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The Mental Load

Who carries the mental load in your relationship? From remembering to schedule the dentist and knowing the washing machine is due for a clean to planning meals for the week and checking in on your kids’ emotional-wellbeing…the mental load can feel like a lot. On this episode, Bonnie and Lily dive into the five components of the mental load and how it impacts your well-being, and the state of your home.

 

SHOW NOTES

Episode Transcript

Hello and welcome I am Bonnie and I am Lily and this is Little Home Organised, the PodCast dedicated to helping you declutter, get organised, and reclaim time for the things you love.  

LILY: Welcome back, we took a little break because Bonnie pumped out a baby. 

BONNIE: Yeah 

LILY: Well do you want to introduce you know what you had.  

BONNIE: As a mother you are like totally worried about doing stuff that appears selfish, anyway I am totally digressed but…..

MUSIC:

BONNIE: Hello and welcome, this week we are talking about the mental load, we will chat about what the mental load is, who should be carrying it and some simple ways that you can share the burden in your relationship.  

LILY: Welcome back,we took a little break because Bonnie pumped out a baby.  

BONNIE: Yeah if only it was as easy as popping a balloon.  

LILY: Yeah, well do you want to introduce you know what you had. 

BONNIE: Yes so I had a baby boy Nate, Nathaniel for those who like to measure in pounds he was 8lb 3oz the exact same as my first baby boy which is really kind of creepy and then those who measure in grams he was 2.72 kg, so he was about 10grams off what the first one was but pounds makes it exactly the same.  I don’t know why I gave you all that information but anyway he is super cute, he is about 8 weeks old now and his older siblings absolutely adore him and it is hard to keep them away from him, which for most people who are in the southern hemisphere coming out of winter has been yeah a little tricky because you know we have a 3 year old at daycare and so he got his first bug at 10 days old which of course when you are a newborn that doesn’t go so well, so we actually ended up back in the hospital for 4 days while he was working through that, so yeah it has been fun.  

LILY: It has been a blast

BONNIE: Like it is just my crazy life and my husband and I keep saying to each other, never a dull moment in our house 

LILY: Absolutely not but yes very excited and happy to welcome this sweet little nephew  into the world and for our regular listeners you may have wondered where we disappeared to, we did do a post on our social media letting you guys know that we were taking a wee break as Bonnie was busy with a newborn, number 4 in her family and I of course have been quite busy at uni, I am currently in the early stages of my thesis as well as my normal studies so it has just been really really busy, so we thought we would take a wee little break and then come back with some quality home organisation content.  

BONNIE: And I am super excited about this episode because as you say, you are in the thick of it with your thesis and that has kind of prompted the theme for today’s episode about the mental load and I feel like especially with the way with the world is at the moment and the thing that we are all facing together, I feel like the mental load is something that is felt particularly more heavily at the moment, so let’s dive right in  and chat all things mental load Lil.

LILY: Oh gosh the problem will be getting me to stop, how much time have we got, so for those of you who aren’t really familiar with the mental load, the mental load is basically, it is not the physical responsibilities that we have in like our household of things that need to be done but it is actually what we hold mentally in our heads, thinking and knowing and remembering and planning and everything up in our heads and then the physical act of doing it, that is physical labour, so mental labour isn’t who mops the house the most but it might be who thinks that the house needs mopping, who mentally holds in their head how frequently the house should be mopped and sets out those reminders to the kids or to their partner and what have you.  So it’s all the mental stuff that we hold onto up in our head and you know I love that comic by that artist named Emma and for anyone who hasn’t seen it we will put a link in our show notes. It is such a beautiful way of describing what in recent years people started to be able to put a name to which is this idea of mental load or mental labour and in this beautiful comic she basically had a scene between a husband and wife and he had turned around and said this famous line which was when she was so exasperated at the end of the day and frustrated with him and he turned around and said “all you had to do was ask”, and I think that is something that a lot of people can relate to and predominantly a lot of women is this sense that we somehow took on this role of project manager, we went out into the workforce and we started increasing our working life, moving away from a domesticated life, but we also kept those domestic responsibilities as well as taking on these new responsibilities at work and so there has been this societal conditioning for many households, not all of them, where women often seem to hold a lot of mental labour, mental responsibilities and once we finally put a name to it, it can help us kind of go, oh that’s that sense of where I am always feeling tired at the end of the day because I am holding up and juggling all these mental  balls in the air and once we name it and go oh that’s the mental load then we can start to deconstruct and understand how it is affecting our wellbeing but also the relationship we have with our partner.  

