A few weeks ago, a cartoon surfaced that lamented a woman’s lot in life, referring to it as the “mental load.” Basically, it argued that even in couples that ostensibly shared household tasks, women still bear a disproportional share of household tasks, which includes concerns about the day-to-day things that supposedly men are oblivious to.
Well, one man decided to say something about it.
Emma’s argument is that the woman has to constantly think two or three steps in advance of what the family need. It’s an invisible burden that’s left unacknowledged: the man knows that the washing and ironing take time and energy, but he doesn’t realise the stress of constantly knowing everything that must be done to get there. He doesn’t appreciate the Mental Load.
As it happens, I think there is something in this concept. In my experience, there is undoubtedly an unseen, largely unrecognised mental burden involved in running a household, and it’s quite unfair. Emma has got it right.
The only problem is … I’m a man. I am the main carer for my kids and have been since 2011. It’s my wife who fulfills the traditional role of breadwinner while I do the majority of the childcare and run the household (by my own admission, with varying degrees of success). The cartoon produced makes no mention of the Mental Load faced by stay-at-home men like me. Instead, it seems to paint gender relations as black and white: the woman does the work at home, the man goes to the office for “fascinating adventures” (Emma’s words) every day.I’m not sure how many office workers would call their day jobs “fascinating adventures”. But more to the point, the Mental Load is a burden my wife feels as the main provider – the breadwinner who must pay for her offspring and her husband.
Having once been in full time employment, it’s a burden I am familiar with. When I had an employer, I had to keep them happy. This could involve working at odd hours or travelling and being apart from my family when I wanted nothing more than to be at home. On one occasion I applied for a promotion and was informed there would be an expectation that I would log on at night and work above and beyond my contracted hours … just because.
Writer John Adams hits the nail on the head. Several of them, actually.
For one, the mental load isn’t exclusive to women, but often focuses on the primary caregiver. For example, when my daughter was young, I found myself in this role. I worked from home while my wife held a more traditional job. I was responsible for working and the care and feeding of our daughter as well as making sure other things were done around the house.
Granted, I kind of sucked at it, but still…
Now, as Adams points out, there’s a mental load with being the primary breadwinner as well. I’m in that roll now. I still work from home, but my wife is now filling the role of a traditional housewife. My mental load is less about juggling work and bath time but now is based on the stress of being the only income earner.
While it’s worthwhile to point out that there is a “mental load” for one or more partners in a relationship, it’s naive to assume that it’s a one-sided affair or that it’s exclusive to women in general.
Trust me, it’s not.