The day seems to be never-ending as to-do lists for work and the home pile up. While you’re presenting the quarterly sales of your department to the board members, do you also find yourself thinking briefly about the household chores you’ll get to after work? Does your family depend on you to remember whether it’s Huggies or Pampers that doesn’t give the baby a rash? How about keeping the account number of the family’s savings in Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation on top of mind for easy recall? If you’ve nodded your head and answered affirmatively, then you are the de-facto project manager at home. That means you are also carrying the dreaded mental load.
Understanding mental load
Also known as emotional labor, the mental load is the burden of ensuring the household — and all its members — doesn’t fall and crash to the ground. It means being in charge of coordinating, organizing, and completing family responsibilities so that everyone remains happy, healthy, and functioning in full capacity.
In an ideal world, the mental load is shared and delegated to prevent burnout. However, the brunt of the work is left on the shoulders of working mothers. It is based on a report commissioned by the nonprofit Bright Horizons. They have been reported to accomplishing seven hours of added housework every week, compared to their partners. That is on top of being the coordinator and scheduler of said chores so that everything remains clean.
Here are surefire signs you are the sole owner of the family’s mental load:
You need to nag and prompt people to get things done.
Without any action or initiative on your part, nothing gets done at all. The dishes remain unwashed and piled up in a Tetris-like fashion in the sink. Rooms look like a typhoon went through with how much clothes, toys, and books are left in the place. Dust bunnies gather in every corner as nobody bothered to pick up a broom. Most of the family are passive since they’re used to being given direction and prompts. If you complain about the mess, you will hear them saying that you should have asked.
When you’re away, the family is lost on what to do.
If you do get time away from the house, your phone will be ringing nonstop as questions upon questions pour in. The family is operating like a headless chicken, lost without their brain (aka you) telling them the laundry needs to be dried and folded or the shower head needs to be fixed. To avoid situations like these, you end up leaving detailed instructions so that a sense of normalcy can still be achieved without you.
It’s second nature to volunteer and do the work.
You might have embodied the phrase, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them,’ when it comes to coping with the mental load. The title of project manager for your household has become a badge you’re proud of instead of a red flag that can lead to burnout. It has become a part of your identity, instilling a sense of responsibility to remain the family’s caretaker. A sense of perfectionism might even surface as you don’t give the other members a chance to learn the work.
Keeping the mental load to yourself is not sustainable as, sooner or later, you will run out of steam and energy. If you’re noticing the above warning signs, try talking to your family about sharing the responsibility of managing the household equally.