BONNIE: So in your household who would you say holds the mental load, is it you or is it shared?

LILY: It depends on which component of the mental load, there are something’s where you know in some households like one part of the mental load might be financial decision making and planning around finances and so that was gendered to often be something that the male figure of the house would do and so for many people it might be still that the male in the relationship actually takes on a lot of the financial responsibilities.  For us it just, it depends there are definitely some areas where it is my strength that I take on some of those responsibilities and then there is other areas where he takes on those responsibilities but what I find is most interesting is one of the things that I am seeing and I don’t know if you can relate to this with your friendship groups and your own personal experience Bonnie and maybe our listeners can too is more and more as we become aware of the discrepancies of physical and mental labour within couples I feel like a lot of men are stepping up to the plate and doing a lot more physical domesticated typically what would have been associated as responsibilities that a woman would do, so you know a lot more of the cleaning, or what have you and what in interesting about that is that they are taking on a lot of the physical labour but does that actually mean that they are also taking on as much of the mental labour, maybe not and that is why I wanted to do this episode because it is just such a fascinating topic, is that something that you have noticed with your friends.  

BONNIE: Yeah I really feel like, compared to like our parents generation that our husbands do tend to do a lot more than like our dads did when we were growing up, and I for one am very grateful for that, yeah it is interesting because like in my marriage in particular we are starting to share more of the mental load, I mean there is certainly a larger proportion that I take care of and that is probably just because I am a really organised person and I like things to be done a particular way and my husband acknowledges that he tends to have a bit of you know ADHD type tendencies where he forgets things or he gets distracted easily or he actually can’t, his brain can’t cope with some of those extra responsibilities so it works well in our relationship that I kind of take on most of that stuff. But the thing that is really good is that when we have those conversations about what is going on this week and who can do what that there is not that guilt factor if I just ask him to do something or if he can actually work out now, oh this is what needs to happen and he will immediately be like oh well I will take care of that. So I feel like the longer that you are in a relationship the more you get to know each other and the more you get to work together to make things better for the other person. Like for example we have obviously got 4 young children, there are 4 of them under 7 and during the last couple of years when we are putting kids to bed at night, we’ve generally had this philosophy throughout our marriage of like whoever cooks doesn’t clean up right and so since having our first child in 2014 and I was so nauseous during the pregnancy my husband starting taking on a lot of the cooking responsibilities and that has kind of kept going until now to the point where he doesn’t say for me, oh what’s for dinner, he is like I am thinking about doing this for dinner, which is so amazing and like I love to cook and I will probably do you know 25% of the cooking but I love the fact that he is actually taken on most of the responsibility for what we are doing on a daily basis.  And so usually it would be me cleaning up the kitchen and if he has had enough of the kids, he might not want to be putting them to bed or whatnot and so it got to the point where he would cook but he would also clean up while I was putting the kids to bed. Because he saw that hey if we work together as a team and get these jobs that need to be done for the household done even though the distribution is not what we originally kind of discussed, we both get to sit down and enjoy having some kid-free adult time together, rather than him going off to watch TV or play PlayStation while I clean the kitchen and put all the kids to bed and do all that household tasks and stuff so that’s probably been the biggest blessing, like we have been married nearly 13 years now and I have just found over the last kind of maybe 4-5 years that there has been this real shift where we are really working together as a team a lot more. I mean it is not perfect, no relationship is, we still have those times where we are like I just can’t be bothered being a team player but generally speaking I feel like it is shared a lot more in our house which does make it a lot easier to bear.

