THE EMOTIONAL LABOR SERIES: Let’s Talk Emotional Labor and Mental Load

by | Jun 1, 2020 | Uncategorized | 122 comments

Mental load and emotional labor make women exhausted.

We’re starting our mental load and marriage series today, where every Monday in the month of June (as well as a bunch of podcasts and some extra posts) we’ll be focusing on how to balance the mental load and grow a healthier marriage (with higher libidos!).

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Let me tell you what I mean by painting a picture of Sandra and her husband Mark:

The Morning Off Where Everything Went Wrong

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning, and Mark has told Sandra that she’s been so tired lately, she really needs a morning off. He’s going to take the kids, and she’s going to go to the gym and then wander around some antique markets and get some lovely coffee, all by herself. It sounds like heaven.

Saturday morning Sandra’s up early, excited about her outing. As she leaves the house, she says to Mark in passing, “Remember to get the clothes out of the dryer when it’s done.”

While she’s gone, Mark feeds the kids a fun pancake breakfast, and then they head out on a bike ride. They all have a great time, and when Sandra gets home, the kids are energetic and happy, and Mark is beaming.

Sandra smiles, relaxed from her morning, and starts to make lunch when she notices that the birthday present for her son Brian’s friend Jared is still sitting on the kitchen island, unwrapped. And they have to leave in two hours. That’s okay, Sandra sighs. I’ll just do it. 

As she goes to fetch the wrapping paper, she sees the construction paper for Brian’s science fair project on the dining room table, untouched. Didn’t Mark get Brian to work on the science fair project? Sandra wonders. And then another thought occurs: What about Janie’s practising piano? 

They’re under the gun, because she’s going with Brian to the party this afternoon. She needs to help Jared’s mom, since Jared’s dad walked out last year, and Sandra’s been trying to lend a hand. So now, in the next two hours, they have to get the project started and Janie needs to practice. She starts ordering the kids around, and they get grumpy. Mark tells her to calm down, but Sandra’s feeling the clock ticking. This needs to get done. 

After much protest, the kids do comply, at least a little, as Mark heads outside on the riding lawn mower, listening to podcasts. Sandra goes to grab her jeans, and realizes they’re not folded on the bed. Are they still in the dryer? Uh oh. All of Mark’s work shirts were in the dryer. If he didn’t pull them out when the dryer was done, then she’d need to do extra ironing. She checks the dryer. Yep. The laundry was still there.

Mark comes in from outside, and calls out, “Oh, hon, I forgot to tell you. My sister called this morning. She wants to know what venue we should book for Mom & Dad’s 40th anniversary party.”

“What did you tell her?” Sandra asks.

“Nothing. I just told her you’d call her back.”

But they’re your parents, Sandra thinks, and sighs again.

Mark can’t figure out what’s going on. “Is this about the laundry? Look, I’m sorry. I just forgot.”

And then everything bursts out of Sandra. It wasn’t just the laundry. It was the unwrapped birthday present, and the homework, and the piano. It was everything. 

“But you could have told me all that,” Mark says. “You could have just given me a list.”

Sandra knows he’s right. She’s overreacting. She feels like she’s outside of her body, watching herself get angry, and she wants to stop it but she can’t. But is it so bad to wish that I didn’t have to write him a list? Is it wrong to want him to know some of this stuff without having to be told? Just for once she didn’t want to have to remember everything.

And besides, the present was right in the middle of the kitchen where he had made pancakes. They had talked about the science fair project last night at dinner–it was all over the dining room table. Janie had been practising for weeks, and the Tuesday recital was circled with stars on the family wall calendar. The dryer had a super loud buzzer that you could hear throughout the house. Was it so unreasonable that she wanted Mark to think of some of these things, too, without being reminded?

Sandra felt like she was always the bad parent while Mark was the fun parent. She didn’t like that. She didn’t want to be grumpy. But she’s just so very tired of always feeling like she’s the one who has to remember everything. 

Sandra is carrying most of the mental load for the family, and doing most of the emotional labour

What do we mean by those things?

My cousin Danielle pointed me to a great book called Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (And More Life to Live)  by Eve Rodsky.

Fair Play by Eve Rodsky on Mental Load

We’re going to be using that book as the backdrop for what we’re talking about this month, and I did find it really interesting when I read it (but it’s not a Christian book, and there is some definitely questionable language. So be forewarned). But I love the way she frames the problem and tries to create solutions that work for everyone without assigning blame.

Here’s how Rodsky defines the problem:

Mental Load:

The never-ending mental to-do list you keep for all your family tasks. Though not as heavy as a bag of rocks, the constant details banging around in your mind nonetheless weigh you down. Mental “overload” creates stress, fatigue, and often forgetfulness. 

Eve Rodsky

Fair Play

And that’s not the only thing that wears us down. There’s also this:

Emotional Labor:

The “maintaining relationships” and “managing emotions” work like calling your in-laws, sending thank-you notes, buying teacher gifts, and soothing meltdowns in Target. This work of caring can be some of the most exhausting labor, but providing middle-of-the-night comfort is what makes you a wonderful and dependable parent.

Eve Rodsky

Fair Play

Many women are simply worn down by all of these things.

Now, I’m not saying that men are lazy. That’s not what Rodsky is saying, either. It’s just that because this mental load tends to be invisible, both parties often fail to realize how much energy it is zapping out of the person who is carrying it all.

And again–this doesn’t mean that men aren’t carrying stress, too. But it’s a different kind of stress.

What women often carry is what Rodsky calls “decision fatigue”, where you feel like every small decision in the household needs to be made by you. And it’s tiring. What many women long for is the luxury of being able to think about just one thing at a time, without having to carry all of the other concerns of the family.

Everybody needs to feel as if they have time to themselves; everyone needs to feel like the load is being shared; everybody needs to get some down time.

This isn’t only about working mothers, either.

Both stay at home spouses and working spouses feel this when they adopt the majority of the mental load (and I’ll refer to women because it tends to be women, but it isn’t always). It’s that feeling that you can never truly get any time off, because you’re always “on”. You are always the one who has to remember everything and hold everything in your head, while your spouse gets to relax. It’s why moms dream of going to a hotel for a day without cell service. It’s not really that they want to get away from the kids; it’s that they don’t want to have to remember everything all the time and be responsible for everything all the time.

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What exhausts people most is not the actual tasks to be done; it’s having to remember everything and get everything done at exactly the right time. It’s the “load” of responsibility far more than it even is just doing the tasks. That feeling like you must remember everything, that you are juggling so many balls all at once, is exhausting.

Take this relatively minor interaction in marriage.

The Grocery Store Text Question

You send your spouse to the grocery store with a grocery list while you’re trying to get dinner ready, or deal with homework for the kids, or even working. You’re busy. And then you start getting interrupted by texts. “They don’t have any red peppers. Can I get orange peppers instead?” And you take a deep breath, because OF COURSE you can get orange peppers instead. So you reply, “Yep.” But you’re tired of being asked for every little thing, as if he can’t make a decision on his own.

Your husband, on the other hand, can’t figure out why you’re upset, because he was only trying to make sure he did the right thing. He was trying to make you happy–so why are you so testy?

He feels belittled. But you also feel like you’re talking to a child. And it’s all so ugly.

Here are two people who genuinely love each other and who want to serve each other, but somehow they end up ticked at each other. Neither one wants that. Neither one really deserves it. But this keeps happening, despite everyone’s best efforts to serve each other.

How can we do this better? In Fair Play, Rodsky proposes a system to help couples talk about mental load and emotional labor, and divide it up so that you each understand each other better and one person isn’t carrying everything.

This isn’t about who does the paid work and who stays at home, or whose responsibility the housework or kids is. This is something far more basic: Everybody needs to feel as if they have time to themselves; everyone needs to feel like the load is being shared; everybody needs to get some down time. But it’s not about getting people to do more tasks, either, or even to do equal tasks (in fact, Rodsky doesn’t even claim that equality in workload is what we’re aiming for, or that equality is necessary for people to feel like it’s fair). All that has to happen is that one person doesn’t carry it all.

The benefits of sharing the mental load?

  • He feels less “nagged”
  • She feels like she has a true partner
  • She has more energy (and often more libido!)
  • They both become more interesting people
  • They get grumpy and testy a lot less

Mental load affects sex: it’s one of the main causes of low libido in women.

So here’s why this matters, guys: this is one of the big things that will affect your sex life (plus it’s just part of being a good person!). In module 4 of my Boost Your Libido course I talk about how having all of these things in your head all the time can stop women from feeling in the mood. When women can’t turn off all of the things that are in their brains, it’s very hard to make room for sex.

So guys, if you want a happier wife who is more “in the mood”, let’s talk about sharing the mental load at home!

Are you TIRED of always being too tired for sex?

Do you yearn to actually WANT to make love–and figure out what all the fuss is about?

There is a way! And in this 10-module course I take you through what libido is (it may surprise you!), what affects libido, and how we can reclaim the excitement that God made us for.

That’s what we’re going to do this month: Let’s talk fair play and sharing the mental load.

I promise it won’t be about making anyone feel guilty or lazy. It’s instead just trying to avoid these “testy” interactions that all too many couples have, even couples who love each other greatly.

Plus we’ll have podcasts on the myth of multitasking, how men can do emotional labour, and what mental load means for marriage.

I honestly found Fair Play fascinating, and I hope as we work through it you’ll find a new way of looking at your marriage frustrations, too–and I hope that will, in turn, boost your libido!

What do you think? Do you struggle with emotional labor and mental load? Do you relate to Sandra’s story? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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122 Comments

  1. Lindsey

    This is such an important topic! And the bell pepper example was so relatable!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Glad you liked it! I think it’s important, too. It really is the key to libido for so many women!

      Reply
      • Carrie

        This makes so much sense! For years I’ve said I can do 16 things at once. If I try to do more than that, things slip through the cracks and don’t happen. If my hubby brings something up that he wants me to do, I’ll ask which of my 16 things he wants to take over.
        This spring/summer he has taken over the yardwork. He helped the kids split it evenly and reminds them to do it. It’s so nice to not have to think about it!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s awesome! That’s what we’ll be talking about in the next few weeks, too. How to just come up with ways to figure out who is responsible for what so you don’t need to remember everything!

          Reply
    • Courtney

      I get a lot of down time, but it’s still infuriating that the down time means more work for me, because I didn’t spell out every single detail of the tasks. It’s like common sense is on vacation when he walks through the door at home. He does help with child care tasks and household chores but I still have to come behind him and ask or redo things. Like he will continually forget to give our kiddo her glasses and inhaler before taking her to daycare, and when I call him on it, its “gosh don’t I get some grace? I forgot, it happens! Do I not get to make mistakes?” He won’t do the mental work necessary to stop forgetting stuff, and thinks the mere fact that he’s done anything should be accepted without comments. He was deployed all of 2020 and I feel so little respect for the way things work here. I will calmly, politely explain how I need a task done, and why I need it done that way. He’ll tell me he understands. Then the next time he does it….will do it the exact way he wants to, disregarding everything he told me he understood. I’ve hit peak doneness with this. I’m dealing with depression after burning out teaching while he was deployed and developing rheumatoid arthritis. I don’t have the mental and physical energy I did two years ago.

