Do You Carry the Mental Load of Your Family? Does Your Partner Help?

I came across this not-sure-what-to-call-it essay? comic? illustrated op-ed? last week and I keep thinking about it. It’s called You Should’ve Asked, and was translated from French — which I mention because it’s a reminder that the experience described in the essay isn’t confined to my life in the U.S., but may be fairly universal.

I shared it on Facebook and it started some good conversations. I hope you get to read it. It talks about the mental load of household tasks and household management and parenting, and how that mental load is almost entirely borne by women. And that even if women have partners who are willing to help, it doesn’t really relieve the mental burden.

A quote from the essay:

“What our partners are really saying, when they ask us to tell them what needs to be done, is that they refuse to take on their share of the mental load.”

If you get a chance to read it, I’d love to hear if you relate. In our house, I definitely carried most of the mental load as we started out, but Ben Blair has taken on more and more as the years have gone on. And it makes a huge difference. I don’t think I could have built Design Mom if he hadn’t taken on some of that mental work. Though I realize it’s still not totally balanced. I probably feel the imbalance most around birthdays and holidays — the mental work for these continues to fall almost entirely to me. What about you?

67 thoughts on “Do You Carry the Mental Load of Your Family? Does Your Partner Help?”

    1. I really recommend going back to the original metafilter thread, instead of the condensed one! That condensed version is highly contentious among the metafilter community, because it compiled our comments without our consent, removed them from their context, was done in violation of community policy, and erased a lot of people’s voices!

      For folks who are interested in the original thread, you can find it here:

  1. Yes! I’ve been married 4 years and have a 2 year old and a newborn and a husband who thinks he’s doing the same amount of work taking care of our kids and house. But I’m always the one who shops, makes appointments, cooks, asks him to clean most of the time. I also now only normally work 25 hours per week, but even when I was working full time and my husband was watching our first baby full time, I did these things, too. He has a chronic disease that takes a lot of mental work to manage, so sometimes I think it’s only fair that i take on more of the other responsibilities, but I still end up feeling resentful. We also seem to have different standards–e.g. he would be happy eating eggs for dinner most nights while I want a more well-rounded meal with variety. I would love to hear from women who have successfully made the switch.

  2. I love this topic. I just wish there were more practical next steps offered in order to shift the mental load back to a more middle ground.

    Gabby, you mentioned that over time your spouse took on more of the mental load. I am curious what caused that shift. Was it natural, or the product of clear communication?

    1. That’s a really good question, Meredith. And I’ve been thinking about it for days now. How did we eventually make the shift? And what further steps could we take to balance the mental load even more?

      I’m obviously no expert and have no simple answers. I think for us, two of the biggest shifts came in France. First, we started running most of our errands together. This was unusual for us — before France, I typically took care of almost all errands for the family. Buy my French was so poor (practically nonexistent), I would ask Ben to come with me to communicate. Through all those errands and lists, he came to have a better understanding of all that STUFF I carry around in my head as a mother (like ongoing clothing needs for 6 kids, social engagements, grocery lists, gift lists, parenting questions, etc.).

      Until he really, truly, deeply understood everything I was having to think about, I don’t know that he could take the burden from me. Or that I would trust him with the burden.

      Second, Ben Blair took over a huge chunk of the meal planning and meal prep in France. I think it started mostly because he loved the amazing food we had access to there — and he cares more about food than I do. Since we’ve moved back to the U.S., he still takes on a huge chunk of the food responsibilities — including most of the food mental work.

  3. As a 67 year old retired professional woman, who worked fulltime, and commuted- I say thank you for posting this. I never had the words (or time or energy) to express what I read here. I truly admire younger women, and moms, who give one another the support to let go of some of this mental burden, and encourage the letting go of guilt. For myself, I had some martyrdom too.I think it ran in my genes. But, it is never too late. I have been letting go of more and more of this “crap” and either it gets done by my husband of 45 years, or it just doesn’t happen. And that is OK.

    1. “I never had the words (or time or energy) to express what I read here.”