LILY: And you are speaking to what I am noticing as a trend with our upcoming generation and the generations now ahead of us as well is that there has been like this division of the physical responsibilities that you are describing in the house where it is like you know I am cooking more, I am cleaning more and the thing that is so interesting about the mental load is it is like okay we’ve identified that we are starting to get much more balance physically but with our mental load are we starting to also both, you know like you were saying he is thinking about the meal and what he is planning, that is mental load, does he you know, does he then plan the, think about the grocery lists and then also be like oh I know that pumpkin needs eating by tomorrow or that meat needs eating by tomorrow, you know all those things that we kind hold in our heads is that mental load and so what I thought would be cool for today’s episode we are obviously going to talk about how it impacts our mental health and how it impacts our house and so as you are listening I want you to think as I describe each of these 5 components who in your household is more inclined to do these. And the thing that is cool about this is it is not meant to stir up resentment or like give you like fuel for a witch hunt but it is like really awesome that we are like able to like look in a kind of be like maybe that is why I am frustrated or maybe that is why I am tired or maybe that is why he is frustrated or tired is we haven’t communicated about this thing because we haven’t been able to put a name to it and once you can kind of identify it you can start to like, you can start to work through it.  So the mental load we can actually break it down into 5 different components:

1: Planning and strategizing 

2: Monitoring and anticipating needs

3: Knowing

4: Managerial thinking 

5: Self regulating

And we’re going to break those down in this episode today.  So part 1 component is taking about planning and strategizing, so who in the household plans activities, decides who and when you are going out and like socialise, chooses and organises the activities that you guys are going to do as a couple or as a family and strategizing is like through time management, so pre planning, allocating resources, strategic placement of household items things like that, it is a pretty broad category but when you hear that Bonnie who do you think that falls on in your house.  

BONNIE: Oh it is definitely me because that is my skill set and that is not my husband’s skill at all, so that stage is 100% me.  What about you?

LILY: Yeah my husband and I are getting more and more balance with that kind of stuff, like when we go on weekends away he tends to plan them now, it is much more balanced than it use to be which has been really awesome, we actually just went for a weekend away and one of the things that I said to him that I really loved is I love now going away places and he had like planned our hikes and all that kind of thing and I just turn up, because it is like one area of my life where I just turn up and it is like so uncommon, it is so refreshing but it also on the flip side of that I feel lazy because I have just turned up and not put in any preparation or effort and I am just like there.

BONNIE: Isn’t that weird though that that is like the default mode that we feel guilty about not, yeah like putting any effort into it, I read this really interesting post an article on Facebook actually just in the last 24 hours where it was talking about how as mothers we do the grocery shopping and we go and do those kind of essential things for our family but if we do them without kids it is like oh this is so amazing and how the article is talking about no no no that is not actually time for you, that is not self care that is just contributing to the family, like self care is doing something that is completely for you that doesn’t actually contribute to the household. So it might be like going to Yoga or getting a massage or having a walk along the beach by yourself and I just thought that is so true like I immediately if I go shopping and you know get winter clothes because we need winter clothes I am like oh this is so nice without kids and then if I do something like say go to the gym there is that element of guilt that pops up 

LILY: It is completely for you

BONNIE: Yeah it is completely for me and like yesterday for example I was all set to go to the gym and our 6 year old woke up and was quite barky with his cough and I thought I have got to take you to the doctor and there was a walk in clinic straight after school so I dropped the 5 year old off at school and I took him to the doctor instead of going to the gym myself because I felt guilty about my husband having to take him and the 2 younger boys to the doctor while I went to the gym.  So it is like you just constantly have to as a mother you are like totally worried abut yeah doing stuff that appears selfish anyway I have totally digressed but 

LILY: Well and I think that is something that many mothers would resonate with but I don’t think it is something that mothers alone necessarily feel I think there are definitely elements especially when kids are in the picture where it is like taking time for yourself and knowing your partner is then having to pull the weight while you are not there, it is like, it is something challenging to think about.  So that is number 1, so number 2 is monitoring and anticipating needs.  So this involves like the housekeeping, so not the physical act but thinking about it right, monitoring how clean your house is, maintaining your cleaning schedule, monitoring your personal and household sanitation resources, maintenance, so monitoring preventative maintenance of household items, decisions regarding repair and replacement of items, monitoring item functional capacity, personal support, so emotional support for love ones, listening with care, monitoring emotional wellbeing and resources, monitoring household resources, you know noting when things are getting low and going to need to be bought soon. So one thing that I think is cool is that a lot of the emotional care at least from research and you know just anecdotally and like societally societal norms was that a lot of the emotional responsibilities were normalised to be women’s roles and that is not the case anymore and so I am sure you can attest to the fact that your husband does a lot with the emotional care of the kids 

