Can We Deal with Mental Load Without Having a Contest of Who Has it Worse?

by | Jun 5, 2020 | Uncategorized | 69 comments

Mental Load and Stress in Women: Our commenters speak
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How does mental load affect stress?

This week we’ve been talking on the blog about mental load and emotional labor, in three posts:

A bunch of you have sent me emails, and there were so many great comments left, too! I wanted to highlight some of them, and sum up the week today. Now, if I don’t mention your comment, it doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate it! There were a ton of amazing ones, both here and on Facebook and Twitter (and in emails!). I just want to paint with a super broad brush and highlight some themes. 

(but seriously–you all make me so happy when you comment!)

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Deal with the mental load of allowance & chores!

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Mental load isn’t the same thing as stress in general

As Rebecca and I talked about in the podcast yesterday, mental load is like chronic stress, a low grade thing that never, ever goes away.

We did invariably get into some discussions in the comments about which spouse is more stressed, and that’s why talking about this stuff can be a minefield. It sounds like you’re accusing the other spouse of having a much easier life. But that’s not the point. It’s not about who is more stressed; it’s simply that chronic stress is debilitating, and if you can deal with it, you should.

As I explained,

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.

Mental load is like grocery shopping

There was some confusion in the comments, but let me explain it in terms of Costco and Walmart. Having a big mental load is like shopping at Walmart. If you want pickles, you have to decide between 25 different varieties. Do you want the value brand or the name brand? Do you care if they have extra garlic or would you rather have low sodium? Is there a savings associated with getting a larger size? Making a decision can be challenging because there are just So. Many. Options. This is called “decision fatigue.”

But what if you want pickles at Costco? There are one, maybe two options for any given item. That’s a LOT easier decision making – either you get *the one type of pickle they have* or you don’t get pickles. There are approximately 120,000 different items for sale at a Walmart supercenter. At Costco? There are only 4,000.

I find it’s easier for me to shop at Costco for groceries simply because there are fewer decisions to make. That’s what mental load is like: you can have the same task, but if there’s more work associated with remembering, preparing, and executing the job, the mental load will be heavier.

Meghan described it this way,

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.

Meghan

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The mental load is so heavy lots of women dreamed of being sick

Four different women in the comments wrote some variation of this:

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!

Laura Grace

This is serious stuff.

Women want partners. We don’t want to be managers to subordinates.

Another theme that came up in the comments was whether women should make such a big deal about writing lists for men. One woman wrote that this is the preferred way, and women are better at it:

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.

EDL

But others chafed at the idea of making a list, because it puts them in the role of managing their husbands. 

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.”

Meghan

Others chimed in that while they didn’t want to manage husbands, they could manage kids, and kids should be doing chores. I totally agree, and we’ll be talking later this month in two different posts (at least) about how to hand chores off to kids and let them handle some of the stress (and also how to pass the mental load for their homework, lunches, etc. off to them). 

I find FamZoo an amazing app that helps share the mental load of supervising chores and figuring out allowance, while teaching kids responsibility, and we’ll be talking about that later this month, too. 

Dealing with too much mental labor is bad for libido!

I want to finish with a comment from Jacqueline, who wrote that she and her husband are going to be having some conversations about how to manage expectations, lighten her mental load, and generally sort out a new normal.

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.

Jacqueline

I love Jaqueline’s thoughts. While the COVID 19 pandemic has been a horrible time for all of us, it does give many of us the opportunity to slow the pace and think deeply about what’s working and what’s not working. For some it increases mental load, because everyone’s home all the time. But for others, it’s taken a lot of the normal stuff that drives us crazy off of our plates, and shown us a new way to do life.

My hope in doing this mental load and emotional labor series now, in the middle of a pandemic, is that you have time to sort this out right now. You’re both home more than usual. You can talk about it. And maybe some things will change.

And, again, the reason that I wanted to talk about all this in the first place is that mental load is so related to women’s libido. So guys, if you’re pushing back, remember–no one is trying to blame you. There just may be an unhealthy dynamic going on that is hurting your sex life and marriage that’s actually relatively easy to fix. It doesn’t even necessarily mean more work for you. It just means paying attention more and thinking of some of the asks yourself, without a list. 

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.

How about you? How do you think about mental load? And has dealing with mental load issues helped your libido? Let me know in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at 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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69 Comments

  1. Sam

    When I was pregnant with my third boy, I got norovirus and had to get to the hospital. By the time I got checked in I wasn’t so sick any more, just very dehydrated and had to stay for 24 hours to get fluids. Five years later, I still dream about those 24 hours all the time. I think it was the last time a truly got a “brain break”.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Sam, that’s funny and sad at the same time! I remember once I had an MRI, and everyone was warning me how stressful it is to lie there and not move. I found it so relaxing I actually almost fell asleep. To be able to just lie down without feeling guilty that I should really be doing something else was amazing.