      Reply
  2. Bethany#2

    I’ve recently started to enjoy a toddler who is ok with being with her daddy! until 9months, she couldn’t last 5min without me and not cry! Then she discovered her daddy, and I’ve been trying to use that for my breaks. Now she spends 4 mornings a week with him, while I get to wake up more slowly. I still get a bit stressed trying to figure out meals for her, but when he’s on duty, I finally know that he can get it himself. It’s so nice sharing the parenting load!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen!

      Reply
  3. Elsie

    I’m so glad you are doing this topic. I have a great marriage in many ways but I’ve felt a lot of resentment lately at the inequality in our household work. Although my husband contributes a lot (probably more than the average American man), it still feels like my to do list never ends. I know my husband will help if I ask but it feels frustrating that I have to do that work of asking when I have so many other things on my plate. I wish my husband would notice what needs to be done and do it. But then I also sometimes make the problem worse by volunteering to do things or feeling that I should take the responsibility. So I’m looking forward to learning more about how to solve these problems and trying to implement those solutions in my marriage

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes–it’s that having to ask that is so exhausting. I get it! I’ll be sharing some solutions that I hope will help and that will at least start some good conversations!

      Reply
    • Phil

      I will be following this topic for sure. I felt like I read about my life. From a mans perspective here We have similar dealings in our marriage. My perspective is that communication is really key. My wife will join a committee or decide to help someone out or even just agree to a birthday party to take a kid too. I get the after effect of her choice that I had no part in agreeing to. Then she wants me to “read her mind” (as I call it) to step up and get tasks done that she may normally do and or just needs to get done but she started. Yes I have my part in this and I do do work. Recently we had a discussion about cooking dinner. I do cook dinner although she does the majority. For the first time in 20 years of marriage she told me it would be nice if I spontaneously volunteered once in a while with out being asked or even part of the plan to make dinner. She felt I should have been doing this all along. I just never though of it I guess because I do participate.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I absolutely hear you, Phil, about what happens when she agrees to extra things that impact you. Absolutely. That’s why communication IS key (it really always is, isn’t it?). We’ll be getting into that later this month when we talk about how to negotiate what needs to be done and when you’re taking on too much.

        Reply
      • LauraGrace

        Yeah, as a person who teaches meal planning classes, I gotta say: the hardest part of cooking dinner is almost never cooking dinner. It’s:
        – noticing what groceries are getting low and adding them to the list
        – noticing what groceries are about to go bad and figuring out how to use them
        – actually deciding what to eat
        – finalizing the grocery list based on that
        – taking into account the family’s allergies, preferences, schedules
        – going to buy the groceries or arranging the pickup or delivery
        – figuring out a new plan if something was out of stock
        – delegating cooking responsibilities
        – asking for help setting the table, cleaning up, etc.
        – managing timings for dinner to avoid being too hungry or conflicting with an event
        THAT is what goes into getting dinner on the table! I know a lot of women who would practically collapse with relief if their husbands said, “Hey, let’s sit down and figure out how to make meal planning and grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning feel like less of a burden for you.”
        My husband and I plan meals and write the grocery list together (pre-COVID, we did the grocery shopping together too). I love to cook and am good at it, so he handles all the kid dinner/bath/bedtime stuff while I cook the grownups’ dinner, then we clean up together after dinner. It’s what works for us and what feels equitable to us, and I think that’s what really matters.

        Reply
        • Meghan

          Oh goodness yes, I think you really hit the nail on the head there. It’s not just the doing of the thing, it’s all the little things that go into it that’s so exhausting.
          Let’s put it into another example. I’m a runner. I do long runs on Saturday mornings, and I push my daughter in the stroller for all 6+ miles. It’s not a matter of throwing on clothes, lacing up shoes, and strapping the kid in to go. Oh no. I have to lay out my clothes the night before to make sure everything I need is clean. I parcel out all the snack bribes and pick books and toys to bring along. I fill up both our water bottles. I charge my Garmin and my Bluetooth earbuds. I make sure the stroller caddy is loaded with my Goodrs, sunscreen, Larabar, and Nuun tablets. Sometimes planning for the long run is more tiring than the long run itself!
          Not 100% translatable to managing a household since I’m talking about a personal hobby, but just thought it would give another perspective to help explain the phenomenon.

          Reply
        • Phil

          Yes Laura – I meal plan with my wife. Seems more than half the battle is the prep work. Covid 19 has actually helped me improve on my participation level because we had our in-laws here for 5 weeks right in the middle of the height of it all. (Thats a long story in itself but it was good). I would go to the freezer and take inventory and then we would plan and everyone including kids had nights to make dinner. I do hear ya

          Reply
        • AspenP

          Yes! The mental load for dinner has been just too much lately. All of those things go into the decision for dinner plus I have the added pressure not to repeat meals too often (and by too often not more than once every few months).
          It gets exhausting to always have something new.

          Reply
          • E

            Aspen, that would be tough to have to have a very wide repertoire of meals going. We pretty much have a two week rotation and many meals we have each week such as chili and pizza because everyone loves it. Each week we have a night for pizza (regular, Alfredo, bbq), salad of some type, a soup, chili, poultry dish (chicken pie, turkey dinner), pasta (pasta bake, lasagna) and a sandwich night. Simple works for us. Love those sandwich nights. We now just set all the ingredients on the table and everyone makes their own at the table so I don’t have to mess with who wants a pickle and who doesn’t want mayonnaise.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Wow! Why does it always have to be new? I often find something everybody likes and then try to make it at least once every two weeks. Even now, when the kids have moved out, whenever they come home we tend to have just the same thing, that they really like. If coming up with new things is exhausting, I think it’s okay to say, “No, I’m doing a rotation.” If you’re cooking, you get to choose!

          • AspenP

            My husband says it’s because his mom made meatloaf multiple times in a month trying to perfect her recipe. But it isn’t just meatloaf I can’t repeat…it’s everything. He even encouraged me early on to keep a calendar of past meals so I could make sure I wasn’t making the same meal too often. In the past 2 months, I’ve made Italian, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, French, (Southern/farm style dishes meat & potatoes), seafood, American, etc. All from scratch and always needing to be new flavor profiles.
            I love to cook and I almost always enjoy the food , but the pressure to constantly innovate gets exhausting. Finding new recipes and learning new cooking methods and styles, etc. It’s just a lot.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Wow. You know, you can speak up about that. If your husband wants variety so much, then perhaps he should cook? Otherwise I think having a rotating schedule of 20 meals that everyone likes is a great idea.

          • AspenP

            I agree Sheila. We’ve talked about it a lot lately especially with quarantine. He feels too stressed with his job to also cook on a regular rotation or help clean up after supper. He’s the better griller so I can usually talk him into grilling occasionally in the warmer months (but I’m still making all the sides 😜 have you seen that meme?!).
            I am a SAHM so I get that I’m supposed to have most of the house work and cooking. It would be nice if he could handle more than just his paid work though. He seems really stressed (for years) so I’m not sure how much I can really expect from him. Makes for a tough partnership!

          • Eps

            Look, I love cooking and cool quite a variety but would hate being told I had too – especially with kids to look after.
            We just tried a meal subscription for two months and only JUST got a repeat recipe. Honestly, I found it harder to cook with managing kids cause I ussually cook from my head not a recipe but it was delicious and I didn’t need to think about any of the planning. And it got us out of a cooking rut. Sure it was more expensive, but if he wants the variety he can literally spend a bit more to help you make that happen. If your can’t afford it, I really think he can step up or just deal with a meal rotation.
            And while I loved the meals (not the cooking style) my husband loved making the meals so he took the cooking card for the two months we did the box. Why? Because he didn’t have to decide what to cook etc. So it was a great break for me, and now I’m so excited to cook again.

          • AspenP

            I’ve never tried a cooking box subscription. That might be a good solution. Thanks EPS!

  4. Amy C. Deadwyler

    I’ve found this happens inside the workplace, too. I’ve had 2 coworkers who did this same thing to me. I felt so overwhelmed with having to make every decision in our work environment that I started having anxiety attacks and ended up becoming very sick by the middle of March. I have one of those personalities where I want everybody happy so I tend to take on more than I should, but I am going to definitely have to set boundaries, because, mentally, I can’t take the pressure.

    Reply
  5. Doug Hoyle

    While I agree that mental loads can be a tremendous burden, I also believe that a lot of it can be self inflicted.
    My wife has a running list of things in her head of things that “have to be done”, and I confess that a lot of it seems un-necessary, or at least way out of place in the list of priorities.
    As someone who has a great deal of those sorts of things placed on me in my employment, I do understand the burden. I am doing one job right now, in one place, while the schedule has me somewhere 6 miles away on a different job(that also has to be done). In the past, I would have been very stressed out by the whole thing. I still drift that direction from time to time and have to settle myself down. I can’t start the next job till this one is finished. What I can do is make sure I keep my focus here on the task at hand, and get it done, and to a certain degree, I can make some preparations for the next.
    There are even a few things I could have done this weekend to get this one finished more quickly, but it was more important for me to spend that time with my wife at home.
    I’m not saying men shouldn’t be more active in household activities, but I do believe that all of us, men and women, take things on ourselves as “have to get done” when it really isn’t true.

    Reply
    • Ina

      I think there’s a lot of truth to this, Doug! While I’m not denying that the mental load is very real and tiring, I’ve found the most relieving thing was to downsize and streamline my processes. I still get decision fatigue with certain areas of my home making, but what helped more than getting my husband on board was figuring out what was truly necessary and putting a schedule together for myself to get that done.

      Reply
    • LauraGrace

      I don’t think you’re WRONG that streamlining could be one helpful tactic, but the person whose standard is lower shouldn’t necessarily be the one deciding that some of the jobs are silly or unnecessary, you know? I see a lot of eye rolling and condescension from men when they learn about this — “Well, the problem is really HER, you see? It’s just that so many of the things she thinks are essential and that have always just happened without my notice actually aren’t essential at all, which I have determined with my Superior Knowledge.” That’s obviously hyperbole, but I think it represents how some men feel and come across. It’s going to be pretty offensive to a lot of women to approach it that way.
      The bottom line, IMO, is to make discussion and negotiation of all of this explicit and cooperative and mutual, regardless of what jobs get done and who does them.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, exactly. We’ll actually be talking about how to decide on community standards later in the month. Sometimes women demand too much; sometimes men demand too much; sometimes either thinks too little is sufficient. That’s why we need to be able to talk about it and set reasonable standards.