      Yes! I felt the same way when I read it. It’s so helpful to have words to put to something that has been bothering you and you haven’t been able to identify it.

  4. I stay at home so I obviously carry the mental load, and do so happily most of the time. But even though I stay at home I often think that there is NO time off for me it’d be nice if my husband helped out on weekends

    1. I feel the same way. I’m a stay at home mom so I don’t feel it’s undue to carry most of the mental load. If we both worked, I’d be toast trying to handle it all.

      1. I stay at home too, w 3 children and have found it much more emotionally/mentally taxing than working full time. This is partly why, as soon as I saw this, I showed it to my partner and we had a conversation (hopefully the first of many) about what parts of our family systems he can take the mental and practical reigns on. Hooray for that!

  5. I read the article last week and felt…tremendous relief about finally knowing why I felt the way I do. Having been married for 19 years I had become beyond frustrated with my husband, which resulted in me being sensitive/snippy and couldn’t put into words why I felt this way. Things came to a head on Saturday when I was on a tight deadline and he was bemoaning that the sheets on our bed were dirty. My response was to say “So, strip the bed. I’m on a deadline and can’t do it right now.” Three hours later I walked in to find the bed had indeed been stripped. The sheets were in a dirty pile on the floor and my husband was sitting on the couch watching tv. I pulled up the article and said “This is why women feel like killing their husbands. I KNOW you are a brilliant man. Please read this and revisit our conversation about the sheets this morning and FIGURE out what you should do.” About 15 minutes later I heard the sound of the washing machine start up. A small ML victory.

  6. I read this comic last weekend and haven’t stopped thinking about it. I read it after having this exact conversation with my husband, that even though he is helpful and willing, I am tired of telling him and asking him to do things. That alone is exhausting. It’s been so helpful to identify the concept of the “mental load”. It’s helped me let go of that mental load a little. My husband, bless his dense soul, has become much more helpful. I still need to show this to him and talk about it. Especially when both parents work, like in our home, sharing the mental load is critical to household harmony.

  7. I actually sent that comic to my husband with a note about how this is what we’re always fighting about, please freaking read it and we can figure out how to make our lives work. As far as I know, he hasn’t read it.

    If that doesn’t sum up the problem…

  8. Yes! this is the hardest part of being a working mom and the last big leap for feminism. It’s such progress that women have the opportunities to do more of the things that were traditionally only for men but it’s not equality or equity if men aren’t taking on what is traditionally women’s work. I have half the financial/professional responsibilities in my family and 90% of the mental work. It’s all stuff I want to do but I’m really tired and really busy.

    1. OMG- YES!!! “This is the hardest part of being a working mom and the last big leap for feminism”. May we all begin to shift our expectations for men to do more of what is “traditionally women’s work”!

  9. I saw this over the weekend too! I loved the distinction between managing a set of tasks and doing the tasks. From my work world, I know that the same person often can’t do both management and execution, especially if the list of tasks is really long. So it was helpful to apply that frame to my home life.

    Here’s one thing the comic didn’t address: the person who’s managing the tasks is usually the person who decides HOW they should be done, what quality means, what’s important, and what’s not. If I want to stop carrying the mental load of management, I need to be ready to not be the decider on all those things.

    For example, what if I really think our house needs to be vacuumed once a week, and my husband genuinely believes once every 2 weeks is ok? If I’m managing the task, I get to decide that “vacuum once a week” is the standard. If we’re both managing it, he has just as much right to his opinion as I do to mine.

    Like another commenter mentioned, I’ve got to be ready to let go of some things. If we own this together … then we actually own it together. I don’t own it all by myself. We can talk about what we both want and what’s important to both of us, and we’re gonna need to come to an agreement. That’s totally possible, and also might be more work than some of us are used to putting into conversations about household chores! :)

    1. One more thing: I’ve been reading a book by Tiffany Dufu called Drop the Ball, and she describes making a spreadsheet with her husband of all the “life management” tasks that needed to be done. They listed every single thing they could think of — drop off the car for an oil change, respond to their landlord’s emails, change the baby’s diapers — you name it, it was on the list. Then they had three columns: Tiffany does it, her husband does it, or no one does it.

