Menu

The ‘mental load’ falls squarely on mother’s shoulders—and it’s making us very tired

Even with helpful partners, moms do most of the behind the scenes thinking when it comes to managing the house.

The ‘mental load’ falls squarely on mother’s shoulders—and it’s making us very tired

My husband has approximately three things he adds to our household grocery list:


  • His shaving cream.
  • His shampoo.
  • Shower spray. (Don’t ask about this one. He has an obsessive thing about the glass shower door.)

That’s it.

It’s not his fault. Not really. I make note of the rest of the 8,000 things a family of four requires because it falls squarely under the duties of CEO of our household—a position I never interviewed for, yet I rose up through the ranks to find myself in, sometime between the day I got married and the day I popped out a second kid.

I stay home with the kids, which means I am the default day-to-day manager. Nevermind that I also work, it just happens to be at the kitchen table. So while I attempt to craft the next viral essay on the hilarity of momhood, I’m also trying to teach my kids how to craft a homemade paper mache pinata.

FEATURED VIDEO

This is 100 percent what is happening right now. See?

As moms, our minds are always going. Going fast. Going in a million different directions. Going away. Going.

And it’s not just the children and the shopping lists we manage. It’s all of it—we think about the cleaning, the cooking, the organizing, the planning, the dressing, the gift-buying, the brushing, the laundering, the caring about the everything.

If you are lucky like me, hubs is happy to pitch in. Mine shares carpool duty and manages bedtime. I have never cut a blade of grass or taken out the garbage. He is known as “Lord of the Dishwasher.”

But, even though he handles certain chores, there is always me, magically elfing behind the scenes—managing the stuff that makes his duties possible.

I tell him what time to pick up the kids and who has what practice when. Without me, there wouldn’t be dishwasher pods or garbage bags, and there certainly wouldn’t be toothpaste for brushing or new library books for bedtime stories.

This, my fellow moms, is why we are tired. Not because we don’t have help or get enough sleep—well, there is that.

But there is also the fact that mom brain is a real thing, and if you’re nodding along with me—congratulations, you, too, are suffering from it.

That endless running to-do list is called the mental load. It is heavy, and in most families, it is carried by the mom.

The notion of the mental load is beautifully captured in all its glory in this cartoon by French comic artist, Emma. Her depiction of the struggle entitled “You Should Have Asked” nails this idea that for the majority of households, women are constantly managing and keeping track of all that needs to be done.

In the cartoon, when things go haywire in the kitchen, the husband points out he was there to help. “You should’ve asked!” he says.

But, do we really have to ask?

In short, yes. So, go ahead, add “Ask for help” to your to-do list.

Susan Walzer, a sociologist at Skidmore College, published a research article in 1996, called, “Thinking About the Baby,” that confirms some truths in Emma’s cartoon. Walzer interviewed 23 couples who had recently become parents and found that women do, in fact, carry more of the mental load.

Noting that, even when their partners helped out, women are the ones who noticed what needed to be done in the first place.

At no point is this more clear than when I travel for work. Before I hop on that plane I pre-pack lunches, I buy and prepare easy dinners, I do all the laundry, I lay out clothes, I write down the schedule. I make all the plans that I won’t be a part of. When hubs travels, he just kisses us and leaves.

The burden of this self-inflicted mental load is mine. I’m the one worrying, thinking, planning. But honestly, if I did none of this, he would be fine. The kids would be happy.

He might feed them donuts and nuggets, and they’d dress themselves in a cacophony of colors, but the world would keep spinning.

But I return, and hubs rejoices. The heavy baton of mental load passes back to me: manager in residence. Balance (or imbalance) is restored as I resume my position lying awake in bed making mental lists and taking note of every dirty sock and empty ketchup bottle.

That, dear mamas, is why we’re all so darn tired.

This article was originally published on Simplemost.

In This Article

    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

    Our Partners

    It’s science: Vacations make your kids happy long after they’re over

    Whether you're planning a quick trip to the lake or flying the fam to a resort, the results are the same: A happier, more connected family.

    Whether you're looking for hotels or a rental home for a safe family getaway, or just punching in your credit card number to reserve a spot in a campground a couple of states over, the cost of vacation plans can make a mom wince. And while price is definitely something to consider when planning a family vacation, science suggests we should consider these trips—and their benefits—priceless.

    Research indicates that family vacations are essential. They make our, kids (and us) happier and build bonds and memories.

    Keep reading Show less
    News

    100 unusual + surprising baby name ideas

    From Adelia to Ziggy.

    Our list of 100 baby names that should be on everyone's list this year includes more choices than in the past of names that are obscure and surprising. That's because there are so many more unusual baby names coming into widespread use and baby namers have become a lot more adventurous.

    Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

    Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.


    Keep reading Show less
    Learn + Play