How to Explain the 'Mental Load,' According to Reddit

Redditors suggested ways to explain the mental load to partners. But it begs the question: Should they have to?

Stressed and frustrated mother with two small children in pajams working in home office
Photo: Getty

The mental load parents, often mothers, carry is all too real—and far too heavy. If you're not familiar, the mental load is when one parent does more parenting, sometimes without realizing it.

But other times, the person carrying the load knows all about it, but their partner doesn't. One Redditor has been experiencing this lately, and she looked to Reddit for advice.

"How would you describe the 'mental load' of parenting to your spouse?" wrote u/TeacherSim in the Parenting subreddit.

Frankly, the answer is in the question. The fact that a person even has to explain themselves and the unheralded, often unnoticed work involved in raising children is burdensome.

But it appears this mom needs to talk about it with her husband.

"I need to have a talk with my spouse, but I want to be able to explain that I am carrying the mental load of parenting," she said. "Whenever I have these talks, I feel as if I start rambling and don't make sense…I want to be prepared."

The top commenter broke down what household tasks ideally should involve:

  1. Knowing what needs to get done.
  2. Deciding when you'll have time to complete the task or planning ahead to ensure you have the necessary time and items.
  3. Doing the chore.

But when one person is carrying the mental load, the process looks like this:

  1. Knowing what needs to get done.
  2. Choosing to delegate the chore.
  3. Asking the other person to do the task.
  4. Follow up to ensure it got done.

"I feel the same amount of stress because I am still responsible, at least intellectually if not physically, for thinking about the garbage. I am still forced to mentally engage in the question of whether the garbage needs to be taken out. And if that's the case for every chore in the entire house, it quickly becomes easier for me to take out the bag myself than add things to my list because that's harder for me," the Redditor said.

Another had a similar response.

"A huge difference between 'fold and put away the laundry; and 'do a load of laundry.' While the net time required to do the task is almost identical…the first is much easier because it is a one-time request. You do it, and you're done. The second is a multi-hour responsibility. You have to remember to move the load from the washer…and put it away when it's done. The task takes up about two to three hours on your mental dashboard."

And one mom gave a response that was all too relatable.

"It's exhausting to spend all day making tiny pointless choices for all the people in the house. I don't want to plan all the meals for five people seven days a week. It's not hard. I'm not pushing a boulder up a hill. But it's mentally numbing to the point where I feel my synapses disconnecting," the person said.

These are all great responses, and experts say it's important to communicate your needs and ask for help. At the same time, would it hurt for the other parent to take some initiative and be a thoughtful human being, so their partner doesn't have to add yet another thing to their to-do list: Explain why their mental to-do list is longer?

Maybe just say, "Hey, I noticed the trash is getting full. I'll take it out tonight." And then, you know, do it. A little common sense goes a long way.

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