      She said the most freeing thing was how many items ended up in the “no one does it” list. Bake cookies for the school bake sale? Nope, no one has time, they’ll pick up cookies at the grocery store instead. Giving themselves explicit permission to just not do a whole bunch of things brought a lot of clarity and peace to their home. It made me want to think carefully about the things I’ll just choose not to do!

      1. Genius idea to do a spread sheet and verbalize the “no one does it”. Great tool to check my own crazy expectations!

        1. I’ve done a bunch of “choosing not to do” this year while my husband finishes up his PhD and it has felt soooo nice. Conversely, I have also added things I wanted to do, like drive my daughter to violin twice a week and that has also been just fine, even in traffic, because I made the choice.

  10. Can’t stop thinking about this either. Found via Cup of Jo last week. As I think about it…my biggest fear is that we pass it along to the next generation. I 100% carry the mental load in my family, and what if I pass that along via role modeling to my daughter? How will we change the way the world works for women, and working mothers in particular, if we don’t change this? In some ways I’ve tried to take small steps towards alleviating it – for instance, we say in my family that I am responsible for Procurement and my husband is responsible for Accounts Payable. That means that if I see a bill, I don’t even think about it. It’s on him. With that said, Procurement is a far bigger load. :-)

  11. Omg!!! This is everything!!! Thank you so much for posting this, it validates everything I’ve ever argued about with my husband since having kids. I always get, “just ask!” And it drives me nuts. After 3 years of living in our current house she still doesn’t know where certain kitchen items go when unloading the dishwasher, and mind you we have 3 cabinets!! I love him dearly but he just doesn’t get it and I hope this cartoon better helps to explain it to him. I seriously love you so much for this.

  12. This rings very true, BUT… when I think of the mental load that my husband is carrying for his set of domestic tasks, it’s quite large too. I don’t ever think about lawn care, snow removal, leaf removal, servicing all the lawn equipment, servicing the air conditioner, changing air filters, oil changes, tire pressure, taking the dog to the vet, making sure his shots are up to date, buying dog food, fixing leaky faucets, removing dead tree branches, cleaning the pool, and a lot of other house/vehicle/pet related tasks.

    I definitely carry the mental load for our children, but at least 50% of it feels like the burden of worrying about things that may never happen. My husband chooses not to pick up the worrying burden, and saves a lot of energy that way.

    Also, a sizable chunk of the mental burden is the tasks I need to do to maintain relationships — constantly buying gifts, sending care packages, writing thank-you notes (my husband has NEVER written a thank-you note). We choose our own priorities, whether they are maintaining relationships, having a spotless house, or feeding our kids healthy meals. If those are not the same as our mate’s priorities, does that mean our burden is his fault?

    1. I really appreciate this. Men do carry a load too, and part of moving forward with this issue is both partners acknowledging the other’s load – and if there is a big imbalance, addressing it. In our house, my husband has gradually picked up some of the mental load (he now does more than half of the grocery shopping, although I still maintain the list), but we still haven’t gotten to the point where he regularly notes bedtime and jumps in independantly to help get the kids settled in. This has improved, but is still hard. Like many others mention, he is willing and helpful, but often needs to be cued to get involved with certain tasks.

      1. You make some very good points, as my husband always takes care of the cars, the yard, and mechanical issues related to the house. Also, he bears the burden of making most of the money. He has always been self-employed, and the pressure to make ends meet has kept him up at night many, many times. Although I bear the emotional brunt of the children’s needs, I don’t tend to worry about money the way that he does.

    2. mom in mendon

      A counselor once told us marriage was a “business,” which called for a division of labor–including the mental load of the tasks. So, if it’s an insurance issue, I defer to him. “What do I do with these prescription receipts?” If it’s an area I’ve claimed, I expect his respect for me. “I’m hanging this picture. How do you want it?”

      Also, sometimes a partner hesitates because they’ve been criticized when they took initiative and didn’t do it “right.” “No! You washed those in HOT water !??”

