Mental load: the woman for life is not the girl for everything

When I don’t think about it, no one does…

Mental Load refers to the mental strain that occurs within the family. There’s an endless list of tasks there to think about around kids, household and family organization, and many to-dos entail other tasks.

For example, when I want to do the laundry, I notice that the children’s pants have become too small, then I order new ones on the Internet and on that occasion I realize that the clothes in the closet are not in season. I get out the warm tights from the basement and notice the chaos that is there. "We urgently need to tidy up here," I say to myself, and originally just wanted to do a load of laundry.

To-do lists are also full of errands or doctor’s appointments coming up, plus we have to remember that flute lessons are cancelled and soccer practice is no longer on Tuesdays but on Fridays. Children’s birthdays have to be organized, presents have to be bought, school supplies have to be kept in good condition, and in most families it is mainly the mothers who have these tasks on their minds because they feel responsible for them.

Why do many women work off lists in the evening while their partners sit relaxing on the sofa?? The answer is: We don’t know any other way! Even as children, we perceived that our mothers cared, and it in are primarily women who take care professions. They become nurses, educators, geriatric nurses and elementary school teachers, and the belief has manifested itself that women do this caring on the side and that it is easy for them to care.

This is a big mistake though, because Caring is work, not infrequently without an end to the day’s work, and largely takes place in the head. A computer can be turned off, but a child or a person to be cared for has needs around the clock.

What starting a family has to do with the traditional role model

When a couple has a child, it naturally changes their lives significantly, but women in particular feel responsible from this point on, thanks to our stereotypical role models, not only for the baby, but also for all other things concerning the household. "Your refrigerator is empty," says the mother-in-law, clearly placing household appliances in the female domain. "We are still looking for mothers for the walking day," the school’s letter to parents reads.

Mothers are so involved in everyday life that they become better and better at organization and all family members rely on them. If the mother is sick, she has to conduct the family orchestra from her bed, if a threatening Corona pandemic is sweeping through the country, she is the one who neglects her job and teaches the children instead. Partners offer "support" or "help," making it clear that they see themselves as assistants, while their wives remain the primary caretakers. Even though he naturally swings the vacuum cleaner after her request, it remains her task to remind him to clean up. The mental load doesn’t get any smaller that way, however.

A fair distribution is needed!

How to solve the mental load problem? Let’s think of it as a game, as Eve Rodsky did in her brilliant book "Fair Play," and before we begin, let’s clarify a few basics. What tasks arise at home in the context of household, child care and family organization? Best, a couple writes down all their to-dos, and because there are so many of them, it’s best to do it over two or three weeks.

You can find a template to fit here. In addition, it is useful to first have a basic conversation to lead. How stressful it is to have to think of everything? Why don’t we both feel equally responsible for organizing the daily routine, the Advent calendar for the children or the weekly meal plan?

It’s best not to get caught in the spiral of accusations where "you don’t care about anything" is followed by "you can’t be bothered anyway". Because, as we have already recognized, Mental Load is not an isolated phenomenon and has far more to do with our socially determined role models than with individual culpability.

The next step is for parenting couples to discuss the rules of the game, So how they want to redistribute the work in the future. The important thing is to take on individual tasks completely. Conception, planning and execution belong together! So whoever is responsible for toothpaste and shower gel writes the things on the shopping list, schedules the shopping, carries it out and puts everything in the right place.

Also important, Keeping an eye on the daily grind. This refers to tasks that are urgent and important and cannot be postponed. The family needs something to eat every day and the child needs to be picked up from kindergarten every day. Mowing the lawn and taking the car to the TuV can be postponed for a while. There should never be one(s) alone with the entire daily grind on the docket.

This is how it can work

The game now works like this: Every Sunday, the pair sits down together, looks at the calendar and discusses all the appointments and tasks that lie ahead. Are there days when things get stressful? Can outsource tasks or ask neighbors for help? It makes sense to keep a shared digital family calendar that you can sync on smartphones. This way, both parents can keep track of all their appointments, even if one of them is often in the office or even on a business trip. Many tasks can be done remotely, such as ordering a handyman, researching games for a child’s birthday party or buying diapers online.

The one who has done little organizing before is getting better at it through this exercise. It is normal to forget something in the first few weeks and parents should therefore give each other time and be patient with each other. Those who have done the organization alone for a long time will have trouble handing off tasks at first. This is also a matter of practice, but it is worth it. That’s because the sense of shared responsibility for all the seemingly small things welds the couple together and reduces mental load. In addition, it quickly becomes clear that these are not just unimportant little things, because they all together form the basis for a happy and contented family life.

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