      Reply
  2. Doug Hoyle

    How do I say this without coming across as needlessly argumentative?
    The short answer is I don’t think I can, but that’s fine.
    To answer the question posed in your title, no, you can not have this discussion without honestly and truthfully deciding whos load is greater. That doesn’t mean it is a contest. It just means you can not have a meaningful discussion without addressing it.
    Not every household will be the same. Not every season within the same household will be the same.
    I thought it interesting that you brought up wives who “wished” for an illness so they could have a break. As someone who has been hospitalized for stress related cardiac issues, and literally parked my truck in the side of the interstate and called 911 because I fearedfor my life, I would tell them two things. First, that is a really stupid thing to wish for. The second thing I would say is that if you are anywhere near that stage, then STOP everything that isn’t absolutely essential, sit down with your spouse and see what else can be eliminated from your combined work load, and then maybe sit down and look at who can do what remains. It doesn’t matter if that means dealing a deck if cards, or just sitting down and discussing it. Once the combined load is manageable, if there is any cushion in either of your workload, then you can consider adding extra things back in.
    I use my particular case as the argument of why you have to consider both spouses load, and instead of just redistributing, actually eliminating.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Doug, many many women are in households where both are working outside the home but she is still doing more than 50% of the housework that is NECESSARY.
      You say we need to eliminate, not just redistribute but what if the problem is honestly a redistribution problem?
      I’m going to be honest: I often find that your comments do not even attempt to look from a woman’s perspective but always seem to be written for the sole purpose of telling us we are wrong. But many, many women will comment on the same post saying we understand them. Maybe the issue is not that we don’t understand men, maybe it’s that you’re not trying to understand women.
      Whatever one person is feeling, it does not negate what the other is feeling. It goes both ways. So please stop trying to negate what she is feeling because of something unrelated he is feeling.

      Reply
      • Angela Laverdi

        And also Sheila, we are made to feel GUILTY for asking for help. Not only from spouse, but friends family, society, other women. When I have ever asked for help from my ex I felt guilty, I got pushback from him, I would hear from other women “well I did all that AND worked 3 jobs AND raised 3 kids, you only have one kid”. We are expected to be ABLE to do all that we do and be joyful about it as well. Otherwise, I myself anyway, feel Guilty, worthless, less than, etc….. So it is HARD to ask until I do reach a breaking point.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I hear you. I’m sorry. It really isn’t right.

          Reply
      • Lisa Johnson

        Rebecca,
        Thank you! I love your direct style.
        Sometimes, in an effort to not trigger defensiveness, women aren’t willing to just state things clearly (and respectfully)as you have done here.
        After opportunities for understanding have not been reciprocated, imho directness is good. Clear boundaries are healthy and necessary.

        Reply
      • Kriss

        Rebecca, I didn’t see Doug’s comment as negating the feelings of the woman, he seemed to be relating to it from a personal level and warning to do whatever possible to avoid getting to that point!
        Most times there is probably something that could be dropped from a person’s plate, if you are willing to let it go. That seems to be one of the lessons that some are learning during this time of the pandemic, when most of us have been forced to slow our lives down. I understand that there are times it feels like you are barely keeping up, and nothing can be removed from your plate… Maybe sometimes you and your spouse need to ask for help from those around you.
        It may seem that being sick would make any feelings of guilt disappear, but that is not always the case. There are many people that continue pushing forward with chronic health conditions, etc. Just because you are unwell does not mean you have no feeling of responsibility for your family, even when there is something you struggle to do or are physically unable to do.
        I think the mother should be at home to raise her children whenever possible. I can’t imagine my husband and I both working and trying to run a house too. I am not saying there are not times that that truly is not possible!! But it does not seem surprising that people would have difficulty balancing all this at the same time. From my perspective it seems that being a stay at home mom has been something that has been looked down upon in society for some time now, and that pressure does not help to make anyone understand the value of all it takes to run a household!

        Reply
      • Bob

        Rebecca,
        Most men I know believe this whole website is about considering things not from men’s perspective or even God’s perspective but only woman’s perspective. I won’t make this long, or debate you, but this website has led me to to not trust 90% of Christian women. Doug was being more than polite and bringing up very true, justifiable and important points. The way you and your mother spoke to him tells me all I need to know about you and your faith.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Bob, Doug comments on every post and tells us we’re wrong.
          If you think something we are saying isn’t right, then tell us what is wrong. But don’t just tell us we don’t understand you. Think of this issue from the perspective of a mom with small children. How is what we’re saying wrong? We are saying that she should not have to carry the entire mental load for the family, and especially for the children. Considering that so many women feel overwhelmed by this, and how many women told us in our survey that this was a huge reason they had no libido, then perhaps instead of arguing how women are wrong, you should ask if maybe mental load could be divided up. All I’m asking is for 21% and 79%–I said that women feel it is fair when men do 21%. And I’m asking that women get as much free time as men. That’s it. That’s all I’m asking. If you think that this leads you not to trust Christian women, may I suggest that you examine yourself and ask why you find doing 21% of the mental load for the household too much to ask?

          Reply
          • Mara R

            Sheila,
            Sometimes the men who comment like this just want to shame and stir up stuff.
            Sometimes they are commenting out of their own pain. (This could be one or the other or both).
            One reason I brought up mental and brain disorders below is because I have spent time on discussion boards for spouses of ADHD. Sometimes it’s the man that suffers from it. Sometimes it’s the woman. And usually, the partner of ADHD ends up carrying a huge load, just holding things together to make the marriage work. (Not ignoring Angela’s comment below about having ADHD and carrying the extra load. That must be hard.)
            Sometimes, husbands who have been the ones carrying the mental load due to a wife’s mental, emotional, physical issues can’t see what the wives here are expressing. They can’t because of their experience had clouded their vision, ability to see a different perspective, and the ability to have any empathy. They felt like they’ve not gotten empathy so they can’t give it.
            As I said, not sure where Doug and Bob are coming from. They could just be trolling. Or they could be speaking from a place of pain that lumps all women in the same category with dysfunctional females (mothers, wives, etc) that they are dealing with or have dealt with in the past.
            And I agree with you, Bob needs to do better about explaining his position than just making the blanket statement that all these women are wrong.