BONNIE: Yeah and that is another thing that I feel is really different compared to like our parents’ generation is that men were often seen as the authority figure and the disciplinarian whereas mum was the nurturer and whatever and I find that there is yeah a real shift and while that probably does fall a lot into my category especially that emotional wellbeing and sometimes I feel like because I do feel like I have bit more emotional intelligence than my husband does I do feel like sometimes there are situations going on where I have to stop afterwards and go like okay so this is what I think was going on for our child and just explain things and he is like I think he seems to appreciate that, he doesn’t feel like I am interfering which is good.  But there are other times where I am not being emotionally intelligent with something that is going on for our kids and he is the one that actually gets down to their level and connects better with them and says to me, this is what is going on so yeah I do feel like there is a really good shift and it is not just mum being the nurturer and role model for that emotional stuff anymore.  

LILY: Yes and what a nice shift to see, so part 3 we can identify of the mental load is knowing, so remembering important dates, events and appointments, reminding others of important dates, events and appointments and I think this is like one of  those key components of the mental load is that remembering and you know knowing I am due to go the dentist and knowing that the kids are due for their skin checks whatever it might be and also knowing you know housekeeping knowledge so like knowing how is it appropriate to do this job, so yes I remember that we are really due to do a big clean of the oven but also knowing how to do that task, that is a mental you know that is something that is up there in our mental load but there is also technical knowledge and this often stereotypically fell a lot of the time to men, knowledge and skills around repairing things and things like that, so for me in my household I definitely feel like I remind a lot and I go oh this is due, or we have to remember to do this, and have you remembered to do that and this is the part that I think gets us into that really tricky territory or nagging.  

BONNIE: Mmmmm very true, because you are on top of what needs to be done and it is not something that your partner has maybe remembered and so when they are reminded of something and especially if it is something that is seen you know a mundane job or something they don’t want to do it is like oh, oh that’s right and I know in our relationship there has been plenty of those times where I have said oh we need to sit down and you know do a financial check, like we do the barefoot budget and we usually you know check in on our bank statements like every 2 weeks and now it’s been a month just because life has gotten in the way and there can be like a week where I am almost everyday saying oh remember we need to do barefoot or remember we need to barefoot and he kind of gets the point where he is like oh that’s right, like I just, he doesn’t want to do it sort of thing

LILY: And then you start to sound like a broken record, you feel you know and like when you think about your like romantic relationship like how attractive does it feel to feel like you are constantly telling someone what to do, like there is a part of that that doesn’t necessarily feel great, there is part of it, it is like love it and love the control and the power but also the person on the other end who constantly feels like they are being reminded of something to do and you can see how like this part of the mental load can really cause like tension in relationships where it’s like, you know I want you to remember your own thing but we are now trapped in a cycle where you are use to me reminding you and now if I don’t remind you it won’t happen but then we all suffer the consequences so it easier if I just remind you and you know you see this, it is something that you see with teenagers too right where like the teenagers are trapped in a cycle with the parents where the parents are like I just want them to do this thing so I do it for them and then there is that kind of like learnt helplessness where it is like I don’t know how to do my laundry, um mum will just do it for me, or dad will just do it for me or whatever it might be, so yeah knowing that is another one.  