    3. Reading this makes me realize why I have recently been more frustrated with my husband not doing more…all of these typical guy things that he used to do have shifted to me–I schedule the oil changes (though he takes the car in), wash the car, change the tires, fix the leaky faucets, change the filters, call repairmen, etc. on top of all cooking, shopping, finances/paying bills, cleaning, regular household tasks, social engagement planning, date planning….and I stay home with the kids full time…and I work part time while the kids sleep. Ugh, just typing that makes me tired. He used to do more of the guy stuff. I’m not sure what changed, but that needs to 180 stat, and it likely involves me just letting go of the mental load of it. He does care about that stuff, so I think he’ll do it eventually.

  13. One shift we’ve made is handing over lunch box responsibility to my husband. This has the knock on effect of him carrying the mental load about what’s in the cupboard.
    It is essential for handover to work that he does it his way without my comment or input. I love that I am completely out of the loop though when the kids come home complaining that their ham and apple were touching :)

  14. I sent the article last week to my sisters and many friends and we all agreed that it perfectly summed up how we felt and why we were constantly overwhelmed. I tried to explain it to my husband but he told me I was being a martyr. I think part of the reason 100% of the mental load is on me is because I’m particular and want things done my way. I know I need to let some of that go but I also think men in general feel entitled to “their time” and relaxing. I think I put what I feel are my duties as a mother and wife/house-keeper first and feel like I can’t do anything for me until everything else is done. It’s frustrating that he says I should just stop doing that – but then I think nothing will get done. Like another comment pointed out, I worry about how our children will internalize that mothers carrying the brunt of the mental and actual work load. I so intensely want my daughter to stand up for herself and know her value in a relationship. Maybe if we all treated ourselves the way we would want our daughters or children to be treated we could be kinder to ourselves.

    1. Thank you for bringing up our daughters, my 4 year old is extremely perceptive and carries more of a mental load than my husband around the house. I need to point out to my husband the impact it has on her. She remembers more stuff that needs to be done and where things go more than he does. Which makes me think a bit on how much of this is biological?

  15. This article is a great, relevant topic with much to consider, but left me feeling deflated and pessimistic when it didn’t offer practical next steps, or talking points/ ways to talk about this with your partner. That’s the part we all need– specific and clear ideas on how to practically start to shift this in a way that doesn’t go over like a lead balloon or a huge critique.

  16. When I read this essay I straight away thought: But she should have asked!
    I see a lot of families in which the mother is dominating the managment of the household in such a way that it is very discouraging to help her. The partner who offers help is either patronised, micromanaged or ridiculed. So while I can totally relate to the whole mental load thing, I also think, the problem is not the misconception of most men, but that often women have such a hard time stepping back. To not feel responsible for every little thing and that it is done perfectly. In my experience (maybe I just have a super cool partner) it works most of the time that when I step back mentally and in saying so (because mindreading never works for us), my mental load is getting sygnificantly smaller and stuff is getting done anyway.
    I still carry more of the mental load but I find that I do it in areas that are really important to me. And I enjoy doing it. When it gets to much and I feel stressed out, I say something. The older I get, the more I realise, that no feminism is sparing you from asking for the things that you want or want to change.

  17. This completely sums up my mental state when I found myself crying in the kitchen the other day having a running argument with my husband in my head. I was putting food away, doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen after having made dinner for the family (during which I took breaks to clear the table, feed the animals, take out the trash, give one kid a spelling test and help the other with math problems, empty the dishwasher, make a to-do list of all the other chores that needed doing that weekend, and answer a work email). My husband spent that entire time on the couch with his nose in his phone and the tv on. I was loading the dishwasher and feeling sorry for myself and getting angry at him – telling myself that I just need to ask and he’d come help – but then stomping my foot and yelling in my head “I SHOULDN’T NEED TO ASK!!” … but did I do anything about it? no. I started the shower for the kids and put them to bed then went down and scooped litter boxes and started laundry.