        • Maria

          What’s bad about considering things from a woman’s perspective? There are lots of voices out there presenting things from a male perspective. It’s ubiquitous. So ubiquitous that it’s often passed off as the human perspective.
          You complain that this blog does not present things from God’s point of view. If Shiela has direct access to God’s thoughts, she should be sharing them with us! But if she is a mere mortal like the rest of us, the most she can do is to try to conform her viewpoint to what God has revealed about God’s viewpoint.
          There does not have to be a conflict between trying to empathize with someone and trying to understand how God sees things.
          What is empathy? It is NOT trying to imagine what it is like to be ME in YOUR shoes. It’s trying to imagine what it’s like to be YOU in YOUR shoes. If someone 6 inches taller than me complains about a doorway that is only 6”2’, I don’t get to say that because I can walk through no problem, that tall person can’t possibly have any reason to complain.
          If you’ve never thought about what it takes to run a house completely on your own, it might not seem like a big deal to you. If you want to understand why it’s a big deal to so many people who have to carry that burden, this post might help. The comments, too.
          And just because most of the PEOPLE who have to be completely responsible for the household happen to all be the same sex, that does not mean their concerns should be dismissed. I’m sure it would be just as stressful for a man in that situation. Should we refuse to address this issue until more men become stay at home dads, and start suffering from decision fatigue?

          Reply
          • Maria B.

            Meant to post that as Maria B.

        • Chris

          Bob, ad hominem attacks are out of line. The vast majority of the content on this blog is written by women for women. And Bob, thats ok! Thats good! I found myself here for exactly that reason. My male brain could not digest what I am experiencing so I figured I had to digitally eavesdrop in women discussing these things so that I could better understand my own situation. When I read this blog I keep several things in mind. #1. Sheila’s blog is aimed at Christian women. 2. Sheila did not grow up with a father in the home or with brothers. 3. Her son tragically died in infancy so she was unable to raise a son to adulthood. So in otherwords her life experience dealing with men is limited to her marriage. Which appears to be a very happy one so clearly she is doing something right. (I must confess that I am looking forward to her view of the world growing more “complete” with the addition of her new grandson.). So I understand the point that this blog comes across as being woman-centered, but Bob, its supposed to be.
          But Bob, questioning someones faith is very out of line and offensive.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Thank you, Chris. I appreciate that.

    • Ina

      Doug, you don’t need to tell us it’s foolish to wish for illness. We know. It’s just that when you’re sick, no one calls you lazy. No one implies you could be doing more. People help you.
      Each pregnancy/postpartum I have said some version of, “if I were dead, I would be sleeping. I want to go to sleep and never wake up.”
      Did I really want to die? No. I wasn’t truly suicidal. I wasn’t even depressed (well, one pregnancy I was. Even then, though, I didn’t truly want to die, I just thought my family would be better off if I did. Depression isn’t rational.) I just wanted rest. That’s all most of these women want. Rest.
      Sharing the mental load helps, though I would argue the main problem is that couples truly need a village and communities to support each other. But starting small; balancing the yoke as a couple does wonders for everyone’s mental health.

      Reply
      • Kriss

        Ina, I suffer from a chronic health condition that is not apparant to people when they see me. Doing the simplest tasks can be quite difficult for me at times. Yet, from the outside, I look totally healthy and capable. There was a “What Would You Do” episode that showed people that didn’t need electric carts using them anyway. The way it was proven that they could not use them was when they got up with no effort to get something off the shelf. That was hard hitting for me because I use a wheelchair/cart, but am perfectly cabable of standing for short times to grab and item, or look through a rack for a while. Maybe an illness that was visible would cause people to be more understanding, but it is hard from my perspective, with all that I am no longer do, to think of someone with the gift of health who is wishing they did not have it! Just wanted to share my perspective.

        Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      Hi Doug,
      I understand what you’re saying and agree that stress can do bad things to people. I once had a job that was so stressful (because my manager was a deeply evil and sadistic person) that I could not eat or sleep. One of my biggest regrets in life is not quitting that job sooner; the permanent repercussions were not worth it.
      I’m a big believer in both spouses being able to obtain gainful employment (even if they choose to have one spouse stay home) precisely because it helps the breadwinning spouse to know that someone else can carry the load if it all goes to hell in a handbasket.
      But we aren’t talking about job-related stress here. This is about decision fatigue and “coping fatigue.” It’s not about, say, whether the kids should do soccer and band or just soccer; it’s about the sheer number of decisions to be made and things to be kept track of.
      Sheila mentioned Costco versus Wal-Mart. We have a pretty set rotation of items we buy for this reason: to not have to think about it. Steve Jobs famously wore the same outfit all the time because it was one less thing to think about. We keep a pre-packed tote bag with everything we need for our baby when out and about, because I’m not going to think about what we need for him every time we go to the park. (Bag gets restocked when we arrive home; we know what items were just used and need to be replaced.)