        Reply
        • Ina

          Here’s a better way of saying what I said before. My husband and I share the load. We share the night wakings, we share the housework, the putting down for naps and parenting on the days he’s not working. We share the mental lead but there was still a sizable load for me to carry. My personality (100 percent the one with high standards, constantly getting my worth tied up with what I produce and accomplish) would keep adding to my load. There were neverending household things I would hunt down and add to my load. I would still break under my exhaustion and stress. What helped me was first chucking half the load into the dump before sharing it with my husband.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Amen! That’s so important. That’s one of the posts in this series–figuring out what you’re doing that doesn’t need to be done! It’s a huge problem.

      • Jane Eyre

        The issue is mutual decision-making and reasonableness. You can’t unilaterally add to the load and you can’t just say that it’s “too much” without saying why and proposing alternatives.
        I think women add to other women’s loads. The one I heard the other day, which made my head explode, was getting gifts for the nurses who take care of you during delivery. That is so gendered and ridiculous and make-work, and would any man ever get a gift for the people who took care of him after a knee replacement? (I am not talking about situations in which you send a card after; I’m talking about buying stuff before you go into the hospital so you can present your nurses with gifts. Like you don’t have anything else to do while getting ready for a baby and transitioning your work over before maternity leave while not sleeping and acid reflux means you eat ten times a day. What the bleep.)
        Same thing with mothering and homemaking. A certain type of woman will just be full of little verbal cruise missiles about your furniture, the cleanliness of your house, and how many books your children read. Good luck not having her in your life if your kid is besties with her kid, or your husband and her husband are good friends. Not to mention that the husband’s mother, sisters, brothers’ wives, and friends may have a LOT of expectations for his wife.

        Reply
        • Jo

          Honestly, I thought pretty much this about the hypothetical Sandra and Mark… Sandra’s emotional load seemed to be based on a lot of trivial stuff and I really think it took away from the overall message about the need to share planning and responsibility for important things. So the present doesn’t get wrapped… what does it matter except that none of the moms (not kids!) are going to ooh and aah over how cutely it was wrapped? And there is no legal requirement for your child to learn piano… if it’s not important (or enjoyable) enough to Janie to practice, maybe she doesn’t really like piano that much? Is Sandra worried that if Janie’s performance is less than the best (because she missed ONE practice session), the other moms will be smirking at her? The science project is more important, but maybe Sandra is being a bit of a helicopter parent and doing everything for her kids instead of letting them learn about the importance of taking initiative and seeing natural consequences. And for the clothes in the dryer… if you turn the dryer on for 10 more minutes, they will be fluffed and you won’t need to iron! Maybe Mark doesn’t mind wearing a wrinkled shirt… is Sandra worried people at his work will think she’s a lazy wife if he does? One of the previous commenters mentioned “putting value in performance” and that is a perfect description of this little scenario…
          It’s a pet peeve of mine because I see SO many families that cram their lives full of activities they don’t really enjoy to impress people they don’t really like, spending money and time and stress trying to keep up with all the stupid crap that they see on social media. It’s like your online friend can’t have a cool idea (like giving a totally unnecessary gift to your nurse!) without everyone suddenly needing to copy it and then somehow it morphs into some kind of social obligation. We have more money and education than ever before, and depression and anxiety are at an all-time high… if more families kicked 50% of their so-called obligations to the curb and spent their Saturdays making pancakes and riding bikes together, I think our society would be a happier place. I don’t disagree with the main point of the article, but the example totally trivialized it. Whichever spouse feels emotionally overloaded should agree to take a 3-month hiatus from social media (including posting pictures of your cute kids doing cute stuff!), as part of the effort to prioritize needs over wants.

          Reply
          • Jane Eyre

            I agree with a lot of this, Jo.
            The kids should be doing their own science projects. I’m of the belief that homework is assigned to the child, not the parents, and if it takes heavy parental investment, maybe it shouldn’t happen.
            Part of what you learn when you play the piano is the discipline to practise even when no one makes you do it.
            Tell your husband to wrap the birthday present if your son is too young to do it.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I do hear what you’re saying–but at the same time, most 8-year-olds do need supervision to make sure the homework is done, and I don’t know any 6-year-old who will practice piano on their own (and my kids both took piano right through until they were 15, so I’ve been there). They did do the practising, but i usually had to remind them. It’s not always that you have to do it for them or anything; someone just needs to be on top of it to make sure it’s getting done. Young kids don’t automatically do something they don’t really want to do unless they’re told to.
            As for piano, we stuck it out even though practising was sometimes a struggle, and today they both play for church, and Katie, my youngest, practises on her own now everyday and is doing grade 10 Chopin pieces. It’s one of her most loved hobbies. They loved piano; they just didn’t love practising. But they didn’t want to quit either, and I encouraged them to stick it out (and eve practice for those Rotary competitions), and they did really well. And they were very responsible kids. Young kids just need reminders, that’s all.
            I do agree with you about kids’ lives being too crammed, but I didn’t see that as the problem here. I do think, though, (and we’ll talk about it later this month) that families should have these big discussions about how many activities you want to do, and I think settling on one per week is good (or two if you homeschool so you have more time). We did piano & swimming for a long time (and they eventually got jobs as lifeguards, so it paid for university), and then piano & highland dancing or skating. And then later, we added vocal and guitar lessons when they were teens. But even at one thing a week it still means practice needs to get done and kids need to be driven somewhere. So I agree–don’t do too many. But I don’t think one is unreasonable.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            Jo, you’re absolutely right that a lot of families get overshecheduled. And we’ve written about this before. When I read this story, though, I don’t see it through the lens you do. I see this more through a normal, everyday lens. I don’t see this as an issue of Sandra being obsessed with appearances as much as I do a woman just simply dealing with the normal stuff families do without an invested partner.
            If the birthday present isn’t wrapped, it’s not that the parents won’t ooh and aah, it’s that you’ve told some kid (and his parents) “Here, feed my kid hot dog and cake and provide me child care for 3 hours, but I don’t care enough to even wrap your present.” it’s rude. We’re not supposed to be rude, and it takes less than 5 minutes to wrap something and yet he ignored it.
            He failed to do the laundry that benefits HIM in a way that causes HER more work in order to benefit HIM. He had the choice to give her 5 minutes of work or 30 min. His lack of investment in the issue cost her more work. That is unfair. Many, many professions are inappropriate to show up to with a wrinkled shirt. My husband worked in an accounting office at a dealership for a while–a pretty normal job, not a super high-powered one. If he showed up consistently in wrinkled clothes it would have damaged him career-wise. This is a big deal in many, many professions.
            Their daughter has piano, no kid likes practicing piano. I got my grade 8 piano and ended up being a piano teacher for years. I had to be reminded. But piano is REALLY good for you. It teaches discipline, and there’s even research suggesting that being fluent in music can help prevent or treat Alzheimers and other related disorders later in life. It is perfectly valid if they want their kids to do piano. The answer isn’t to throw the baby out with the bathwater–it’s to just share the load. Put it this way: either you can decide “well I guess my kid won’t learn piano or music, like we both wanted” or you can say “Hey why don’t you remember to remind her to practice?” Why is it easier to limit your child’s opportunities than it is to simply ask him to be an invested partner? If the couple decides piano isn’t a priority, then sure drop it. But many, many times it is a priority for the family and still it’s only on one parent.
            When a couple has decided something is important to the family, it’s important that both of them are invested (especially when it’s about the kids! If Mom’s the only one who is reminding the piano and science projects and to do your chores you get a “good parent” and a “bad parent” and that’s not fair.). If my husband and I decide we want our kid to learn piano, it is inappropriate if only one of us bears the entire load of that unless that was previously decided. That’s what we’re saying. Couples have things where both of them benefit but only one bears the load. That needs to change–we need to be able to expect our husbands to be invested partners so it isn’t all on our shoulders. That’s it! full stop! We’re even going to have a post about how you need to not have unrealistic expectations. But the examples here are only inappropriate if you add a bunch of assumptions to them like that it’s all about performance or her “looking good.” These are totally normal things that if a husband is just not helping with at all, that’s inappropriate.

          • Joanna Sawatsky

            Hi Jo,
            I totally agree that being overscheduled is a major issue. But I do want to push back a bit about your point on the banality of the examples given.
            I think what we need to do, instead of pulling back and doing nothing or just lowering our standards across the board, is to discuss what our family values are and keep communication lines open to decide what needs to happen and what doesn’t – and what action steps need to be taken to address things that aren’t working.
            When I was a child, my dad was a very high-powered businessman (both my parents are now pastors, it’s pretty amazing.) He traveled about 2 nights a week for work and worked long hours even when he was in town.
            My mom took care of the vast, vast majority of the housework during those years. That is how they divided up the chores and it worked for them. Today, things are much more evenly split because they’re in a different life stage. It’s been so encouraging to see them manage their house in a way that works for both of them and that optimizes their goals as a couple, whatever they are working on.
            Even though had a very “traditional” setup for housework when I was a kid, they shared the mental load even still. When it came to our extracurricular activities, both of my parents were very involved. We all did Bible Quizzing and my Dad coached our team and made sure we were ready for practices. He’d even run drills with me over the phone when he was out of town for work!
            Especially when it comes to kids, the “banal” things are often the ones that matter most. I think the reason I never resented my Dad for traveling or working long hours is because he was always so clearly invested in me. Kids need help to learn they are capable and discipline needs to be cultivated. I would not have been so successful in quizzing if my parents hadn’t supported and encouraged me not just when I performed well at meets, but all the time. Incidentally, I met my husband and the Gregoires due to quizzing so I owe my personal and professional life to the program. It was clearly worth the investment. 🙂

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Oh, one more thing: I think Jo is onto something about having kids be responsible for their own stuff as much as possible. When they’re little, that just doesn’t work. But as they’re older, they should be asked to step up more. I’m doing several days on that later in the month, on how to toss the reins to your kids, and how to make sure your kids are supervised when appropriate.