    I can say woe is me all day long, but the fact is, I accepted responsibility, I stayed quiet.

    1. you just described my life to a t. in addition to working 40-50 hours a week – arent we all? however I did give up one chore, the laundry to my husband. and guess what. each week i still end up seeing laundry not done, folded or put away. soooo i still do that most weeks. while i was staring off in the shower the other night he came in and said, “oh looks like you are deep in thought- whatcha thinking about?” Oh you know that we just paid 4K in our medical deductible but I am seeing a hormone therapist that charges me by the hour to consult, and thinking how Im going to pay that bill and maybe I should push her off till next month but no we have x ya to do next month and mentally calculating what I needed to eliminate to do that xyz…” he said ” oh okay” and walked back out…HAHAHAHAH it never ends the mental load.” the one thing that he is good at…the outside chores, the lawn and yard. so ill count my blessings there :)

      1. I think you should stop doing the laundry. Maybe do a load of your own laundry if you get really desperate… When the kids run out of clothes, yell at him “honey, so and so is out of socks- where’s the clean laundry?” And then let the kid wear dirty socks that day. No one cares, really.

        I took a housework strike for a week a little while ago and things have been MUCH better in my house since then. Highly recommended.

  18. I would absolutely agree I carry more mental load about household responsibilities than my husband. In relation to our childen over time and with several changes in our work situations I feel like we have settled in a place where we equally share this responsibility.
    I have thought a lot about “You should have asked” since reading it earlier this week. One thought I come back to is that my mental load is about what I focus on and what I am prioritising. It made me realise that my husband has a mental load too, it’s just different to mine. Because he has taken on certain responsibilities, I dont have to think about them day to day and therefore it is easy for me to forget his contribution to our family and our home.

  19. I often think about the bizarre questions I am asked by my spouse. Like, do you know where my socks (or screwdriver, heart rate monitor, or thingie for my bike, etc) are? The part that always flabbergasps me is that, yes, I do know where they are! And I’m frustrated that you don’t, because they belong to you and you left them there. There is something about my mental role in the household that, on top of everything else, is required to remember where everyone’s stuff is at all times and instead of looking for it themselves it’s easier to rely on my mental capacity to find it for them. The amount of almost-useless knowledge that I am required to keep in my head is baffling. Frustrating, to be sure.
    Interesting on many, many levels.
    I should be sleeping but I love getting caught up over here :)

    1. ha! spot on! not only are we supposed to know where everything is, but also where everyone is and where they are supposed to be at any given time. my husband is happy to help with pickups or dropoff but has no clue about schedules/calendars unless I fill him in. completely my mental load there.

  20. When I ask my husband to make dinner, he says, “What should I make?” Now I know why that simple, seemingly benign question makes me nuts. It’s the mental work. Exactly. I’m not just asking for help DOING things. I’m asking for help with THINKING ABOUT things. Thank you for this revelation.

  21. I burst into tears the first time I read this! I help lead a nursing floor at work, just had a baby, and I’m moving this weekend and thought I might have a nervous breakdown… just seeing that I’m not the only one and not crazy is such a relief.

  22. It’s the mental work to think what to buy for a kid’s friend’s birthday, what dress to wear for the concert, do the shoes still fit. Do we have any plans that day? Keeping track of everything. I do most of that. I have started (at the beginning of the school year) to keep an online family calendar that has all the family-related information, and my husband has the same access and adds stuff as well. I am very religious about this calendar, it has birthday parties, sports events, full school uniform days, mom’s choir rehearsals, dad’s fencing tournaments, doctor’s appointments, and it’s gotten a lot better for me, as there is a tool that takes off some of my mental load I feel. I have to nudge my husband to use the tool, but he does, and he does not ask me these questions like “is there anything going on this weekend?” anymore.

    1. Google calendar is our family lifeline! I love that my teenagers can access it too, so they don’t have to ask if they can accept a babysitting job or go to an event, they can check and see what’s happening. I love the color coding feature so everyone has their own color, and the ability to put in repeating events, notes, addresses, all the details. My husband doesn’t add to it himself (although he checks it), but every Sunday we sit down as a family and talk about the week ahead so we’re all on the same page with what’s happening when.

