than a real task to share on a personal level. What I need is the relief knowing, I am not the only one responsible for the daily stuff with organising kids and family life.

It's easy to write the problem off as purely personal; I have clients, who are deeply convinced after all that this longing for emotional share is just a problem between her as working mom and her partner. It is not so simple because gender roles are continuations of what exists out in the world, that family is on the women’s camp and career aspirations squarely in a men’s.

The imbalance I feel is a worldwide women issue and found popularity and name a few years ago in a Comic. French cartoonist Emma brilliantly explains the mental load and its effect on working mothers in a new comic titled "You Should've Asked." The comic starts out with a quick story of an overworked mom who had to cook while tending to her child at a dinner party. Eventually things get out of hand as the mom attempts to handle everything herself. Her husband then says he would have helped out if she had only asked him to. The comic goes on to explain that husbands shouldn't have to be asked to step up and that moms shouldn't be solely responsible for directing them and planning everything.

The syndrome is not merely the stuff of comics. The Modern Family Index (MFI) shows the phenomenon and its effects are real and playing out profoundly - not just at home. Data shows more than two thirds of women cop to carrying the Mental Load; more than half say it's burning them out at work. According to the Modern Family Index, women who are primary earners are roughly twice as likely as men to handle all household responsibilities, three times more likely to register their children for afterschool activities, and more than twice as likely to care for children when they’re sick or off from school.

The emotional and mental energy to keep the house running and the kids happy and satisfied is on me as a mother. I schedule playdates, I keep track of doctor appointments, dentist appointments, extracurricular activities, kids’ birthdays, vacation planning and soccer. Just to name a few things. But as my 3 boys are getting older I can already feel how they see me as the “home-manager”, the one keeping it all together and they will grow into that dynamic and glean that role they watch in their parent’s relationship. And I feel it is time to change that. For my kids and their future relationships.

It is not only the fact that organizing and planning are full-time jobs that people get paid to do. Simply expecting women to take on this unpaid role, in addition to half of the physical chores, means that in reality they are taking on way more than half the housework. Invisible labor is still labor.

This is part of the package when mothers come to me and deal with overwhelm and feelings of guilt not to be enough. The big chunk of invisible work we do weights even more as no one acknowledges or sees it.

What is there to do about it?

It is helpful to include the planning and management tasks when you divide up the homework, meaning the physical work like cleaning and picking up kids. The mental share like planning, delegating, scheduling and remembering has to be shared as well. It will take a while- and some management- to get used to it on both sides. But it is worth it for the whole family dynamic- and for the working mother’s health overall.

I find it most helpful to get used to the thought of trusting your partner to get things done- even though you need to say it as a mantra for some time. Relinquish your control can be tough first but will come out as less mental load for you and more shared emotional load for both partners.

But the most important part is: talk about it. I feel, as generations upfront stamped our thoughts to take over the mental load of a family as “our female duty”, it needs enlightenment both for us and our partner.

Women don't just need help with accomplishing every chore around the house. They would need relief from being the one in charge of knowing what needs to get done and from the responsibility of making sure the partner is doing his part.

Do you need to get clarity on your needs as a working mother juggling kids, work and household?

I am Hannah Böhmer, Coach for working mothers, supporting my clients in articulating and recognizing their needs and setting boundaries, challenge their limiting beliefs and setting tracks on a life they want to have.

You can schedule a free chemistry session and we will have a conversation on how I can support you.

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