          • Jo

            Just to clarify (if anyone is still reading this thread), I believe that God cares about the “little” details of life. I believe families should communicate about priorities and share responsibilities. And I think identifying mental burden (ie, delegating is just as much mental work or more as doing a task) is helpful. And I certainly understand that overwhelmed feeling that comes with a “web” (not just a list) of to-dos.
            However, that doesn’t change the fact that I felt annoyed reading about Sandra. And while I recognize that arguing about a hypothetical scenario is a little silly, my annoyance comes from the fact that I know so many people like her, who break down in tears or blow up over a scenario like this one. These people I know have pretty much everything a human could want: money, a nice home, healthy children, personal freedom, a secure position in society… and they are always complaining, about their partners, their children, their work. They never want to change themselves, they only want their families to change. They cling to the belief that there must be some way to cram it all in, and they are deaf to the lack of interest on the part of the rest of the family. To me, something just seems fundamentally wrong about a story where one parent is supposed to be pitied because the other parent made a homecooked breakfast and took the children out for some unstructured exercise and fun on a Saturday.
            I am not for one minute saying that the correct response is for Sandra to do all the work the others left behind. I am saying that all of these scenarios would have been perfect learning opportunities for everyone to see the natural consequences of leaving something undone, there is nothing high-stakes here, like a missed dose of medication or overdue bill or a child left stranded somewhere. If Mark’s work shirts are wrinkled, I would hang them in the closet wrinkled, and he can iron one when he needs it. I am not saying that I think it is professionally wise to wear wrinkled shirts to work… just that I would never think that my spouse having a wrinkled shirt is somehow my problem or an obligation for me to iron something that he left wrinkled, anymore than I would expect him to iron the wrinkled shirts in my closet.
            As for wrapping gifts, Rebecca, I personally do not consider an unwrapped gift rude at all, especially a gift that is ostensibly from a child, to another child. And I think your comment, “I entertain your kid and you don’t even bother to wrap the present you bought,” actually agrees with what I was trying to say—that is something that a parent would fear another parent thinking, fear of the other parent’s judgment. The child really only cares about the present, not the wrapping. Also, the story said that Sandra was going to help her single mom friend at the party, not drop off her child… so I would really be surprised if the friend overlooked the generous help to be offended by the lack of wrapping paper. But I realize that feeling a gift requires or does not require a wrapper is a very subjective belief, which has to do with personality and culture. I’m just saying that if I had to give up meeting one of my hopes for that day, the wrapping would be the first thing to go.

          • Jo

            Continuing my thoughts… I know that piano and other extracurriculars are often beneficial and enjoyable to children. Personally, I think that they are best left to an age where the child can commit to responsibility for some aspects, whether practicing, having the uniform and supplies ready, etc. Similar to waiting until age 8 or 9 before getting a pet of one’s own; the parents obviously still help a lot (driving to and paying for the vet, for example), but the child has to take on some responsibility other than just the fun parts. It is discussed before the commitment begins, and the commitment will end if the child doesn’t follow through. Also, Sandra’s dismay over the missed practice was over the fact that a RECITAL was coming up, which made me think the concern was about the performance and public opinion just as much as the benefits of learning piano. I question why we think that learning a useful skill when you are 8 years old (or younger) must require fundraising, performances, and competitions.
            Sandra’s story made me think of the many parents I know who become borderline frantic because they take their value and sense of worth from their children’s performance (whether in sports or school or just general winsomeness), their careers (whether inside the home or out), and their possessions. Perhaps my views are unorthodox, but Sandra’s story brought up a lot of things that I think are harmful to our society, and instead of questioning them, promoted them. And that’s why I felt it trivialized an otherwise important idea.

  6. edl

    Not to excuse men, but to be fair we should remember … We live in a culture where work related to the home is traditionally relegated to women. Some men may be lazy but most men likely want to help, they just don’t know how.
    Additionally, (let’s admit it, ladies), many women have their own way of doing household tasks and criticize or redo the household tasks that men try to do. We all have our “own” way of folding towels or loading the dishwasher but should it really matter as long as the job gets done? Surprise-surprise, you may even find that “his” way makes sense in ways you didn’t consider. Men that call to see if an orange pepper will work instead of a red pepper apparently want to please but feel on shaky ground; they don’t know the answer, can’t read our minds, and they don’t know what their wife’s reaction will be should they come home with the “wrong” one.
    My husband and I have been married for 42 years and we work together in our own business. Think about that for a minute. Together pretty much 24/7/365.
    I have found that having a spiral log book is helpful. I write down what needs to be remembered or done throughout the day; that is part of my job as office manager. Then it is up to my husband to take care of the items on that list as part of his job, in addition to the other tasks that he is aware of that I may not be aware of. If some items do not get done on any particular day, I bring them forward again to the following day. I do not nag. The list reminds. He decides and does things in a priority that he decides.
    If some things do not get done, he can be the one to hear the complaints from the clients. He is the one who can score the win or lose the opportunity to get the prospective next project. Sometimes, yes, he “forgets” in spite of the list, and I can hear him verbally “kicking” himself. Him recognizing that his oversight (or procrastination) lost the job then becomes a learning / reminder tool, rather than me nagging him and it becoming a marital issue.
    Ladies, we must remember that our husbands are adults… and should be TREATED as such. Sadly, too many women treat their husbands like children. It should be obvious that in that environment, the intimacy and joy of marital sex is not going to flourish. Men feel belittled. Women feel overwhelmed and resentful.
    So make a list for your husband. What’s so hard about that? At the very least it will help get the multitude of detailed items OUT of your head. Then perhaps you can work on the list together and check things off, bringing a spirit of unity and cooperation rather than expecting your husband to be a mind reader while you silently simmer inside.
    God, by design, made men and women differently. Most men can be more “in the moment” and playful. We women can resent that and become bitter. In truth, we women are jealous. We need the balance that comes when the husband and wife work together for the good of the home / marriage / family.
    God did not intend for us women to be sullen work horses. We have to learn to let some things go, let go of our perfectionist tendencies. Some men give up because they know they can’t read our minds and often feel there is no way to fully please us.

    Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      “Additionally, (let’s admit it, ladies), many women have their own way of doing household tasks and criticize or redo the household tasks that men try to do. ”
      Actually… I don’t do that. So take your “let’s admit it, ladies” and understand that it is YOUR own problem. Not an “us ladies” problem, a YOU problem.
      I figured out by about age 10 that ripping apart someone who tries to hep you is a fantastic way to not get helped in the future.

      Reply
      • edl

        Jane Eyre, you are right. I don’t criticize or redo husband’s help either. I was just suggesting that can be a natural tendency if wives are not mindful. I was speaking from what I have seen over the years in many marriages. Not good.

        Reply
    • Em

      That list idea is great! I keep a list, I don’t know why I haven’t thought to leave it out and make it “shared” list. Thank you!

      Reply
    • LauraGrace

      I don’t want to be my husband’s manager. You say we need to treat men like adults, and then go on to say they need to be explicitly told how to do chores… which IMO only a child should require.

      Reply
      • Meghan

        @LauraGrace – that’s what I said below! I’m kind of sad my comment is getting buried between all of edl’s posts. Guess I shouldn’t have taken so long to write it.

        Reply
    • Chris

      Edl. Slow clapping. So spot on. I am that man. I take pictures of orange peppers and ask “are these ok?” Because after years of not coming home from the store with the exact item requested because they were out or whatever, i would catch hell when i got home. Saw a guy in the store this morning walking down the aisle with his phone out filming an entire shelf of canned chili. With his (i am assuming wife) on speaker phone. I smiled under my mask as i walked by and thought “been there”.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Chris, I’m sorry that you “caught hell” when you got home. That really isn’t right. But that’s also a separate issue, of lack of respect and too much control in the relationship.
        I can tell you that my husband will call me a lot when he’s shopping, and he NEVER “catches hell” if he brings home the wrong thing. But it’s because he doesn’t know what the food item will be used for, so he doesn’t know what’s interchangeable. We’ll talk about that in Tuesday’s post. But nobody should be “catching hell” for anything, and that’s really a separate issue if that’s happening.

        Reply
  7. Meghan

    I once heard it explained this way: when a husband tells a wife to just tell him what she wants him to do, it’s like he’s putting her in a manager role and himself in an employee role. So even though he’s doing the work, she’s still responsible for delegating the tasks AND doing all her own tasks as well.
    I don’t know about y’all, but I definitely don’t want to be my husband’s “manager.”

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yep. That’s really what it comes down to. The delegating of the tasks is actually more emotionally exhausting than just doing them, most women report. That’s the problem. It’s having to carry it all.

      Reply
    • LauraGrace

      Absolutely agreed! I signed up for a marriage of equals, not to be the boss to a subordinate, thanks!

      Reply
      • Meghan

        @LauraGrace Same!!! That’s also why I don’t get the whole “submission equals husband makes all the decisions” mindset. My husband wanted a partner, not a lackey. Took me a little while to get that, but now I’m so, so glad I did. I may get onto him from time to time on here, but he really is a dear.

        Reply
    • Nicole

      I know this will be very different depending on whether you’re both working or not but we agreed early on that I am ‘the manager of the household’. There are some areas where I’ve delegated responsibility (both daily things and overall areas) to him which relieves mental load but for us it makes it simpler to acknowledge that I’m the manager of the house who will ask him for help where needed . I think households need a manager who has a big picture of all of that’s going on. I’ll be following this series with interest though!

      Reply
    • Rachel

      Could have written that Sandra story with my name in her place. 💯 how I feel. It’s exhausting. Looking forward to this series!

      Reply
  8. edl

    Marriage is one of the most powerful tools that God uses to conform us to the image of Christ. Learning to be honest with our spouses while keeping a Godly attitude is a very important part of this journey.
    We women should be praying for our husbands and for ourselves, submitting all to God’s care. Husbands may not be quick to talk about it but they know when God is dealing with them on an issue. Give God an opportunity to work. On each of us, both husband and wife.

    Reply
  9. edl

    Husband and wives are to be helpmates to each other. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Women tend to be more detail oriented. That also plays into this discussion.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m just curious by what you mean by “women tend to be more detail oriented”. In the personality type indicator MBTI, for instance, men and women are equally likely to be detail oriented vs. big picture. There isn’t a female preference for detail. In fact, in my marriage, I’m the “big picture” and Keith’s the “detail”!

      Reply
      • edl

        Sheila, when I wrote that women tend to be more detail oriented, I was speaking in generalities. As an example, in communication… When asked how was their day, men might say “fine” but a women wants to hear detail (who did what, was it a good day for you or not so good, etc). Not always this way for men-women, but often so.
        That’s great that Keith is the detail minded spouse and you have the big picture. Yet another example of how God has created each of us differently and spouses are to be helpmates to each other.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          But see, even in general terms this is not true… many studies have shown that gender isn’t related to many of the things you are talking about. So let’s get out of gender roles talk, and talk instead about how we can each look like CHRIST, not fill roles He didn’t create for us.

          Reply
      • Lisa

        It depends on the person. Some women talk much less than their husbands. We have friends where the husband wants to talk about their days and be check on the level of their relationship and the wife just wants to be left alone in quiet and solitude. My husband loves going to church in person while I love watching church online. I hate the chit chat and small talk before and after church. I just can’t stand it and it makes me want to stay home.