      Reply
    • EOF

      When I was working full time (and my husband was laid off, happily playing video games all day – I was working at home, so I saw this firsthand), I was also doing ALL of the cooking, cleaning, and taking care of two small children. Often with him harshly critiquing my inept abilities.
      I could barely keep myself going, but I had to – there was no other choice. He wouldn’t do anything around the house because it wasn’t his job as a man. I was under mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual strain. I was depressed and having anxiety attacks. I was in tears most days, and nothing I did was ever good enough.
      As a result, I dreamed about being institutionalized in a mental facility. The thought of having someone verify that I was being pushed too far gave me relief. The idea of other people taking care of ME was a burden lifted.
      Does that mean I *actually* wanted to be committed to one of those places? NO!! Not one sane person would want that. Are you crazy, Doug? Of course none of us pushed beyond our limits WANTS to be hospitalized. THAT’S THE POINT.
      I had those daydreams because I was at the END OF MY ROPE and desperate. I was in such a bad place mentally that I dreamed of being somewhere horrible, somewhere I wouldn’t be able to see my kids. Of course that wasn’t want I really wanted! But in my *desperation* that was the only escape my mind could conjure.
      If you haven’t walked in someone else’s shoes, don’t judge. Have compassion.

      Reply
      • Angela Laverdi

        Exactly!! I have almost put myself in the hospital numerous times previously because of exactly what you just said….but I could NOT because A. I would lose my job and B. I would lose my child….. Fortunately I am,in a MUCH better place now, having left that situation and found a MUCH better life and a REAL man who actually pulls weight around the house and with my daughter. He fiund out through being home while I worked from home that there is a LOT to do to run a house and it’s tiring and stressful. He gladly helps me while maintaining his “manhood”.

        Reply
    • Lisa

      Doug, we have serious health issues in our family and I have been hospitalized several times myself. The days I’ve been in the hospital and the first day I get home from the hospital are the only restful days I’ve had since having kids. Oh, and usually the 24 hours after I give birth. I do understand your perspective, I have been in the hospital, and sometimes I still long for that time when someone else took care of me, brought me a glass of water, came in and asked if I needed anything, and I did not have to worry about the kids (even though I still did) because it was an EMERGENCY and I was “getting help.”
      When I am sick with a regular illness at at home, I am still running the household.
      As far as your suggestion to eliminate, I agree. Both spouses need to eliminate. My husband and I have worked really hard on this (over the past 24 years) and he realized he is the one who needed to eliminate– so much time watching TV, playing video games, reading about his favorite sports teams, reading all his favorite political commentators, social media, etc. He was spending 3-5 hours per day on these downtime activities while I was putting in 16-18 hours a day on my feet without a break. Even meal times weren’t a break because I was doing the parenting at the table while he ate and conversed with whichever child wasn’t in need of help at the moment.

      Reply
  3. Bertha

    This series is explaining so much! I’ve talked about it with my husband, and it really resonates with both of us. We’re learning how so many disagreements and conflicts happened, why I don’t tend to travel unless I take the kids, why I ask for meal ideas every time I meal plan and complain mightily about grocery shopping while being completely unwilling to give it up. We previously thought it was about “control”, but I’m starting to see that it’s more about the fact that I have to cook, therefore I meal plan, make a grocery list, and shop. It doesn’t ease my mental load at all to send someone else to the store. I’m so intrigued by this whole idea that I checked “Fair Play” out from the library and started reading it last night. My husband definitely has household tasks that he has taken on fully while other tasks only partially. And vice versa. We both find ourselves resenting the partial ones, and this is really giving us language to discuss what is going on, and I hope give us the resources to make the changes we need to make.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      What an amazing comment! Bertha, I’m so glad this is giving you a way to talk about things. I did find Fair Play really helpful.

      Reply
  4. Carrie

    When my hubby and I got married I was working full time, while he went to school. He had a lot more free time than I did. But he never cleaned or did anything to keep our household going without me. After a couple of disagreements we discovered that he was willing to clean, but didn’t know what needed to be done. He hadn’t grown up in a clean house. While he liked it being clean, he needed a list.
    So I wrote 2 lists. One of things that always needed to be done: dishes, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom etc. The 2nd list he could mark as done; oil change in the car, buying food for a BBQ, etc.
    It worked amazingly.
    Now, 17 years later, he knows what needs to be done to keep the house clean and helps our boys do it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s awesome, Carrie! That’s one of the things that Rebecca wants to talk about in a later post this month–other ways that we can help a spouse “own” a task. That’s great!

      Reply
    • Kya

      We do something like this, too! When we first got married, my husband kept trying to get me to relax and do things for myself, but I always said, “I can’t; I have too many things I need to do.” His response was, “Well, tell me what needs to be done so I can help,” to which I blew up with, “CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?! Just look around!!” As it turns out, he actually COULDN’T see what needed to be done–I’m the clean and organized one, and he just isn’t wired that way. He doesn’t see messes. So I made a list like yours of tasks that need to be done weekly and those that need to be done monthly (he is actually very good at helping me with most of the daily tasks, so no list was needed there). I laminated it and bought some dry-erase markers to use and hung it on the fridge. The tasks on it aren’t assigned to anyone; whoever does them gets to cross them off. It takes the load of keeping track of what has been done out of my head, which reduces my stress by itself, but it also tells my husband exactly what he can do to help me, and he does! I had to show him how to do a lot of it when I first hung the list, but now he knows and just pitches in.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s wonderful! That’s the system (sort of) that Rebecca and Connor use, too. It does work great for housework.

