Mental Workload: The Invisible Task of Mothers

November 28, 2019
Many couples think that their workload is divided equally among both partners. However, in many cases, it's women who are responsible for the mental workload of all of the household's planning.

Many couples think that both parties share the burden of domestic and family tasks equally in their homes. However, the task of logistics and planning continue to fall on women, for the most part. This is what we refer to when we talk about mental workload – the invisible talk of mothers.

Without a doubt, society has changed in regards to respect and equality. Today, men tend to participate more in household tasks than they did in the past. Given that women are more involved in the working world, more and more couples are dividing domestic tasks between them. This is logical and just.

That being said, if we take a closer look at things, we often come to the conclusion that things aren’t as equal as they seem. True, the division of physical tasks, like cooking, cleaning, bathing the kids, etc, may be equal. However, the responsibility of planning, organizing, and managing falls almost completely on women.

What is the mental workload?

The concept of the mental workload refers to all of the invisible work necessary in order for the different areas of family life to function correctly.

It’s the process of having to continuously and deliberately think about every pending task and how to handle each one. It involves anticipating, organizing, and remembering everything that needs doing.

Mental Workload: The Invisible Task of Mothers

It was sociologist Susan Walzer who, in her study, described this term and the gender imbalances that it often involves. However, in order to become aware of this inequality, we must first start to distinguish between physical tasks and mental tasks.

Physical tasks:

  • Cleaning your home.
  • Going to the supermarket.
  • Taking children to school/picking them up.
  • Making dinner.
  • Folding laundry.

Mental tasks:

  • Realizing that some household product is running out, such as toothpaste, and being sure to buy more before it’s gone.
  • Remembering that your child has a field trip today and will get out of school an hour early.
  • Planning meals ahead of time and remembering to take necessary items out of the freezer so they thaw in time.
  • Deciding what your children will wear to an upcoming wedding, and making sure everything is clean and pressed for the event.

The tasks that fall into this second category seem to fall almost exclusively into the hands of women. Men don’t tend to dedicate the same amount of time to this mental processing. And, if they do, it usually has to do with their own jobs and not household or family responsibilities. Women, on the other hand, think, organize, and plan their work, social, and domestic life, as well as that of their family members.

How to detect the mental workload?

Social inertia continues to assign women the responsibility of running their homes. This makes it difficult to detect the fact that we’re facing an unfair situation. We’ve come to internalize the idea that this is our job to such a degree that we hardly question it. In fact, we often even feel that our value as individuals is tied to our ability to successfully manage our homes and families. 

Mental Workload: The Invisible Task of Mothers

This simple exercise can help you and your partner gain perspective regarding the unfair burden that’s on your shoulders. This will serve as a starting point to make the changes that need to take place in your family’s dynamics.

At the same time, your state of health should also serve as an alert signal. The mental burden of managing a home is a very heavy one. As a result, it produces stress, anxiety, and even physical symptoms like frequent back pain and headaches.

So what’s the solution?

The way to relieve yourself of this heavy burden is to share it equally with your partner. But you need to do this is a real and effective way. 

It’s not fair for your partner to promise to take responsibility for certain mental tasks if he later forgets them and fails to carry them out. Nor is it acceptable for women to leave instructions for men every time they leave the home regarding children, meals, schedules, etc.

It’s crucial that both partners make a firm commitment to do their fair share in regards to both physical and mental tasks. To achieve this, one good strategy can be to divide different tasks by area – for example, one partner to take on the responsibility of planning for and preparing meals. In the meantime, the other partner can take responsibility for things related to your children’s schooling.

  • Walzer, S. (1996). Thinking about the baby: Gender and divisions of infant care. Social Problems43(2), 219-234.
  • López, S. T., Calvo, J. V. P., Menéndez, M. D. C. R., García, C. M. F., & Martín, S. M. (2010). Hacia la corresponsabilidad familiar:” Construir lo cotidiano. Un programa de educación parental”. Educatio Siglo XXI28(1), 85-108.