  23. When our children were very small (22 months and newborn twins) we hired a nanny because we were lucky enough that we could afford to, but also because my husband knew me well enough to know that I would never ask for help and that I would fall apart between the children and work. The nanny was great. However, managing an employee was another task on top of all of the other tasks, and my husband would get defensive and angry if I complained about my day or asked him for help. He would say, “but you have help, why don’t you take a nap?” or, “but you have help why don’t you ask her to do that for you?” I was so tired it honestly took me about 6 months to realize why his attitude was so upsetting. Finally, after a particularly tough day I pointed out that he doesn’t do his job by himself either, he has employees to help him. So why does he get to complain about his day and I don’t? I wish I’d had this vocabulary back then but I called it ‘the buck stops with me’. Whatever is going to happen with those babies or the house, at the end of the day, the buck stopped with me. And the constant vigilance of that was exhausting. To be fair, he is self-employed and under constant stress, but it wasn’t until I put the housework into workwork terms that he started to understand.

  24. As a few commenters have already noted, the trick to shifting the mental work to your partner is letting go of the task completely. No input, correcting, criticism, hovering, or “helpful” advice. For example, a friend’s husband researches, plans and coordinates 10 weeks of summer day camps for their children. He decides which weeks they will attend soccer camp, cooking camp, art camp, etc. Her only involvement is picking the kids up after she is off work! :)

  25. I showed the comic to my husband last week and it triggered an interesting conversation. And you know what? To be fair on him I think we’re a lot closer to equality on that score that many families we know. I am the one who writes a weekly meal plan, handles birthdays and Christmas, works out exactly what we need to shop for, does the bulk of the grocery shopping and manages clothes and appointments for our daughter. But he does as much laundry as me, 50% of daycare duty (and thus the reminders and bits and bobs that go with that), the dishwasher, a bigger share of the cooking, the washing up and puts the rubbish out. He’s pretty great at seeing something that needs doing and handling it, rather than waiting for me to tell him how.

    We both work, and I’m about to go back to full-time, so we’ve agreed we really have to try and have an equal division of labour or I’ll be a broken woman. But I also recognise that at the moment we just have one kid, and she’s not at school or involved in extra-curricular activities yet – it’ll be interesting to see how 50/50 it still is in a few years…

  26. I had mixed feelings when I saw the comic earlier this week.

    1) SO MANY FACTORS go into how different couples should manage the family’s work. Does one of the spouses have a chronic illness? Do both of you work outside of the home? How many kids are there? If the husband works outside of the home, how many hours is he working? Is he under any horrible deadlines?

    Articles/comics like this one can validate grumpy feelings without actually addressing the big picture in every marriage.
    YES, I hate hearing “just ask,” as much as the next wife, and there’s *definitely* something to be said for the comic’s perspective on that. However, as someone who’s married to a man with chronic pain, I have to acknowledge that I *must* do more of the work around the house in order for my husband to have the energy to do his work. Also, I’m not the one managing his “can I take this pill today? Am I about to get a migraine?… Is this pain too bad for Advil to take the edge off?” etc.

    2) If you’re a SAHM, deal with it.
    Not to sound harsh, but if the husband is the one working for $$ and you’re the one home all day with kids, you can’t be resentful for being in charge of managing groceries, doctor appointments, etc. It’s your job. You don’t get paid to do it, and that sucks majorly, but it’s still your job. You do all the crap around the house and your husband does his crap at work.

    Does that excuse hubby from helping around the house? No. it does not. Though, since he’s bearing the load of providing financially, I would still argue that the wife would need to be mindful of the fact that he, too, has been working and managing mental work the entire day and might need a break so that he can do it all again the next day.