        Reply
    • Cynthia

      Just like in the world of paid employment, it’s reasonable to have a period of training. The question is whether someone goes on to take a management position, or whether they remain at a lower level where they need to constantly report to a supervisor.
      Management assumes that someone is free to make decisions that might include making changes.

      Reply
  5. Anon

    I think it is a great idea to look at handing jobs over to kids – when I was just about old enough to toddle, it was my ‘job’ to clear my dishes from the table. And as I got bigger, I was given other jobs around the house. It was a good thing my parents did that too, because by the time I was around 11, my mother was sick, and my father (who was working very long hours) and I had to run the house pretty much between us.
    By the time I was 15, I could run the house single handed and had to quite often when Dad was away and Mum was feeling worse than usual. Yet I’m constantly seeing friends who are running themselves ragged ironing, washing & packing lunches for even older teenage kids who are lolling around doing nothing. I don’t know if they feel they will be ‘bad mothers’ if they don’t do this, or if they are afraid how their kids will manage if asked to do things for themselves, but it makes me so sad to see their exhaustion, doing tasks that could well be done by their kids.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen! I’ve got a two-post “series” on that I think in two weeks. What we can expect from kids at what age in terms of keeping track of homework, birthday parties, extracurriculars, etc., and what chores we can do. By the time my girls left home they could take care of a house and they could make 7 meals really well (but they could also follow a recipe, so really the sky was the limit).
      My girls often would rave about going over to friends’ houses where the mothers would wait on them and cook them amazing food (I never did that). But when my girls had friends over, I’d often retreat to my room and leave the kitchen to them when they were teens, and they’d make food or bake. And their friends liked it, too. I talked to their friends a ton, but I didn’t wait on them. I think it ended up okay!

      Reply
      • B

        I don’t feel that Mother Maids are doing their kids longterm service. My goal is for my kids to be able to manage their own homes, single or married or roommates, before they leave mine.
        This mindset is already serving me in return, as I am trying to join the public workforce after nearly 15 years of being a sahm. I know that my kids are capable of doing the work set before them. I will still need to be the Manager and my 17 y/o is my Asst Mgr (which earns her extra privileges, as well), but even the 9 y/o has been doing his own laundry for 2 yrs already. Had I waited on them hamd and foot, I would be much more stressed about going back to work.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s awesome, B! I wish you all the best. You’ve come out of such a bad situation. It sounds like you’ve made some very wise choices in how you raise your kids, though!

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          • Maria B.

            One thing I’ve noticed in all of these comments, is the idea that when your child is old enough to do something for himself or herself, time to step back and give him or her that responsibility. Did NOT see anything about making a child take on another family member’s responsibilities.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I think it depends what we define as someone’s responsibilities. I think as kids get older, then more of the responsibility for keeping the home going should fall to them, because the home is shared. So we had our teenagers, for instance, make dinner once a week, and they had chores to do once they were capable that would help me. They had to clean their own bathroom, do their own laundry, but also clean common areas and cook, etc.

          • Maria B

            It is important to accurately sort out whose responsibilities are whose. When living together it’s not always so easy. Who is responsible for sweeping the floor? Wrong question. Each person is responsible for sweeping the dirt that he or she tracked in (or mom and dad if child is too young.) God can keep track of every speck of dirt and where it came from. Human’s can’t. Plus, when one person sweeps up his or her dirt, he or she sweeps up everyone else’s dirt, too. So, not so easy.
            Blurring the lines might work in a functional family. But consider a dysfunctional one. Whoever is not responsible for sweeping the floor never takes off their shoes because someone else will be made to clean up after them. Maybe Mom (or Dad) simply demands that whoever has been assigned to sweep the floor works harder. As opposed to lowering her (or his) standards or trying to get their more unruly children in line.
            “This chore is for the whole family. You are a member of the family. Therefor, it is your personal responsibility” is not an accurate statement. Not trying to put words in your mouth. Just warning about a trap that’s easy to fall into.
            What if the family is dysfunctional? Maybe sorting out relationship problems (with proper boundaries) has to take precedence over having a spotless floor.
            What I’m trying to say is that what constitutes legitimate teamwork in one family can be exploitation is a dysfunctional one.

          • Maria B

            Hi, Sheila. I don’t know if this reply will follow your comment or not. I agree that it is important to accurately define responsibilities.
            And want to add that what works in a functional family might not work in a dysfunctional one. Say that the parents assign one child to sweep. And say that whoever is not responsible for sweeping the floor never takes off their shoes because someone else will be made to clean up after them. Maybe Mom (or Dad) simply demands that whoever has been assigned to sweep the floor works harder. As opposed to lowering her (or his) standards or trying to get their more unruly children in line.
            Because of the inconsiderate behavior of siblings (and parents looking the other way) “let’s work as a team to get the housework done” becomes “you have to clean up after your siblings.”
            So, I’m all for team work. And it sounds like that’s what you’re aiming for. And maybe I’m being too sensitive here. Many sahm mom’s in my extended family were extremely exploitative of the oldest girls. They called it teamwork, but it wasn’t. So I don’t think you are advocating for the exploitation of children. But talks about having children help maintain the house, if not worded very carefully, can give cover to parents who do believe that their children exist to serve them.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Great point, Maria! Isn’t it sad that it even has to be said? But I’ve seen that in many families. And I’ve seen many families too where the parents do basically nothing and the kids do everything. The other common dynamic is that girls have to clean up after boys, or boys are not required to do chores. That’s not healthy, and that will just perpetuate the problem.