BONNIE: One of the parenting books that I was reading or have read over the last couple of years where it talks about trying to get your kids to learn to do things instead of you having to remind them is use the phrase have you got the freedom to do this, so say they have been crafting and they haven’t tidied up before they want to go onto the next activity,  the phrasing that this book suggests that you use is along the lines of have you got the freedom, so it is not necessarily have you packed up, because that is kind of taking the responsibility on yourself it is just asking them like what have you forgotten or is there something you have forgotten and I’ve started, where I have used for  a few years now, that sort of terminology with my kids especially in the mornings when it comes to making their bed and opening their blinds and stuff like that, and I might say like if I have noticed that something hasn’t been done I might say, oh is there anything that you have forgotten in your room, and sometimes for my 5 year old who has ADHD I might have to stand in the doorway with her and so okay look around I can see 3 things that haven’t been done and she will be able to then point them out. Because the thing with a lot of kids it doesn’t matter whether they are ASD, ADHD or they;re just young, they don’t cope well if you just say oh is everything done? For example, last week when my husband picked up our 6 year old from school, he said have you got everything? And my 6 year old said yeah, yeah, yeah I do and then he got home and was like oh I left my water bottle at school, and so sometimes kids need, like numbers are really good to help them remember things.  Like for example, if you take a water bottle, an a lunch box and a jumper to school everyday you can say okay there is 3 things that you need to particularly remember at the end of the day that you’ve got them, okay have you got your 3 things? Oh this was number 1, this was number 2, this is number 3, and that can just be a really good reminder for them to remember oh yeah at the end of the day I have got to check those 3 things off that I have got them rather than have you got everything because that is just too overwhelming for them.  

LILY: Yeah it is like when kids hop into the car at the end of the day and say how was your day? And they are like what does that even mean mum? What does that mean Dad? It’s like such a broad question, yeah you find like specifics, I agree. Alright lets take a quick break, and when we are back we will talk more about how getting organised will actually help ease that mental burden.  

QUESTION BREAK 

LILY: So number 4 is managerial thinking, so like the coordinating, prioritising, competing demands, managing people and task completion, keeping track of the tasks, and evaluating.  So that is like financial decision making, mutual goal setting, balancing clashing schedules so managerial thinking, where do you fall on that.  

BONNIE: Yeah probably a fair bit of that is actually me and that is once again my skill set I suppose, but we do tend to have those kind of yeah meetings and say okay this is going on and we kind of try to coordinate that stuff together but definitely because I am the organiser and I am the one that set up our family calendars and all of those sort of things.  I do tend to be the one that kind of runs things I guess a little bit more and honestly at the moment because I am on maternity leave and I am not working 2 days a week or 3 days a week like I was beforehand I feel like I can cope with that stuff a lot better even though I do have 4 little ones, it will be when I return to work that that stuff will get a bit trickier again.  

LILY: Yeah we have one more to go but as you go through these you can start to see that if you are in a relationship where you are carrying on a whole lot of the mental load you can start to understand why people might be feeling like stressed or dissatisfied, but the important thing to note about all of this is that even if one of you is the managerial thinker and one of you is the person who monitors and anticipates needs, it doesn’t necessarily mean because you hold more that you are more unhappy because some people love having the mental load because there is a sense of control, or it just works really well in their relationship but I think it is also yeah it is really helpful to kind of know and recognise you know, everything that our partners are doing for us and we are doing for them. Finally self-regulating, so mental preparation and regulation.  Cognitive strategies that manage emotions, personal adjustments, self soothing, and consideration and compromise so prioritising the wishes and needs of loved ones, when making our decisions.  

BONNIE: Mmmmm where do you sit on that?

LILY: Didn’t want to answer that one, um I think because my husband and I are both in a field that is people-based where we both work pretty hard on this, I think it is definitely a strength of his for sure, yeah how about you 

BONNIE: Yeah I think that I probably do have a bit more of the lion share with most of these stages but it is not like it is an 95% load, so some of them are definitely more you know like 60/40 where others might be more like 70/30 so I think this is one where yeah it is more like a 60/40 split which is you know I think pretty fair considering our skill sets and the thing that I have been talking about with girlfriends over the last couple of days is, in our relationship in particular, my husband really feels that burden to provide and that’s a burden I don’t really understand because I am kind of always like oh yeah it will work it self out, I’ve got faith that it will all work out in the wash and he just has this absolute burden of I have got a family of 4 kids and a dog to provide for and so that is a real focus for him, especially in you know today’s climate and all the uncertainty that goes on so I think I need to cut him a bit of slack in some areas because he is already kind of coping with a lot.  Okay so talking about the mental load and how it actually impacts our mental health I think that the one thing if I could say to anybody, the one thing to take away from today’s episode is that being a good communicator and being on the same page and working as a team with your spouse or with your housemates if you are in a share house is the way to overcome that burn out from that mental load, what about you.  