        Reply
  10. Jane Eyre

    Decision fatigue is real. I hit it during wedding planning, and it wasn’t a result of being sucked into the wedding-industrial complex. It was just so many decisions to be made and eeeevverrryone thinking that I could work around them and make all these last-minute tweaks. No, when I am giving you a deadline, it’s for a reason and you best be getting your requests in by then. (Best advice I got: tell everyone “Too many moving parts! Next family wedding!”)
    By the time I would have to twist arms and keep things in my head at work, my brain was fried.
    My husband is fantastic about sharing the mental load and keeping expectations reasonable. We keep things stocked so we don’t have to think about it too much, put things on a schedule, share chores, and know that sometimes, the bedroom just doesn’t get vacuumed. Big deal. Not martyring myself.

    Reply
    • Meghan

      That happened to me too! I had hired a wedding coordinator (BEST decision I made about the wedding) and still had a million decisions to make. At about a month out I finally told her “I don’t care, just make it pretty.”

      Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        Heh, I started at that point! I’ve been to a lot of fundraising banquets that look nice, have good food, and don’t take a professional team a million hours to plan. So we actually focused on places that also do corporate events and that helped a lot.
        I bought the third dress I tried on. Bought my veil off the discount rack 10 days before the wedding. Did the Costco/sam’s club route for flowers. And I still wanted to choke people who just… kept… asking… for… “one little thing.”
        It was exhausting. And when people asked if something “could” be changed, it’s like, almost anything can be done with enough time, effort, and upending of every other thing that had been set in stone, but why is “it doesn’t violate the laws of physics so try to make it happen” the standard?
        So much emotional labour.

        Reply
        • Meghan

          Ha, I picked the third dress I tried on too! My weariness came more from being asked my opinion about EVERY LITTLE THING as if I would care deeply if the napkins were lavender instead of lilac. At first it was kind of fun – I actually enjoy planning things and thinking through logistics and whatnot – but it got old after 5 months. And then there was the added stress of tracking down the dozen or so people who never bothered to RSVP…ay ay ay. So glad I’ll only have to do it once. (Yep that’s right, if God forbid I ever marry again we’re eloping!)
          For anyone reading this exchange and thinking it sounds exhausting and stressful – IT WAS. And often this is what it’s like to be the point person for a household too.

          Reply
  11. Doug Hoyle

    “And again–this doesn’t mean that men aren’t carrying stress, too. But it’s a different kind of stress.
    What women often carry is what Rodsky calls “decision fatigue”, where you feel like every small decision in the household needs to be made by you. And it’s tiring. What many women long for is the luxury of being able to think about just one thing at a time, without having to carry all of the other concerns of the family.”
    I don’t want to get into a “who has it worse” discussion, but it is important to remember that many, many men face this exact thing in their employment. One of the reasons that I am so focused on keeping my personal life free of clutter and (un-necessary) decisions is that 80 percent of my day is spent managing expectations and trying to figure out how to meet them, while knowing that some are going to slip thru the cracks. I have a running battle with the office over reports, etc being late, because I am busy managing materials deliveries, manpower shortages, safety, quality and production control, etc in the field. I make sure payroll is always in on time, but what reporting what I did the day before is somewhat less important than accomplishing the tasks I have in front of me today.
    Some of us have jobs that are very much like running a household, and for everyone who thinks that they are only 9-5, and then we are off for the next 16 hours really doesn’t understand how it really works for some of us. There are always emails to respond to, or calls to answer. My morning commute is split between worship music, and a non-stop deluge of phone calls. The times I have managed 24 hour operations are even worse, because it isn’t just phone calls. You are expected to crawl out of bed at all hours and rush to the jobsite any time you have crews working.
    I do sympathize, but I know that many men are already overwhelmed when they get home. For some of us, conflict management and solving problems is just as constant as for the wives.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I get that, Doug. But can you imagine NEVER having it turn off? You’re able to come home and have it turn off. But what if it never did? What if you never had a moment where you didn’t need to be constantly focusing on things. That’s really the point–that women never have it “off”. I totally understand that many men face this in the workplace–so do many women–but the point is that women are never able to switch off.

      Reply
      • Melissa W

        I’m actually really surprised by this comment Sheila. Really, women can NEVER turn it off? That seems like a very gendered statement and really the opposite of so much of what you teach. If men can control their minds enough to choose not to lust (and they can) then women can control their minds enough to choose to turn the to do list off. Now, it may be more difficult for some personality types then others but that is not a gender thing and it can be done with mindfulness and intention. As a women who has chosen and worked towards not being burdened by emotional labor, I was very surprised by this statement by you.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          The thing is, though, that if women turn it off things get forgotten, left undone, etc. And obviously this could be switched around to a man who’s carrying all the emotional and mental load of the family, too! But in many, many cases women could choose not to do things, yes, but then relationships suffer, the family suffers, the households ends up in shambles.
          That’s why we’re focusing this month on helping couples redistribute the mental load and emotional labour that goes into running a household–so that women are given the opportunity to turn it off without having to stress about what’s going to happen.

          Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Melissa, I don’t really see it as a gendered thing. Take Sandra in the story. The reason she can’t turn it off is because all of it is currently on her shoulders. So at any given time, she does have responsibility for the kids and making sure she doesn’t forget anything they need to get done. It’s not really a matter of not lusting, or choosing not to think about something. If the son needs to get his homework done by Monday, someone has to make sure that happens. If she chooses to turn it off, then it doesn’t get done.
          That’s why, this month, I want to talk about solutions for couples like Sandra and Mark in the story. Most guys genuinely do want to help, but the way that we’ve done family, often the burden of that mental load falls on her, and she’s the one who has to “make the lists”, which is a burden in itself. But there are ways around this so that the load is more balanced and people do have some down time. That’s all we’re looking for–for someone to be able to turn things off for a time, and not worry that if she (or he) does, then things won’t get done. Does that make sense?

          Reply
          • Melissa W

            It makes complete sense. My husband and I have found this balance but when you say that women can never turn it off, it just isn’t true. That is all. I am totally with what you are talking about but that comment just sounded a little defeatist. Women can NEVER turn it off? Yes, they can. Isn’t that the whole point of your series? As a woman who does not feel the burden of emotional labor it is just a bit insulting. I’m not a real woman because I am able to turn the to do list off? I just cringe anytime I hear “never”, or “always” because that just isn’t the case. Now, is this a struggle for many women or even most women? Yes but not all and thus the reason I am responding to “women can never turn it off”. I just found it as a surprising comment coming from you and everything you have written about gender roles, etc. I am totally on board with helping women learn to unload the burden of emotional labor and with helping men learn to pick up some of it. I’m just responding to the absolute statement you made.

          • Melissa W

            I will add one more thing to make my point that it isn’t all women. I have been banned from doing laundry because I will leave clothes in the wash for days, my husband does all the laundry. If it were left up to me my children would have probably never been to the dentist. Never would have thought about it because I hate the dentist (long story about waking up in the middle of surgery and hearing them drilling into my bone, now I can’t do the dentist – thank you genetics for really healthy teeth). My husband does everything related to the dentist. My daughter was four months late in getting signed up for driver’s ed even though both my daughter and husband reminded me constantly because I kept forgetting. If left to my husband, my children would have never gone to the doctor. My point is that not all women fall into the gender role of bearing the emotional load of the family. For whatever reason I don’t. I don’t fit that mold at all. I forget birthdays, never send thank you cards, never send Christmas cards, I even have forgotten what day of the month our anniversary is on (thank you dyslexia) and if it was up to me we wouldn’t even put up a Christmas tree because I don’t want to deal with it. Yes, sometimes things get missed because neither one of us remember it and I am perfectly okay with that. I just don’t like the use of absolute statements about women or men because there is always the exception.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That’s great, Melissa! Really, it’s wonderful. It sounds like what you and your husband have done is already worked out some of the solutions I’ll be talking about this month. You each own different aspects of the household, and you each take responsibility for those, so nobody carries everything.
            That really is wonderful, and that’s what we’re aiming for (and what my husband and I have done too). The problem is that for most women (as surveys consistently show), mental load does fall predominantly on them. And that’s why this is the #1 source of stress for females.
            It doesn’t have to be that way, no–but the solution isn’t to turn it off. The solution is to rebalance the load. “turning it off” only works if someone else turns it on, or else important things don’t get done!

        • Celeste

          You’re comparing turning off the web/list of necessities (that has consequences that worsen the web/list later) to turning off lust.
          NOT turning off lust has consequences.
          This is a wholly unhelpful example of taking every thought captive.
          To your other point about gendered language … it is an unfortunate truth that it is a gendered problem. One can’t un-gender language for a gendered issue.

          Reply
      • Lisa

        And many women have jobs where they do this at work, too, and then come home and have to do it even more while their husband “helps out” by playing Legos with the kids.
        Every minute I’m awake I’m micromanaging, whether I’m at work or not at work.

        Reply
    • kmmc

      You alluded to a lot of men having a stressful manager-type of job. Well, a lot of women have the same jobs/careers. And on top of that, they have the mental load of running the household. It’s sad but even if a married man and woman both have demanding careers, the mental household load usually falls on the woman’s shoulders….
      The reason why I responded to your post is that someone reading it might think that because you mentionned men having stressful jobs seems to highlight the dynamic of a working husband and a stay-at-home wife. Well, a lot of women work stressful jobs and do ALL of the tasks you enumerated AND have the mental home load. I’m not trying to play the suffering olympics. I’m just highlighting a reality

      Reply
    • Lisa

      Doug, lots of us has jobs, too. We totally get it. We would LOVE for our personal time to be free of clutter. My husband and I are working on having more balance after 24 years of him getting clutter-free personal time and me having none. It does mean he has to give up some of his but he finally realizes how unfair it has been.
      A few years ago I told him, “When you need a haircut, you just go. When you go to work on some big project around the house or yard, you just go do it and expect me to keep the kids out of your way. Then, when you’re done, you plop down in exhaustion and wait for dinner to be ready.
      When I need a haircut, I have to figure out childcare. (I cut my own hair for years for this very reason.) When I do a big project in the house or yard (and I do many) I am still in charge of the kids and all the meals and all the other things that have to get done during the day. I have to budget my time to stop and run in and get dinner started, get after the kids to clean up their mess in the living room, run in later to check that nothing is burning, then still have the energy to cook, clean up, and do bedtime.
      And yes, I also have a job and am starting my own business and I know what it’s like to be in charge of many details at work.