        • Kelly

          B do you have any tips on getting out of mother maid mode? I have a 6, 4, and 2 year old and they are already very resentful And defiant when I require them to help around the house (well the 6 year old is). I homeschool and only work twice a month so the plan is they will be home with me and my goal would be as you and Sheila have said, that they will learn to properly run a household. I think my mom was a mother maid type and so I don’t really know how to make my own type of household!!

          Reply
      • Meghan

        Really looking forward to that! Our daughter will be 3 next month and she’s showing signs of being very mature and capable for her age. We’ve given her the responsibility of feeding the dog, dressing herself, keeping her room and play area tidy, and selecting snacks and meals from predetermined options. Starting out, I had to basically coach her every step of the way, but now she’s just started doing some things all on her own without prompting and it’s awesome! She also helps us do things around the house like laundry and gardening and cooking and whatnot, but she’s not ready to take on any of that all on her own for obvious reasons. Still working on figuring out what other responsibilities we can assign her, although it’s a bit complicated by the fact that she is physically much smaller than your average 3 year old and there are some things she just can’t do yet because she’s too short even with a stool. (She takes after her mama – I’m only 5 ft tall.)

        Reply
  6. B

    My ex, after a couple years of expecting me to do everything to his standards with 2 under 3, one day said, “I guess I just need to lower my standards and do it myself.” That told me a couple of things. 1. His standards were too high to judge his efforts, but not mine. 2. I wasn’t good enough. No matter that house and yard work were literally the only things he was helping with (and housework only begrudgingly)…not appointment-setting, cooking, feeding, diapers, keeping in touch with family, etc. He even called our mothers to complain about my lack of housekeeping ability. Now, housekeeping has gotten easier as the 4 kids have gotten older and more capable. I’m still working through the shame of not being a neat freak, though. I’ve read so many blogs, books, and articles on housekeeping tips, tricks, and shortcuts.
    Another area of mental load was how to treat each other. He would use that line, “Just tell me what to do,” about what tone to use, what words to say, etc. I felt like I was writing a script, not living a relationship. It wasn’t enough to say that this tone hurts or those words were hurtful. By our 30s, I felt I shouldn’t have to explain this over and over, so I told him I just want a Godly husband. Cop out? Maybe. But I was so weary. We’d read Love and Respect. We’d read Boundaries in Marriage. We’d read A Mingling of Souls. We’d read this blog together! I bent over backwards to make him feel like a king, but I almost always felt that everything he did had the motive of getting to the sex part or was done out of exasperation that I hadn’t already taken care of it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Wow, B, how insightful but also how sad. I love what you said about how he had a higher standard for what you should be expected to do than for what he should be expected to do. Oh, dear. I’m sorry you lived through that.

      Reply
      • B

        Thank you, Sheila. My counselor says I’m good at processing and reflection. Lol
        I apologize if I’m oversharing or if it seems I’m seeking attention. Most of the time, I’m sharing my story in hopes that it might help others see that unhealthy isn’t always violent and/or obvious. I didn’t have a clue until just the last few years.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          That’s exactly why it’s SO important that women are able to hear stories like yours, B, and we’re so grateful you’re willing to share. It makes such a difference–and it can be a lifesaving one.

          Reply
  7. Becky

    The Costco vs Walmart analogy makes so much sense! I don’t know if Aldi is in Canada, but we started shopping there primarily vs the bigger, more expensive chain in town once one opened close to us. There are still a few things we have to get from the bigger store when needed, like a better quality box of teabags for iced tea (I’ll admit I’m a tea snob), and whole wheat flour. Every time I shop at the bigger store now, I’m paralyzed by indecision for the other things I usually get because there are just too many choices for everything.
    I recently read the book Atomic Habits, and it talked a lot about mental load and ways to use habit stacking to streamline actions and reduce decision fatigue. It sounds like that ties into this as well, and might be helpful for the discussion I saw in the comments about deciding what’s necessary while dividing the load up.
    .

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I love Atomic Habits! I read it just before January 1, and instituted a lot of it with the new year. Definitely a good one! And we have shopped at Aldi’s on some of our RV trips, but they’re not in Canada as far as I know.

      Reply
    • Meghan

      I love Aldi! It’s our primary grocery store now that they have more dairy/egg/sugar free and organic options. It’s sooooooooo nice to not spend half a paycheck any more to get safe food for me with all my allergies. Still waiting for them to get more vegan dairy alternatives. Then I’ll never have to go to Whole Foods again!
      As far as decision paralysis goes, I remember way back when I was in school for marketing, we learned about that very phenomenon in behavioral marketing class. There was a study (and this was over a decade ago so please forgive me that I can’t name it or provide accurate numbers for it) that basically said that people start getting overwhelmed once the number of product variety choices grows too large. I don’t remember the exact number where that happened, but it’s smaller than you’d think, like around 6 or so. If I remember correctly, the study involved giving out samples and when there were between say 3 and 6 samples, people were easily able to choose which ones to try, but once it hit above 6 people were frozen with indecision.

      Reply
      • Madeline

        I love Aldi!! It’s our staple grocery store. We went there today actually!