LILY: Yeah so research shows that the mental load affects our mental health and it’s a two way street, so people who live in cluttered homes often may have worse mental health like there is a relationship there, but there is also the relationship between having poor mental health then means that your house becomes cluttered and disorganised. So what is important is recognising your capabilities for wherever you are, if you are in like in the depths of a deep mental health struggle, just being kind to yourself and acknowledging what you can and cannot deal with. But the purpose of today’s episode I think is about highlighting the mental load is real, it is a responsibility that is held in households, when we live by ourselves we might hold all of it, but when we are partnered, when we have children there is a lot of responsibilities and it is not just the physical tasks, but it is the mental reminding and so one of the things that home organisation can help you with is setting up systems so you can share that burden, and so you think of your like go zones and your command centres, that is a beautiful example of how you can take all of that information that is up in your head, remembering the appointments, remembering who has to go to soccer practice after school today on a Tuesday, all that kind of stuff, having a checklist that says in September or in spring or you know whatever time of year  we go and we start doing these maintenance jobs around the house, and setting up those systems so that they are physical, you can see them on paper and it starts to really highlight how much is being held in our heads and we share that burden across our partners and we share those responsibilities in our family to start to get a bit more equality, if we are finding we are not coping with the mental load.  Or perhaps you are someone who is like, yeah I take on most of the mental load and I don’t want to give a bar of it away, I absolutely love it, it gives me a sense of control and power in my home, you know power to you but you know recognising that there are responsibilities that you are doing, that if you are wondering why you are so burnt out and it is only a couple of months into the year, you know perhaps it is the mental load that you are carrying.  

BONNIE: Okay, so for today’s tidy task all we want you to do is basically have a conversation with the other adults in your household about the mental load, and are there any things that you can delegate to them so that you are working a bit more as a team.  Now Lil because you are starting your thesis and you are right in the thick of the mental load you are wanting some participation from some of our listeners aren’t you.  

LILY: Yes there will be information on our social media about the survey if you would like to participate in that survey on the mental load you are welcome to do it, it will be coming out in the next couple of weeks to a month or so, so keep an eye out on the page there.  

LILY: If you haven’t been tuning into the podcast for a while you may have missed a very exciting announcement and that is Little Home Organised that’s us, we released a brand new course 

LILY/BONNIE: Yeah

LILY: The Organised Wardrobe, that’s right a course solely dedicated to getting that wardrobe in tiptop condition.  Bonnie, what can people expect?  

BONNIE: So if you are a time poor person and you find that getting dressed is just giving you such a headache the Organised Wardrobe is the course for you.  We will help you zone your wardrobe, we will help you let go of the items that are no longer serving you and we will help you organise your wardrobe to within an inch of its life so that in the morning, it takes you less than 5 minutes to get dressed and you walk out the door feeling fabulous.  

LILY: Ah doesn’t that sound good, but the thing I love of course Bonnie is that our courses are DIY which means that you can jump on, online anytime, log in, do a module, try it at home, and do it at your own pace which is fabulous for the busy time poor parent .

BONNIE: Because life does get in the way sometimes and it is great to know that you can just come back and pick up from where you left off.  

LILY: And as long as this course is offered you will have access to it, so if that sounds like something that you want to incorporate in your life, you want to get your wardrobe looking spic and span and loving it every time you open that door this is for you, head to littlehomeorganised.com.au and check out The Organised Wardrobe 

LILY: Awesome, so that is all for this week’s episode, thanks everyone for tuning in and lending us your ears.  

BONNIE: And remember PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.  

LILY: See you later 

BONNIE: Bye 

We would love to see the conversation continue, head over to the Little Home Organised Community group on Facebook, ask questions, find motivation and share your before and afters, and if you enjoyed the show please help us keep it going by hitting subscribe on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you listen.  It is free and ensures you do not miss an episode but if you really want to share the love leave us a rating and review.  Trust me it makes all the difference in the world.