      Reply
  12. Rogue

    I feel like this has been my mom and dad throughout their life, at least the parts I’ve seen. Mom’s the “brains/logistics” and dad’s the breadwinner. He isn’t stupid, nor is he lazy, but he at times can seem oblivious to her needs. And my mom thinks it’s “so obvious” what needs to be done, that it can intimidate him by how she behaves. That in turn makes it harder for him to make some command decisions with stuff she asks him to do, or with stuff he does to surprise her etc. They’ve gotten better over the years, but it’s been hard to watch sometimes, because I can understand them both because I’m a hypersensitive empath…

    Reply
  13. Natalie

    Omg, this is all so relatable!! 🙈 I’m looking forward to this series!
    Sure it’s probably nagging and I know for a fact it frustrates my husband to high heaven. But taking a moment to pull him aside, get his undivided attention, show him what should’ve been done but was instead forgotten and why that now makes more work (i.e. switching the loads of laundry) has really helped my husband start to see the little details of life. I think most men are just totally oblivious to the things women see immediately. Idk if their mothers just didn’t raise them properly (as was most certainly the case with my MIL for medical reasons. She just couldn’t be the mother my husband often needed), but I feel like once a lot of men get married, they expect their wives to play wife AND mother to them in their lives, especially if the wife is a SAHM. “Laying down the law” so to speak and repeatedly showing the husband the details does make him more conscious of them. And I find that explaining myself to him and showing him where I’m coming from and why I’m doing what I’m doing helps him feel like part of a team and less like a child being taught by a parent (never a good marriage dynamic).
    It’s taken years, but now my husband is actually really good at noticing the details in our home life and being thorough the first time something is done so it doesn’t just create more work for me to fix later. Basically, no more wet towels on the clean dry bed 😉 👍🏼 Plus, I’m a strong believer that it’s critical for children (especially sons) to see their fathers helping around the house, not just sitting on the sofa being waited on or only doing “man chores” like yard work. Seeing marital equality begets marital equality in the next generation.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      I should also note that me discussing these things with him opens up the conversation and my husband often says “that’s stupid. You should do it this way.” Sometimes he’s right & does in fact have a better, more effective way of doing something, which means I switch the way I do things (a recent convo about our garden hose comes to mind). And other times, he sees that my way is more logical and switches the way he does things. It’s not always about me being right (just wanted to make that clear since it didn’t really come across in my first post). He used to get frustrated to an extreme early in our marriage because he didn’t want to budge or adapt. Now he’s much more flexible. That’s all part of being married and growing up.

      Reply
  14. LauraGrace

    “It’s why moms dream of going to a hotel for a day without cell service.”
    Shoot, forget a hotel, when my daughter was a newborn, I dreamt of getting sick enough that I had to be hospitalized so someone could take care of ME for awhile!

    Reply
    • Meghan

      I sometimes thought about leaving my newborn with my husband and running away for a week. That’s how I figured out I was at a breaking point.

      Reply
    • Meredith

      Yes. I have said out loud, to my husband, “I wish I had cancer.” Not because I really want cancer, but because if I did maybe I could have the freedom to unload some of my burden and be cared for myself instead of being the one doing all the caring.

      Reply
      • LauraGrace

        Meredith, I told a close friend that I was longing for a serious illness to put me in the hospital so I could be cared for for awhile, and she said, in all seriousness, “Every single one of my friends with kids has said the same thing at one point or another.” If that doesn’t tell you how hard the mental load is, I don’t know what would!

        Reply
      • Sarah

        Unfortunately I did the cancer thing and surprisingly it doesn’t work out that way. You still have all the mental burden of running the house you just aren’t physically able to do anything so it’s even more irritating. My husband tried his best but even on bed rest I still carried most of the emotional labor.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’m sorry, Sarah. I hope you’ve recovered. What a thing to go through!

          Reply
  15. Cynthia

    I’m going to be looking forward to the next few posts, and consider this book not just for myself, but possibly for my book club (we sometimes do non-fiction) and even my clients (I practice family law).
    It took my years to realize that a huge problem for me wasn’t that my husband was lazy or unhelpful – he’s not, and is actually extremely hard-working and great with the kids. It was that his work was all clearly defined, high profile and very well appreciated, while mine existed behind the scenes where it was so ignored that it was just supposed to happen by itself, but it was just taken for granted that it was my responsibility so if I didn’t do it, it was my fault.
    My husband is also a physician, and we got married while he was in med school. It’s a tremendously demanding career, and I was given the clear message that he was doing the greatest, most important thing ever, and that whatever I was doing was secondary. He did make the kids a priority, to be fair. He took parental leave for 12 weeks with our oldest, and each summer he would book a day off for Daddy-Kid day with each of our children and make wonderful memories.
    Meanwhile, I’d figure out the shopping and the meals. Since he needed sleep and needed to be at work early, the night wakings and morning routine was my department. We figured out after-school care, but picking up the kids was still my job, as was getting dinner on. I was never sure when he’d need to go into the hospital or to a meeting, so the evening bath/story/bed routine was usually up to me, and he would often go to the gym on his free evenings. Sick kids and doctor appointments would often be my responsibility, as were early closings, PD days and the gap between school and camp. Same with making sure that kids had clothes, school supplies and last minute items for school projects. Even though I was working, I couldn’t reliably know that I could book an evening appointment, or attend a work-related dinner, or get involved in something for myself like a book club. Now that my kids are older, with my youngest turning 16, I’m re-balancing, but struggling inside my own head and against expectations to actually carve out time and not just put my stuff last.

    Reply
  16. Becky

    Reading these comments makes me feel like I’m very fortunate, at least in the housework realm. My husband more or less singlehandedly deals with our laundry because it piling up bothers him more than it bothers me, and he’s generally good about noticing when the dishes need to be done or the carpet needs to be vacuumed, things like that. I think that things having to do with our kids is where I tend to bear the much bigger emotional load. Like I’m the one that gets stressed out when our older two are being super picky eaters and I don’t know how to plan dinners when all they want to eat is chain store pizza. I’m the one who always gets up with the kids when they wake up before the alarm goes off. Scheduling pediatrician appointments, figuring out their homeschooling, trying to train them to clean up after themselves, it’s all on me.
    I’m not really sure what to do about it, because I’m the stay at home parent while he’s been working, and his job situation has been very stressful lately so I don’t want to burden him more. He is generally an involved parent, it’s just juggling all of those little details. I honestly think that if I could get our days into a more streamlined, consistent routine, it would help so much, though I struggle with following through on lists and plans.

    Reply
  17. Lindy

    Yes! As a SAHM this is SO relatable. My spouse and oldest are both on the spectrum, and my spouse often doesn’t understand why I am always frustrated and exhausted from the decision, phone calls, appts, play dates etc. I always plan everything – even had to plan Mother’s Day! He says he’s trying…but I say I need more, and some consistency. Gah!

    Reply
  18. Doug Hoyle

    I’m curious how you reconcile the premise of this post (women carry a greater emotional burden) with the reality of statistics dealing with suicide and stress related illness. If you go by those, it would seem that men carry the greater burden and are less able to cope with the burdens. By age 65 there are only 77 men for every 100 women and it only goes down from there.
    I personally got to spend 2 days in a cardiac ward, only to find that there was nothing wrong with my heart. I know several others who have had similar experiences.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Actually, the book talks about that, and so do many studies. Women, in general, do more to care for the “emotions” and relationships around them, and so they tend to feel more connected to others. When a wife dies, for instance, a man often loses most of his friends/outings, because it tended to be the wife who arranged them.
      A huge Harvard longitudinal study on happiness found that the key was relationships. The more we can teach all of us–men and women–to care for relationships and balance our stress largely within relationship, the better we all will be.

      Reply
      • Doug Hoyle

        I know all of that. It is pretty well documented. I don’t think anyone would attribute all of the discrepancy to that tho.
        I am going to share something here that I think is relevant to this post. I hope you pass it on.
        Over the course of our marriage, there have been time that my wife has worried if the rent would get paid, or the mortgage, or some other bill. That is certainly a heavy burden when it lands on your shoulders. I have never once had the luxury of worrying about those things. I couldn’t afford to. I had to worry about HOW those bills were going to be paid, because that fell on my shoulders. That sounds like a similar burden but I assure you they aren’t even close.
        I wonder how many men carry that weight. I suspect that most do.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Doug, that is valid. That is certainly true.
          But that’s also not what we’re talking about here. Can you do me a favour and allow us to talk about what we’d like to talk about? This month, we’re talking about how to share the mental load of all the things that go into running a household. We are not talking about WHO is more stressed in general; we are simply talking about how to share the load for one specific reason–so that EVERYONE gets some time off, and so that EVERYONE gets time to pursue their passions. That’s it. And that’s a valid goal.
          So I’d appreciate it if you could let us talk about that, without trying to change the subject into “men have it so much worse.” No one is saying that men are not stressed. All we are saying is that EVERYONE–both man and woman–should get a chance to have some time when they are “off”, and that requires sharing some of the mental load.
          If you do not agree with that premise, then I’d appreciate if you’d hold back your comments on this, because this IS what we will be talking about this month.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Doug, one more thing. You seem to be equating mental load with stress, and they’re actually not the same thing.
            Mental load, as I wrote in the post, is: “The never-ending mental to-do list you keep for all your family tasks. Though not as heavy as a bag of rocks, the constant details banging around in your mind nonetheless weigh you down. Mental “overload” creates stress, fatigue, and often forgetfulness.” It’s really decision fatigue, when you have to decide on all kinds of little things constantly, and you have to keep all these millions of details in your head.
            Stress is something else entirely. Someone can have a ton of stress with very little mental load. And someone can have stress added to mental load. But if you have a ton of stress and very little mental load, it means that you can also get some “down time” to process that stress or to work on some stress relievers. If you have no time when you’re “off”, then this mental load is always with you.
            That’s the difference. Stress is real, but it’s not the point of what we’re talking about this month. And stress would also be helped by sharing mental load, too, so even then–let’s talk about emotional labor and mental load.

  19. Nire

    Most men I know have been a recipient of the “orange pepper” problem – guessed wrong, (“surely the color of a bell pepper doesn’t matter”) only to be chewed out by a woman he loves for being so mind-numbingly stupid that he can’t follow simple written instructions.
    My wife sent me to the store for limes; they were out. She straight up accused me of lying to her until I used the video chat on my phone to show her that they were out. My mother-in-law sent her husband to the store (on Thanksgiving, 40 minute round trip driving), the whole time he is gone she is cursing him for how slow he is and how stupid he is. He comes back with everything on the list, except the tomatoes that she did not write on the list (nor mentioned to him) and she tore him a new one for being such a blithering idiot. These are two examples of hundreds I have witnessed and experiences. Of course the takeaway is to call and ask if orange peppers are acceptable.
    My wife and several other women once hosted a kindergarten Christmas party. They fought until several women dropped out over the color of the napkins, the color of the plates, the decorative pattern on the plates, long before they even got to the food. In some (not all) cases the “mental load” is self inflicted. The kindergartners will not remember the decorative pattern on the plates, they will be happy about the punch and cookies.