        Reply
  8. Mara R

    I admit, I haven’t been keeping up with all the comments. So I don’t know if this thought has been brought up yet. (I know not on this comment stream, but perhaps somewhere else).
    Has anyone discussed the issues of one spouse carrying the mental load for another when the other as a personality or brain disorder, like ADHD or something?
    This is a huge, added stress sometimes isn’t even diagnosed until years into the relationship.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It certainly is! That adds an extra element that is so exhausting. It hasn’t been brought up too much, but hopefully others will chime in this month.

      Reply
      • Angela Laverdi

        I AM the spouse with ADD and high level anxiety and yet I was always the one carrying the mental load TOO. Imagine the added stress of THAT.

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        • B

          Angela, I’m also the one diagnosed with ADHD and carrying most of the load. I don’t know what I’d do without my village.

          Reply
  9. Rachel C

    I have both physical and mental health issues, and I have come to accept that there are some things that my mom did as a homemaker that I just can’t do. I do what I can, my husband does what he can while still being our only income earner, and my kids help as much as they are able. If everyone’s fed, everyone has clean clothes, and our house is clean enough that nobody gets sick, it’s good enough. God’s grace is sufficient.

    Reply
  10. Christine

    I’ve enjoyed this series, and I’m relieved to finally know what to call “it.” When my ex-husband and I were divorcing, he said to me, “You just don’t get it.” He was referring to my lack of libido and my lack of interest in him. Honestly, his comment stung, and I wondered if something was wrong with me. But divorcing him was a HUGE weight lifted from my life. He was a big liability in our marriage – physically, emotionally, financially. He did very little to help me and keep our household operating, and I resented all the free time he had. What I’ve wanted to say to him all these years later is, “No, YOU don’t get it.” If he would have invested even the smallest bit of energy into our family, it might have made a difference. But he’s also a narcissist, so everything was my fault. There has been so much good that has come to my life since we divorced, and I am so incredibly grateful that I’m not married to him anymore. He has no idea how he killed my libido. And honestly, I never put the two together until I read your blog.

    Reply
    • B

      Sheila’s blog has helped rescue my sanity, too!

      Reply
  11. Meghan

    My husband has anxiety and depression, but it’s managed with medication and therapy. Most of the time he’s ok, but he has flare-ups several times a year that send him to bed with extreme exhaustion or a racing heart or upset stomach. I will admit that it can sometimes feel overwhelming to me because when these flare-ups happen, EVERYTHING falls on my shoulders. It’s helpful to me to reframe what’s happening as 100% out of his control, just like if he had a broken leg. It’s not his fault he has anxiety attacks and has to go lay in bed instead of playing with our daughter.
    Part of the problem, I think, is the stigma surrounding mental illness. When a person breaks a leg, they get people asking how they can help. When a person has an anxiety attack, they get told to stop freaking out already. There isn’t the same rallying of the village when the problem is in the brain, and it can feel really isolating. Also there’s caregiver fatigue to deal with, which isn’t something that’s super well known or discussed but is definitely a thing that happens when living with someone with a chronic illness.
    Are you familiar with spoon theory? It’s a really helpful framework to describe what it’s like to live with a chronic illness and helped me understand my husband’s anxiety, plus my own physical health problems.

    Reply
    • Meghan

      Um this is supposed to be a reply to Mara R.

      Reply
    • Mara R

      I looked up Spoon Theory. No, I never heard of it. It looks like a good way of dealing with chronic illness. Thanks for sharing.
      You are correct about people and their attitudes toward mental illness, especially in the church. I am thankful that certain parts of the church are finally being open about mental illness. The denial was so thick for so long. So many un-diagnosed issues that couldn’t be solved by the wife submitting enough or the husband loving enough. not to mention all the extra mental load stress that comes with it having to hold things together even more.

      Reply
  12. Tory

    I left this comment on an earlier post and I’ll say it again here: 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!

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    • Angela Laverdi

      Umm, Tory? Most of us women ARE the ones keeping up with all that stuff you talked about on TOP of “our work”. Thats where this article is coming from.

      Reply
      • Tory

        Angela, I was speaking for myself, good for you if you change the oil and mow the lawn! Also I think it’s a stretch to say “most of us women ARE the ones keeping up with that stuff” — I have a lot of female friends and NONE of them have ever done any of the things I listed. My point was that we as wives and moms do a lot behind the scenes, and sometimes we forget that our husbands have their own “mental load” that we may not even be aware of. If something like an appliance breaks in our house, I wouldn’t even have a clue where to start, it falls to my husband. So if grocery shopping and laundry fall to me, it’s ok.

        Reply
    • E

      Except for women who have to figure those things out too! Any household paperwork is my job— we hired an accountant for taxes but my husband is still asking me for paperwork that HE has for the taxes, so taxes haven’t been done. Finding a plumber when we have a leaky faucet? That’s on me to research. He mows, but it’s been on me to find someone to do yard work when he can’t do it. Basically the mental load of running the house is all on me. We need a new sink and he keeps telling me to pick a sink because he doesn’t want to get the wrong one. I even remind him to pay himself because he is self-employed. I struggle with mental load a lot and can’t say anything about it because he has too many clients and too much work to share in the household mental load. I meal plan and make the grocery list, but he does the shopping (aldi ftw) because I almost passed out after grocery shopping when about 6 weeks postpartum with my third kid— I had taken all 3 kids with me and it was too much. When he saw that he said he would do the groceries from then on.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, E, that does sound like a lot! Can you talk through any of this with him? Even if he has a lot of clients, the mental load of the family does need to be shared to a certain extent. It is too exhausting to never be “off”, especially when you have children.

