19 JULY 2022 | FUTURE OF WORK | PARENTING | BY JUDE FOULSTON
The hidden mental load: The impact that ‘thinking of everything’ has on the moms.
Molly is a mom of 2 kids, 9 and 12. She’s been happily married to James for 14 years now, in a marriage that’s been filled with the usual bumps and adventures along the way. Molly is a senior executive for a consulting firm, and loves her work and the impact she has on her customers.
Molly loves to have coffee with her friends on the weekends, she loves a walk on the beach with her family, and when she has spare time she relishes being able to escape into a crime novel, with no distractions, no meals to cook and no to-do list.
The only problem...
Molly hasn’t read a crime novel in what feels like years, and the last time she felt the sand between her toes was months ago… She’s battled at work this month juggling the needs of her kids who are on school holidays with the demands of her clients and responding to colleagues.
Molly feels overwhelmed. And yet she doesn’t know how to get herself out of this hole she finds herself in.
I mean… she loves her job, she gets on well with her colleagues, and she loves seeing the impact of the work she does. She loves her family, loves being a Mom, and although it currently doesn’t happen as often as she would like it to, she still manages to have some good catch-ups with her friends.
Molly’s just not sure why she feels like this.
And then, one evening as she escapes to a hot bath for some ‘self care’, she comes across an article as she's scrolling through LinkedIn about 'The Hidden Load.’
And it gets her thinking about what this means.
- The impact it has on her job and her organisation..
- How many other women that she works with, and is friends with, feel the same way?
- How the men in her world would respond to hearing this,
- And what needs to be done to solve this problem?
The hidden load
The hidden load is everything that moms have to think about. It’s making sure that the loo paper, toothpaste or soap isn’t running low, it’s thinking about what’s for supper tonight, and if she has all the ingredients, and if not, when she’ll be able to pop to the shops or do the online order to make sure supper can be made, as well as have the appropriate food for the kids to pack into their lunchboxes.
It’s knowing that little Jackson has a soccer match on Friday, and that the form needs to be signed for him to play, a lift needs to be organised for him to get from school to where the match is being played, and then if it's going to be Mom or Dad who attends the actual match…
He also told you last night that his soccer boots are too small for him, so that needs to be added to the list of things to get this weekend, and also, heavens above, please can someone add powder to the shopping list because those soccer boots smell like something has died in them.
This hidden load also includes wondering whether you need to get the kid onto some different vitamins or whether he should be drinking more water, because no shoe should smell that bad!
On their own, these may all seem like small tasks – but they all add up, physically, mentally and emotionally. And when you ask any heterosexual couple with kids which partner is most likely to handle these tasks - chances are that it’s the moms.
And instead, it needs to be balanced.
How can we lessen mental loads in 2022 and beyond?
Partners (Moms and Dads)
- Share this article with your partners and colleagues.
- Talk about this hidden mental load. We need to communicate what happens in our heads in order for the load to be shared. We need to make the invisible more visible to start seeing change in this space.
- Schedule weekly conversations with your partner to talk this through, and to balance the tasks out - not just the actual tasks, but the planning and thinking that goes into them too.
- Moms - Relinquish control. Acknowledge that things might be done differently, and be ok with that.
- Dads - understand that “You should have just asked” does not help. By saying this you’re still suggesting that the moms are the project managers… THIS is a prime example of what contributes to the hidden mental load.
- Understand that doing the grocery shopping is a help… but it’s the ‘meal plan to decide what needs to go onto the shopping list, as well as checking the pantry and fridge for what’s needed, plus making sure you do all this while sticking to your budget', that forms the hidden mental load. Oh, and don’t forget that the friends coming around for dinner on Friday night are vegan, so make sure you take that into consideration when making the meal plan.)
- Understand and acknowledge the toll that this hidden mental load has on working moms. Moms are exhausted, and these last few years certainly didn’t do us any favours.
- Acknowledge that supporting employees' mental loads will improve productivity.
Perhaps this is making sure both parents have equal flexibility for remote work. More often, the mental load falls on working moms as they seem to be able to arrange more flexible working arrangements and so the child care responsibility then falls on them. Does that sound familiar?
- Chat about this as an organisation. Find out from your employees if this is a thing for them. Highlighting this both for the women and the men. We can’t move forward from this without first having awareness.
- Acknowledge that this ‘mental load’ isn’t only reserved for moms… But that it does also often fall on women, regardless of what's happening at home. So, next time you assume your female colleague will book the meeting room, or organize the card for someone's birthday, or my personal favourite… take the minutes from the meeting, please, think again.
So what does the future of work look like for women?
The future of work is balanced. Balanced pay, balanced responsibility, balanced numbers in senior management and also... a balance and sharing of the invisible mental load.
Here’s to us all working together to make this balance a reality.
I acknowledge that I’ve assuming a traditional two-parent heterosexual family in highlighting this problem. And extra respect to all single-parent households, where the one parent has no choice but to shoulder all the responsibilities!