The hidden load: How 'thinking of everything' holds mums back - Deepstash
How "Thinking Of Everything" Holds Mums Back

When it comes to household responsibilities, women perform far more cognitive and emotional labour than men.

Understanding why could help explain why gender equality has not only stalled, but is going backwards, despite being more discussed than ever. And a broader understanding of this behind-the-scenes labour could help couples redistribute the work more equally – something that, while initially difficult, could play a significant role in helping mothers lighten their load.



The Invisible, Unlimited Work Of Mothers

Experts say that this hidden work comes in three overlapping categories:

  1. cognitive labour, which is thinking about all the practical elements of household responsibilities, including shopping and planning activities.
  2. emotional labour, which is maintaining the family’s emotions; calming a distressed child or worrying about how they are managing at school.
  3. the mental load is the intersection of the two: preparing, organising and anticipating everything that needs to get done to make life flow.



The Mental Load Of Mothers

There are four clear stages of mental work related to household responsibilities: 

  • anticipating needs, 
  • identifying options, 
  • deciding among the options;
  • monitoring the results. 

Mothers did more in all four stages, her research showed; while parents often made decisions together, mothers did more of the anticipation, planning and research.

In other words, fathers were informed when it came to decisions, but mothers put in the legwork around them. 



Impacts Of The Mental Load Of Mothers

The fact that mothers end up assuming this mental load has consequences: 

  • Mothers are more stressed, tired and less happy than fathers;
  •  When women thought the distribution of housework was unfair and perceptions of each partner’s contribution differed, it led to marriage problems and increased the likelihood of a split; 
  • Many women feel they cannot physically or mentally put in the extra hours demanded by many workplaces, so the gender pay gap continues to widen. 
  • Women make up the majority of part-time workers and in turn are less likely to get pay rises or promotions.



How To Reduce Your Mental Load As A Mother

Perhaps the best way for women to reduce the mental load is to do less. If the mother stops thinking about what needs to be done and the father does not anticipate these needs, it may initially cause stress or judgement – but that could allow learning for next time. 

Over time, doing less could increase our partner’s involvement and, in turn, free up more of our mental energy to focus on ourselves. At first, we might get judged for it, but it could lead to greater happiness later on. We all learn from doing, after all. 



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