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  13. Mandy

    What about the wife with the large mental load AND the high libido? It’s discouraging to the woman that is tired and yet still wants the intimacy and the husband is working outside the home and not really sharing the mental load and is more tired. I find myself asking what is the excuse.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you, Mandy. I’m sorry. I think that’s when you just have to sit down and have these conversations. If you’re on my email list, I’ll be sending out an email I think next week with some discussion questions and excerpts from some of this month’s articles so that couples can talk through them together. I hope that helps!

      Reply
  14. Nicole

    I am loving this series right now, and am so thankful you are tackling this! So often I get upset at my husband for not “getting” it.
    Like last night, when I was going to take a bath and go to bed early. The kids were being rowdy in bed and were not settling down. I had cooked dinner, cleaned up the dishes, wiped the counters, cleaned the table, and finally got the last load of laundry in the dryer. My husband had his headphones in and was completely oblivious to the chaos. I finally managed to take a bath and get to bed at 11:00 when I wanted to be in bed at 10. 🙁
    It feels most nights are like this and I’m tired of asking him to help with the kids. They’re HIS kids too and I really shouldn’t have to ask especially when I’ve done literally just about everything else.
    He is ADD, and does have a much slower response than I do to things, and he is helpful with starting the dishwasher, cooking, laundry, lawn maintenance, and general repairs, mostly he does this on the weekends. I understand he works full time, I just also wish that he understood that I also work full time at home and run out of energy at bedtime like he does. I wish he could see that I need to rest too. He is always appreciative and never criticizes my housework, but when I vent to him about the never ending list in my head, he tells me that I’m doing too much. When in reality, I’m doing things that have to be done and no one else can do them because he works and I am home.
    The worst part is when he waits until the last minute and asks me to turn in paperwork for him on top of my never ending list. I do love being able to be home with our 2 kids, sometimes I just wish he would jump in and help without me asking. I dont expect him to read my mind, but if he wants a list then I’m happy to make one. Maybe I’m expecting too much or holding him to an unrealistic standard? My dad is always one who jumps right in and helps without needing a list or needing to be asked, so maybe I’m holding my husband to the same.
    I really don’t mind the housework so much as I mind feeling like the only involved parent most nights or weekends while he gets to relax or focus his energy elsewhere. I’m literally with the kids all the time and just want to have a chance to be “clocked out”…

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Nicole, you sound like you’re EXACTLY who this series is for! I’m sorry you’re so frustrated. It is hard when your husband is genuinely a good guy, because it can feel so selfish to want him to step up more. I get it. I really do. I’ll try to give more practical steps to talk about this later this month, and make sure you’re signed up for my emails to get the “discussion starter” about this!

      Reply
  15. Aldray

    Long story short- Married for 20 years, 1 teenage daughter, I have always been the breadwinner, I’m a teacher. I have taken all of the mental load for her upbringing, our home and our finances. DH unemployed for most of the last 8 years, he does the grocery shopping, vacuums, makes dinner ( used to ask me what I wanted, until I told him so many times that it was his job to figure that out, that he stopped) I make breakfast and lunch every day for me and my daughter. Lately she has been home online learning 2/3 of the time, I’m at school 100% of the time- and she has to get her own lunch between lessons. I know its good for her to learn, but he’s literally just watching TV in another room, and sometimes she only has half an hour between lessons to eat.
    Last straw: in our severe financial stress, since he hasn’t worked at all since October, I asked him to contact friends and family in his home country to see if they could lend us money. I said I was losing sleep over our financial situation. His reply was “Can’t you ask your family and friends?”
    The ultimate in mental off-loading! I am so over this. Thanks for listening.

    Reply
  16. Lisa

    One way I know I really need a break is when I see an ad for cold medicine and I wish I could catch a cold. I see a picture of a person wrapped up in blankets with a cup of tea and I so long to be able to do that. But, the reality is that even when I have a bad cold, I have to keep going.
    My husband and I have worked really hard on this for over 20 years. Only recently has he come to understand. I just recently switched my work schedule. I now work 3 evenings a week and he is solely responsible for dinner, checking homework, cleaning up, and bedtime. Including all the planning and making sure food gets taken out of the freezer, etc. Let me tell you what a break it is to work from 1-10 pm three days a week. Going to work and coming home to a quiet, dark house is the greatest thing EVER. I love it. I miss those 3 evenings with my family but I truly needed this break. When I am home, however, that long-standing default of letting everything go, knowing that I will pick up the slack, is hard to overcome. I only plan to stay on this schedule for a few months and then, hopefully, I can still have my 3 evenings “off” while still being home with my family.
    Bottom line, I want to be the dad for 3 nights a week. Hang out with my family and have planning, meals, kitchen clean-up, and bedtime issues just “magically” resolve themselves. I’ll take my 4 nights a week with a smile. I’m not even asking for 50/50.

    Reply
  17. Priya

    The mental load is real!!! As a mom of 3 and constantly staying on top of literally everything (schedules, housework, cleaning, shopping, bills, and more) I am worn out. I can’t sleep ever because I cannot shut my mind off of all the things that I need to do or get done in the future. I was just reading some interesting stats about it here, https://www.ez.insure/landing/2021/07/what-is-mental-load/ . Some interesting info, what are your thoughts on it? I think the postnatal depletion comment is so true!

    Reply

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