    Reply
    • LauraGrace

      There is absolutely no place for being “chewed out” in a marriage of equals. Period. It is appalling to me that you seem to think this is normal behavior to be lectured, insulted, cursed at, or berated AT ALL, EVER. That is never, ever something that I would find acceptable or justify in my marriage, not even a single time. I cannot imagine treating my husband like a child — shoot, I cannot imagine even treating my CHILD that way.
      What your mother-in-law did was abusive. End of story.

      Reply
    • unmowngrass

      My Mum once witnessed a man counting sprouts into a bag when she was doing the Big Christmas Shop. She says, “Can’t you just imagine the conversation that went on that morning?!” 😀 I still giggle thinking about this!

      Reply
    • Lisa

      I’m really sorry you are in such a dysfunctional relationship. I am even more sorry that you know so many people in that same situation. That is not at all normal or even close to what this post is addressing. And the book “Fair Play” takes things like this into account. This is one of the problems with husbands saying, “just give me a list.” It’s about ownership. Take ownership of Thanksgiving dinner or dinner 3-4 nights a week. Tell her you will plan, shop, cook, and clean up. She can do her nights and you will not shop for each other. Vertical ownership. Same with kindergarten party. Volunteer to organize the next one. I have been a mom for 17 years and I was a teacher before that. I have never encountered anything like what you described in the kindergarten party scenario. I do not think that is common, not at all.

      Reply
  20. Heidi Zander

    I cannot thank you enough for this post! It’s not any of my responsibilities that gets to me… it’s the decision fatigue of watching over every little thing. Thank you!!

    Reply
  21. Lisa Wilson

    I’ve had PTSD since I was five years old (was diagnosed finally in my early 30s). Especially when my kids were young, there was a triage that happened in terms of what literally had to be done to survive (I still have to manage my energy). Which is a pretty low bar, I’ll admit.
    For the first half of my married life, my husband had a secret addiction. He was just checked out of family life quite a bit. I was all my kids had, so being strong for them was my only priority and where I focused my mental and physical energy.
    We danced. We played. We built forts. We sang – to everything. We went on lots of walks, picnics in my bedroom, library adventures, reading together, etc. Talking about everything. Dishes didn’t get done. There were clean clothes, but they were wrinkled because the kids put their own laundry away.
    I didn’t nag or pester about practicing or homework. They learned there were consequences for not handing something in, or forgetting things at home. I didn’t let the kids take on a new activity unless they could take on the additional mental load (gathered their own gear, packed their own bags, did the extra laundry if required). Extracurriculars didn’t happen until they were upper elementary age.
    I didn’t buy birthday gifts for my husband’s family. I didn’t do his laundry. Never made his lunch. I learned very young about the importance of solid boundaries, and that’s what helped me survive.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That sounds really wise, Lisa! Boundaries is definitely so important. And when your husband isn’t being a partner, sometimes you have to separate tasks like that just to maintain sanity and get what you can done, done.

      Reply
  22. Doug Hoyle

    Personally, I think the cards are silly. I think if two adults have such a serious issue that they can not sit down and reach some sort of consensus, then what they need is a counselor, not a deck of cards. I think it is important to divide tasks, but I have to tell you, in my marriage, trying to stick to any hard rules will only result in somebody being disapointed and likely resentful, because it does not take the reality of daily life into account.
    There are times that my wife covers for me because what is usually my task is left for her to do for reasons that are beyond either of our control. There are other times where I cover her normal tasks for the same reason. MOST tasks we share in one way or another, whether it is yardwork, housework, cooking or whatever.
    Most weekdays our bed doesn’t get made fully, because she is usually still in it when I leave for work. That is a statement of fact, not a complaint. There is no reason whatsoever that she “should” get up at that time of day, and it bothers me not one bit to kiss her sleeping face on my way out the door. When she gets up, she pulls the covers up enough to make it look reasonably tidy. Usually we make the bed on the weekends. It doesn’t require a card or a rule. If I get around to it first, I ask her to help, and if she gets there first, she asks me to help.
    If my wife sees the recycling or the trash needs to be taken out, she just does it. If I see it first, then I take it out. I fully admit that is the exception other than the rule, Just by virtue of how much time I spend in the kitchen vs how much she does. If she asks me to take it out, then I assume she is in the middle of something and I take it out.
    I would say that there are literally no his and her tasks, but that wouldn’t quite be true. I don’t do her laundry because she prefers I don’t. She doesn’t string the weedeater because she hasn’t figured out how to do so. If there is heavy lifting involved, that falls to me, but she is still more than ready to offer help, tho I usually refuse it. We have reached a point that we can afford not to drive clunkers that require a lot of maintenance, but when we couldn’t, I didn’t expect her to do any of that either. When it comes to putting dishes away, I take care of the ones I know where they belong, but I honestly have no idea where the cookie press or her various mixers go, so I leave them for her.
    I will be honest, I don’t know what she does most days. I know it is largely leisure, with some housekeeping mixed in, and I am fine with that. I’m glad that she doesn’t have to work as hard as I do.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s great, Doug. You each do things that need to be done, and that’s fine.
      I will note, though, that the cards are not to be used in place of communication. The cards are a tool of communication. They make sure you don’t forget anything, and help you allocate tasks and set expectations appropriately, so that there aren’t misunderstandings. In many ways, they can enhance communication.
      You managed to do this without the cards, and that’s great. So did Keith and I. But I do think it’s different in a family with small children, though, who all have different school schedules and homework and extracurricular activities. And it’s different in families where both parents work. So just try to see that this may be more of an issue for some families than yours. It’s great that you’ve found a solution; many people, as is evidenced in these comments, have not because there is more on their plate.

      Reply
      • Doug Hoyle

        Maybe the cards would be a workable solution of some.
        Whatever method you use, whether it is cards, or just good communication, the more important consideration is going to be how you handle failure and disapointment. Without grace, all you are doing is keeping score.
        In our case, I can only think of a few times within our 37 year marriage where grace and flexibility were not the most important attributes. I say that with full confession that neither of us were especially good at those things early on, but the military lifestyle has it’s way of pushing you to grow together, or pushing you apart. There is no division of tasks when one person is half a world away, tho I suppose it might be easier now with email and online banking and such. Between deployments in the Army, and a 20 year career in construction that has kept me in the road about half the time or more, I will be the first to admit that her workload at home has usually exceeded mine. As we transitioned into an empty nest, that has largely reversed.

        Reply
  23. Jacqueline Ramjee

    I have just realised after 23 years that my mental load was massive. I totally identify with the examples given!! With three children and being a stay home mum, then starting work part time, then my elderly mother coming to live with us, it’s busy in our house. My husband is very helpful and completely owns the tasks relating to DIY, the garden, the cars and the bikes. He also works full-time in a busy job. Since lockdown my mental load has been greatly reduced as all activity outside the house has stopped. For the first time in 23 years I feel I am completely rested mentally and can think clearly. I have also enjoyed a new more intimate relationship with my husband because I finally found some space in my head. We are looking at ways now to keep my mental load lower than it has been. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series to learn how to do this. Thanks Sheila.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Isn’t that interesting? How the mental load of all the outside activities stopped, and then your libido went up? Thank you for sharing that! I hope the rest of the series helps you, too.

      Reply
  24. Rachel

    I found my own words to speak to my husband about this before I knew it was a “thing”. He just COULD NOT understand and thought I was stressing unnecessarily. All it came down to was “just write me a list and I’ll do it”. No amount of explanation could convert the mental stress of carrying everything. And admittedly it does sound a bit crazy when you list every tiny detail in your brain. All he could hear was I was stressed about paying the window cleaner!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Way to go, Rachel! The problem is that modern households have so many more details to manage than in the past, but those details have still largely fallen on women, so it’s getting worse. But when we can talk to men, most are willing to step up!

      Reply
  25. Courtney

    I’m so happy to read this topic!! We have a 5 month old & are just getting into the nitty gritty of figuring out how to divide things between us so we’re not both too tired for each other. My husband has been sharing a lot with me about decision fatigue on his part – I didn’t realize it’s something I could also be experiencing as the one who primarily has baby all day long. I find this super helpful already & am excited to read more!

    Reply
  26. B

    I think the cards could be great for newlyweds and/or blended families who are figuring out new dynamics. Visuals can prevent many an argument.

    Reply
  27. Tory

    I’m late to this party and don’t know if anyone is still reading, but here’s my two cents: as a woman, I totally identify with the illustrations in the post. However, I think we as wives tend to forget the “mental load” that our husbands have as well. I have no idea when the next oil change in my car needs to happen. Car registration renewal? I don’t worry about it because i know he will take care of it. When the dishwasher is leaking water all over the floor, guess who is taking the day off work to fix it. Mowing the lawn — what’s that? Making sure there is propane for the grill so we can make dinner — not my job. You get the picture. I think so many women, myself included, tend to get so caught up in our own stuff that we feel sorry for ourselves and don’t even notice our husbands’ behind the scenes contributions!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s very true. Many men do “own” a large number of tasks. In Fair Play, she goes over all of those tasks, too, so that we can visibly see what our husbands are already doing!

      Reply
    • Hope

      Tory, that is assuming the husband in the relationship really does take care of all of those things. Once again that is getting quite gender specific in duties. Quite frankly, my husband felt like knowing when to have to change the oil was a “detail” he didn’t want bothered with. He doesn’t take care of the processes of registration because he doesn’t deal with the “detail” of due dates. When the propane runs out, I have to be the one to notice. Yes, he’ll go get it refilled, but he doesn’t notice the “detail” that he used it up the last time he used the grill. It’s the “mental load” that is the main point of discussion, and it does require communication and both partners being on board. It’s not about who does or doesn’t have it harder or who has more to do. It’s about respecting that we each have to come to terms with everything that needs accomplished for the good of everyone involved. It’s not gender specific, and it’s not about “me,” it’s about “us.”

      Reply
    • R

      For some of us, though, those things are also on our plates. In my house, he brings home about 90% of the income and I do *everything* else, including vehicles and calling repair people and buying the propane. And frankly, when my kids were young, I would have traded with him in a New York minute. I was so freaking tired. I’m still tired, but at least now I get to do some things that I find exciting rather than just being the maid all the time.

      Reply
  28. Elizabeth

    I can really relate to this and am so glad to read this. My husband is great and does a lot around the house but I do feel like I carry most of the information about what needs doing when, especially relating to children and food. It’s the continuous daily decisions I find exhausting.

