Sharing the Mental Load
The concept of mental load was popularised recently by french comic, Emma.
Emma, accurately depicts the multiple things we do as parents whilst doing something as simple as inviting a friend over for dinner. Whilst preparing a meal for your friend, you are also ensuring the kids are eating. When they are not, you are encouraging them to eat and in between trying to have a conversation with your friend. Meanwhile, the food boils over and you are now cleaning that up. You get the picture…
That’s just ONE dinner. Then add to that the mental load associated with one child: nurturing their hopes and dreams, ensuring they are polite, that they wash their hands, they have a balance of activities and the food they like to eat. Drop off and pick up arrangements from day-care, school and activities. Quality time with grandparents, self-esteem, blossoming friendships, dealing with the kid with mean behaviour in the playground. The list goes on. The mental load increases for more children with differing needs.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not only mums that feel the burden of the mental load it is dads too. It is the main carer who often bears the brunt.
But what happens when both parents work and both parents are the main carers?
Whilst in most families, both parents are working, women are still doing the lion’s share of the work. Census data clearly shows Australian women spend, on average, 5 to 14 hours per week in unpaid domestic work, whereas men spend less than 5 hours a week. Women also spend an additional hour a day looking after children.
So how can we address this imbalance?
The most fundamental area to explore is the unconscious bias. For generations, in most families we’ve seen dads go to work and mums stay at home. This has translated into beliefs of what it means to be a good mum or dad and one of the reasons mums have been taking on more of the responsibility of the children and home without realising, even though they may work outside of the home too.
Whilst we may know that things should be more equal, creating this as a daily practice is more challenging. I see successful women, who have their own business or leaders in their workplace, still doing the lion’s share at home, To uncover whether bias is at play in your home, answering these questions may help:
Do you take on lots of responsibility in the home and get resentful of your partner for not stepping up?
Do you want things done your way because no one else can do it the way it needs to be done?
Do you feel like there are some things that are just not your domain?
Any one of these areas contains a bias until it is questioned. Once challenged, responsibilities can subsequently be assigned through an explicit agreement.