    3) Complete equality is impossible.
    I would also argue that seeking complete equality just leads to unhappiness/fighting. Someone will always be managing more of the mental work around the house. When the kids are young, I find it inevitable that the mom will be better equipped to handle it.

    anyways. sry for the long comment.

    || ||

    1. Just want to comment on your second point Lee – I’m a full-time working mother with a SAHD and I still bear the majority of the mental/emotional load for the family. I’m not going to weigh-in on the eternal nature-versus-nurture debate but I feel strongly that the 1950s dynamic of one parent working and one parent taking care of everything else was never ideal for anyone – kids or parents. I struggle constantly with trying to find a balance where I don’t resent the dual household-employment burden while still feeling like an engaged parent and spouse. To me, the thought of anyone, man or woman, walking into a house after a full day of work and expecting to get a “break” is pretty offensive really.

      1. “To me, the thought of anyone, man or woman, walking into a house after a full day of work and expecting to get a “break” is pretty offensive really.”

        Thank you for putting this in words. I’m going to put it on a t-shirt

        1. Kristen Baker

          I vehemently disagree that a primary caregiver should take on everything to do with the home. The idea that being the primary daytime time caregiver is less tiring or worthy than a job that brings in income is right at the root of this discrepancy through the generations. I may have more physical time in the home, but that doesn’t make me responsible for remembering or dealing with everything within its walls. I may not contribute to our monthly income, but the work I do as my child’s primary teacher, caregiver, and playmate certainly contributes to our financial security and success. I refuse to also be the only one expected to notice that we only have one roll of toilet paper left just because I am the one most likely to schedule a target trip into my work day.

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  29. I’ve seen this in a couple places this week, and it’s also in the first 20 pages of “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids,” (terrible title – great read!). This has helped me have so many conversations with my husband.

  30. I am dating a man in the marines, and as we discuss potentially marrying and having a family there are many many things I’m considering before “jumping in” so to speak. As I was reading this I wonder how possible this is for women with spouses in the military, dealing with deployments and week long training and so forth.

    Getting into a serious relationship is such a big decision, and doing so with a person whose life I would follow (and practically give up mine for) feels even more so. I wonder how it’s possible to share the mental load with a spouse who additionally has the mental load of the lives of people.

  31. You know, after contemplating this post through the evening. I realize that I don’t necessarily mind most of this. I could complain all day long about working full time, shuttling kids, keeping the house (mostly) clean, keeping everyone (mostly) fed, managing the budget, and everything else that life throws at me. It’s just what I do, and I’m (mostly) ok with it. However, it would sure make it a lot easier, a bit more worth it, a lot more rewarding, if there was some acknowledgment. Just a simple “Hey, I noticed you vacuumed tonight, thank you” would do wonders for my attitude most days.

  32. This is something I am working on with my husband in my own life, and this article and verbiage is so so helpful to frame the problem/question and potential solutions. Part of what I’ve noticed in my own situation is a lack of teamwork in creating the culture and tone of our family. If I tend to be the one carrying much of the mental load for household and kid decisions, that trickles down to what kind of home and what kind of parenting we end up espousing. It’s also our personalities, for sure, I’m a more dominant personality, and I think about those kind of things a lot, whereas my husband tends to happily follow my lead. (Which works for us much of the time!) But it’s another positive in encouraging a more equal split of this kind of mental work- it will naturally lead to conversations and shared decision making in areas that I want more of his input, without it having to be a giant, stressful conversation about WHO ARE WE REALLY?

  33. When I came across this the other week it was the life changer! I got my partner to read it immediately and it has constantly been on my mind and in our discussions. We are in our mid 20s, soon to be married. I said to him after he read it that I really fear this being my reality in the future and it is sometimes the reality now. I want everyone woman to read it!!

  34. Melissa Yoder

    The image that resonated most with me was the one where the couple was sitting on the couch watching TV–the man just relaxing and enjoying himself while the woman continued to be thinking/planning about things that needed to get done. MY LIFE.

  35. Always remember that communicating with men about their need to help with the children sometimes falls on deaf ears. You have to speak in their language! The lady above hit the nail on the head. When you put housework into work/work terms, he starts to understand. Good blog. Thank you!