    Reply
  29. Joy

    This is such a great topic! A couple of reflections on how things *may* be different in a household where both adults do about the same amount of housework but the mental load is not distributed equally:
    1. Standards matter! I used to think that if my husband had higher standards than me in a specific area it didn’t matter because that was a task he could do himself. Then the last month happened. I’m in the early stages of pregnancy which is always really hard for me, especially at night. So my husband, being the loving kind man he is, just took over the post-dinner routine and shipped me off to bed. Excellent. Except it takes him about an hour to do what for me is a fifteen minute task. Why? Well, he washes the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. He also washes everything that goes in the recycling bin. Admittedly, his way probably doesn’t clog up the filter as much BUT he is then too tired to do other tasks, like switching the laundry or tidying. So the work piles up. Of course this doesn’t matter because this is a short term fix, but it got me thinking. Because it takes him so long, we can never really swap that task. And all because we can’t agree on an acceptable family standard for certain tasks. Food for thought!
    2. The other thing is, doing a task when you don’t “own” that area means you do a bad job because so much of housework is as-needed. When I clean up after dinner, I mainly put away dishes and wipe the table. Those are the tasks I would write down in a list. But I do so much more. If there’s a big splatter of baby food on the floor, I clean that up. I definitely don’t clean the whole floor every night, I just keep an eye out for bad messes. Same with tidying. I don’t tidy the whole downstairs every night, but if there’s some mail that’s made its way on the dinner table I’ll put that away. I have an eye out for things to fix, because I own the “downstairs tidyness and cleanliness” department. My husband doesn’t even see those things. He will do an amazing job at cleaning the table, because that’s in the list, but under the sparkling table there may be an actual swimming pool of spilled soup he won’t even know it’s there.
    I think for me the takeaway is that if you aim to be interchangeable with your partner, you need to co-own some core areas of household management. It’s more fuss than managing it yourself, but you’ll get the long term rewards of having a stunt double.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great thoughts, Joy! I do have a post on figuring out community standards which is an important one. I think you’re right, though, that a lot of the daily grind tasks should be co-owned, and anyone should be able to step into that role at a moment’s notice. That’s really what Rebecca and Connor (my daughter and son-in-law who have talked about this on the podcasts) do, too!

      Reply
  30. Mum25

    Wow! Lot’s of discussion on the topic of mental load. I guess in our marriage I sometimes feel like maybe it’s somehow a competition of who has more on their mind. I work one day a week away from home (more as a sanity break and to have health benefits) and my husband and I own and operate a farm with grain and cattle as well as another side business. We also have 5 children (5-14.) I try to help farm and help when my husband needs help with whatever the farm needs. I look after the garden and yard in the summer, I look after the kids, the meals, the house and the farm books (with help from the accountant!) The trouble is, when I speak about my mental load it is met with defensiveness and him proving that he too has a lot on his plate, and I KNOW he does and that he is very busy and feels pulled in many directions at the same time. However, I also see him nap after the noon meal while I’m cleaning up or sit with the kids (which is great) watching TV after supper in the evening and while I’m tucking the youngest 3 in bed and putting dishes in the dishwasher at 9pm and then I just want to fall into bed without another request being made of me. Trying to keep everything in our home running smoothly, the laundry, the cleaning, the cooking. In fact for a whole week, I had on my list of things to do “spend 1 hour alone” I finally just crossed it off because it was depressing to look at! I love my husband and I know he loves me but how do I explain the mental load I carry without him feeling like he needs to then defend the mental load HE carries. I finally did get my hour (and then some) alone when I tested positive for covid recently and had to self isolate away from the rest of the family but that’s another story!

    Reply
    • Heather

      For 15 years I was a sahm. We have 3 boys who are close in age. 12 years ago my ss moved 4 hours away. My oldest has mental health illness. My husband works 3 on, 3 off, 12 hour shifts.
      I have had a lot of difficulty in raising my kids because of my oldest mental illness.
      Then because of my husband’s work schedule I was driving a lot by myself with the kids for pick ups and drop offs for my ss, as well as taking care of the kids most of the time because of the schedule.
      Then to keep the house clean, have dinner ready for my husband to eat when he gets home. Keeping track of bills and just everything.
      My husband helps out at times, but most of it falls on me.
      He has a hard time dealing with my son’s mental health, so that makes it hard, and now ss is living with us ft and has his issues.
      I’m just a permanent tired. My husband works hard for our family, he fixes things that need it and does a lot of the outside stuff, but I still help him with that stuff as well.
      Sometimes I just feel resentment towards everyone in the house.
      Everyone says that when the kids move out, I’ll miss it all, but I just can’t see it right now.

      Reply
  31. kayla

    This is SO RELATABLE!!
    Growing up, I witnessed so many situations in my parents’ marriage that resembled the beach trip one, except with more mundane occurrences, as well as family vacations that were planned well in advance. My mom was never ready on time and we would always leave on road trips hours later than planned. My dad would be irritatedly waiting for her, eventually just going to the car to wait, and my siblings would be waiting there annoyed too (especially my brothers). I would get angry with them for being annoyed because I instinctively saw the solution – “if you want to leave sooner, y’all could pick up more of the slack!” And I identified completely with my mom’s tendency to carry 110% of the mental load (…and tendency toward procrastination, which although it may have gotten all the blame, was not the core of the issue).
    Anyway, I’m getting married soon & could see this becoming a problem someday in the future. I’m very glad to have seen this articulated so well- hopefully awareness will help avoid it in the first place, and I want to check out the book too! 🙂

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, Kayla! Talk about it early! Honestly, a lot of Gen Z/young millennial guys are actually pretty good at this stuff when they need to be. I think the culture is changing!

      Reply
  32. Lisa

    Here is my example of unequal down time and unequal distribution of the mental load. It’s only one, I could share hundreds, literally.
    Sundays.
    We had our first four children in just under six years. For many years, my life always non-stop. Functioning on about 6 hours of sleep a night, including when I was recovering from giving birth.
    Sundays were no different than any other day. I’d be up for the day between 5-6 am when the first child woke. Inevitably someone’s diaper had leaked during the night and bedding needed to get laundered and that child needed a quick bath. The baby needed to be charged, nursed, burped. The older children needed breakfast. The toddlers whined and squabbled, as children do. I’d prepare breakfast, feed, cleanup. The baby would spit up on me and I’d have to change my clothes and rinse my hair, plus usually change the baby’s clothes again. Go put the bedding in the dryer. Come upstairs to find the toddler scribbling on the wall. And on and on and on.
    My husband would roll out of bed twenty minutes before it was time to leave for church, having slept 9 hours. He’d take a shower, in peace and quiet, taking as much time as he wanted. He’d stroll into the kitchen, pour the coffee I had made but hadn’t had a moment to drink, into a travel mug, and say, “why aren’t you ready to go? You’ve been up for hours.” I still didn’t have my makeup on and one of the toddlers had taken off his clothes and was happily naked and squealing on the couch.
    I’d be inwardly fuming but not wanting to start an argument because that’s how it always ended. Every time I expressed my need not to live like a single mom with a man who rented out a bed in my house, he’d tell me to lower my standards, be more organized, etc etc etc.
    We’d go to church and my husband would get to sit though the whole service while I was in and out with the baby. We get home and he’d plop on the couch for football and a nap. The kids were hungry and overstimulated after church, climbing all over me while I try to get lunch ready. The rest of the day went the same. It was his day off (just like Saturday had been) sand my day off was never.
    The kids got older and they didn’t scribble on walls anymore or spit up sour milk into my hair (I can still recall that smell) but getting teenagers to go to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday and getting them to drag their behinds out of bed on Sunday morning is still a huge chore. And it still was my job by default. My husband works go to bed when he wanted and get up on Sunday with just enough to get himself ready for church, was if he was single and not a parent.
    When the kids got older and I decided to do things that made me feel alive again, like teaching science at our homeschool co-op or leading a committee for something, I’d get the all to familiar, “well, if you’re so tired and spread so thin, maybe you shouldn’t do all that extra stuff. If you expect me to to do extra stuff, you should consult me before signing up for things.”
    A wife being involved in things that matter to her is not an inconvenience to her family. A wife does not exist to serve her family’s every whim and, just like the wicked stepmother in Disney’s Cinderella, only allowed to go to the ball after she’s finished all her work.
    They are not MY children and he is not HELPING ME when he functions as a parent.
    Things started changing drastically several years ago when I started establishing healthy boundaries. My husband finally saw how he was treating me and was so, so sorry. I can now be away for a day and come to a house that is relatively in order, instead if it looking like a frat party gone wrong.
    Fair Play is an excellent book, I highly recommend it. And thank you Sheila, for addressing this!

    Reply
  33. Anonymous

    Can you speak to when all else fails – asking, attempting to put boundaries in place – and your husband just won’t do his part as a husband and father … what do can do??? When they won’t go to counseling, when they won’t acknowledge that you need downtime too, and they are treating you horribly. What can you do to just not be stuck in that miserable marriage. I’m not perfect, but I’m just barely surviving. Years and years now.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Can you go to counseling yourself, with someone who is licensed, and see if there are other strategies, or whether you’re following through on boundaries well?
      Also, if he is treating your horribly, you don’t have to endure that. Perhaps a counselor could help you learn how to act appropriately in a way that can give you some healing. It isn’t okay for him to treat you badly. It isn’t okay for him to not be a father. You may need some help to figure out next steps, and I’m sorry.

      Reply
  34. sonya lillis

    I love my husband dearly we’ve been married almost 20 years.
    we have 10 beautiful children—which means the mental load of our household is HUGE.
    we have a special needs child that has a very specific med schedule, I homeschool all of our children which means they all have different work, they are involved in outside activities so it’s up to me to coordinate all that—by the end of the day i’m exhausted physically and mentally
    when i tell my husband i need his help he’s of the mind “tell me what to do, and i might do it if i’m not to tired.” and if it’s concerning our special needs child i have to talk him thru it most of the time (he says he’s afraid to mess it up)
    which usually results in me getting upset or bursting in to tears because seriously why is it all my job to carry the entire mental load?
    but when i try to explain it to him he dosen’t seem to get it. to him if it’s all mental why does it matter because he’s doing the physically hard work at his job 8 to 10 hours a day.
    i mean, i know he’s tired. I know he’s trying hard to provide for our family.
    it’s just that i’m ALWAYS “on” i’m up with the twins and our special needs teenager at night. then i’m spending all day tending to everyone else’s needs while my own are neglected and ignored.
    my need for down time and intimacy often spills over into me being pushy for sex because i’ve been conditioned all my life to think that men NEED sex every day so i push him into it more times than not or i end up feeling very rejected bcause after all i’m doing all day i still carve out time to try and meet those needs and get rejected when really i’m asking him for something he really doesn’t want to do that often.
    i honestly don’t see this part of life getting better though. my husband has ADHD and as such he has a hard time figuring out the mental load part of life and often relies on me to do it for him—leading to more fustration on my part.
    i want to be able to delegate some of that mental load. i just dont know how i can get him to see the need for it.

    Reply

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