  36. One of the things I didn’t see mentioned is the ‘who gets to bitch about their job’ component and from a SAHM perspective, you often never get to bitch about your job properly to an informed ear, if that makes sense. It’s work and it’s not because of the invisibility and patriarchy, it’s definitely work but it’s not a job because there’s no salary gauging your “worth”.
    In a way, you don’t get to not like your job (mother). And yet part of my mental load is hearing all about my partner’s stresses at work, offering feedback on all of those relationships and trials. I carry those stresses around with me. And yet it’s very hard to complain about daily struggles with your own children or the sort of “mundane” labor involved and get the same sort of ear. The very problem of not getting to dump about it (a stress and anxiety- reliever) makes it hard to communicate about it.

    Also – when you do all the work of researching summer camps and choosing for your family and then your partner then has his own opinions about them (after the work has been done). That one set me off. But what does it come down to? Me trying to be efficient and save him the anxiety/time/work? Or not communicating up front about the work, which he wasn’t going to do anyway ? I don’t really know.

    I think the only time I get angry about our division of labor when it seems like my work boils down to holding or controlling the anxiety (about any looming kid decisions or problems) so that he doesn’t “have to”. He saves his anxiety for getting through his own day. Which then makes me wonder, why are we all so stressed out today ? I tend to think our general anxiety about contemporary life is maybe a larger part of it than the structure of a family. Could this be? (Are modern families too … alone? Too financially isolated?)

    My hunch about partners taking on more of the Mental Load as marriage goes on is that it has much to do with the age of your kids and their ‘needs’ becoming much more visible to the partner. (and communicating by children themselves, not the mother).

  37. I loved this. I remember when we brought our son home from the hospital, I said to my husband, just because I am a woman and a mother now, I have no idea what I am doing, I am not an expert! Please feel free to do whatever needs to be done with our newborn. That worked out well, but I have always carried the mental load. I like to think of it as my challenge, it keeps me with it, on my toes. I include him in all aspects of home life, but honestly being a male, and a selfish one at that, it will always be me carrying that load. Perhaps if he were given better tools as a child, but that did not happen. I do get bitter at times and resentful, but that is when I blow up and tell him to become more aware of things. It’s hard.

  38. My boyfriend emailed the “You should’ve asked” piece to me… in the short time we’ve lived together, I do take on more of the mental load. This piece has been a good source of reflection for me. So much of what I do at home is based on values–I cook because I value fresh food and eating meals together, I sweep the floor because I want my friends with cat allergies to be able feel welcome and be able to breath in our apartment. I think my partner and I can shift where the mental load falls by defining our shared values for our home.

    What I’ve noticed since reading the article that first time is that female bloggers and commenters and my female facebook friends are posting it. I am so curious to hear more from men.

    The other thing that has struck me about piece and all of the conversations I’ve seen is that it is entirely from a straight perspective. I’m curious to hear same sex couples weigh in on this. How does the “mental load” get shared between two women? Two men? What about other partnerships?

  39. I love this post. I’m a stay at home mom and it still is a load. I feel lucky if the sink get’s emptied and dirty clothes get thrown down the laundry shoot. You read that correctly. We have a laundry shoot and they still throw clothes on the floor!

  40. Thanks for posting, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately!

    I know that this article is very focused on the aspect of mental load in partnerships with kids, but I think it’s also relevant to people without kids or partners. An out-of-control emotional and mental load can be there even without a partner.

    Having ill parents, being in a job where your team is down two people, chronic diseases, living far away from friends, having a challenging financial situation, etc…all of these things increase the mental load.

    I think that’s why the toughest part about that comic was really the lack of solutions. I want to know what to do about it. I want to know the things that people do to get the running project management commentary out of their heads, and come out the other side breathing and sleeping easier. I feel like there’s such an industry out there of hacking your life! do this to help xyz! …but very little that takes on the problem of how to actively declutter one’s brain while still effectively product-managing.

  41. My shorthand way of expressing this would be in response to my husband managing to be at home with the kids for a day or two and thinking he managed well. It doesn’t mean much unless he does it long enough to run out of toilet paper.

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