Managing Mental Load: Tips to Stop Overexerting Yourself
Monday evening, 6pm.
Another long working day is coming to an end.
Let it go!
What could you be doing... Reading under a plaid? Watching your favourite series? Enjoying a beer on the terrace with some friends?
Well but no, you can't, it's true that you had planned to do grocery shopping since the fridge is empty. And then the laundry basket is full... Damn, the sink is full of dirty cups and bowls, you'll also have to do the dishes. Oh and the ironing, it's true that your blouse is a total mess!
Wait, but in fact tomorrow is Tuesday... Then you'll also have to take your daughter to her music school and as the older one has a literature homework assignment due on Wednesday, he'll certainly need your help to revise his lessons. The car to pick up from the garage is on Wednesday or Thursday? And Friday's dinner with your in-laws: what are you going to prepare for them?
Goodbye little beer on the terrace, we'll see each other next week?
Oh no, by then the fridge will be empty again.
Mental load alert.
Yes, all that stream of thoughts that goes round and round in your mind has a name: it's called mental load. A phenomenon that refers to what happens to a person who finds himself juggling a job and a second responsibility: managing household planning, preparing meals, maintaining family life...
A situation that you may be familiar with in your daily life and which is nowadays denounced by feminist associations. Because, yes, it is a phenomenon that affects mostly women: 8 out of 10 handle all family and household responsibilities.
Of course, if you are paid less, suffer violence and sexism on a daily basis, you might as well add this additional burden. We're not one burden away, are we?
1. Mental load, an invisible burden
Tiredness, stress, irritability when it's not a burn-out (a study shows that 52% women who are in charge of household face a burn out), it's a phenomenon to be taken very seriously.
It has to be said that it is a real "double day" according to those who talk about it: coming home from work and having to look after the whole household means never having any personal time and being under extra pressure when you return home after having already had to take on professional responsibilities.
In fact, 62% of the women would like things to change in order to free up some time for themselves; whereas 69% of the men, on the other hand, do not want this involvement in the home to change.
But why such a shift?
Because women are mostly involved in common daily tasks (housework, shopping, cooking, tidying up, timetable logistics), whereas men are more involved in occasional individual tasks (gardening, DIY, car maintenance, etc.). These are sometimes even leisure activities: and so, naturally, these men do not realise the weight of their partner's responsibilities, who are veritable fairies of the home. They think of everything, see everything, organise everything.
And this goes far beyond simple family and domestic coordination, as more and more doctors testify. Too many fathers are still unaware of their children's treatment or health, and tend to rely on the mother as a reference figure in the family. 95% of women think they are more responsible for their children. But then again, 1 man in 2 already feels that he is taking sufficient care of his children....
It's almost ironic, isn't it? Men are generally recognised as having authority in the family (it is not for nothing that women are so much victims of violence in their own homes) while the operational responsibility falls to the women who must therefore take charge of all the logistics of the home in total denial of their partner.
It is not for nothing that we speak of a "mental" burden. It is a weight that is invisible to the eyes of others, yet it weighs on the shoulders of the women who sometimes already bend over backwards during the course of their day to do their work.
A weight which, when it materialises, appears particularly heavy. In a Western nation such as the United Kingdom, a woman finds herself working on average two and a half years longer than her husband if you count all her daily tasks (cooking, cleaning, childcare) in addition to her job.
Two graceful unpaid years, of course. So what about going on a solo holiday to rest? You could help a woman to get out of her hard routine by welcoming her during her journey.
However, according to Maxime, who agreed to testify about the mental burden he suffers on a daily basis, this is a real full-time job that deserves much more consideration. His male point of view brings to light many truths about women's conditions.
2. Maxime's testimony
I will leave the floor to this father who knows this topic, since he has been juggling the hat of an active man and a stay-at-home dad for years now.
"When our daughter was born, I was already teleworking when my wife was just starting her career. So it was quite natural for the roles to be distributed: I was the one at home, managing the daily domestic chores while looking after the baby, whereas my wife was the one prioritising her new career. Over time, our positions became stronger and I ended up taking on this role without questioning it any more.
I feel these responsibilities every day in small doses. In fact it's very easy to miss out on them, thinking that basically it's like that and it's always been like that... like a kind of fatality.
Now that we are finally putting words to this feeling, I really realise the depth and extent of this phenomenon. In fact, on a daily basis, I feel very annoyed, because I feel like I have a second job but that I didn't choose. Except that you can't quit that job, it sticks to you.
What's more, it involves a lot of details which in themselves may seem insignificant, but which end up weighing heavy on a daily basis. For example, at the moment, the problem is that my wife leaves the steak knives upwards to air-dry... which is dangerous for us and for our two children. I've told her a dozen times to be careful, to put them to air-dry the other way, but in vain, she keeps putting them upwards. The annoyance I was talking about is precisely that: we wonder why it goes on, why the other doesn't give us a little more attention... It's a real misunderstanding.
I also feel this burden in the longer term and it leads me to reconsider the place I occupy in my relationship, the value my wife gives me.
Let me explain: one day she asked me if we could have a cat. I said no. So we had three cats...
In the end, one of them was adopted by friends and another one disappeared, so we only have one cat left. But every day I have to take care of it and it becomes a kind of symbol, because it reminds me of something that I didn't want but that was imposed on me. And now I have to take care of it against my will.
Every day our cat makes marks on the windows to signal that she wants to come inside the house: and so everyday there is a cloud of marks on the glass that I have to clean... And every day this cloud reminds me that I didn't want a cat but that I had no choice. Like a little hourglass that runs out, it plays on my patience and annoys me.
The worst thing is when faced with your annoyance, you are answered by "why are you annoyed?". And that was a problem with my wife who didn't understand my situation and my complaints. Finally, I took the time to explain my daily problems to her, I made her read articles on the subject and that helped her to become aware of what I was going through. Now, when I am annoyed and I express it, she understands me: and that is good, because I finally feel heard and considered.
Really, the mental burden is heavy in the long term... People should all be aware of what it implies, what it feels like, so that we finally try to balance roles as well as possible. That's what made me become a feminist, even as a man: I understand all those women who are exhausted from taking care of everything without any consideration in return. And still, I'm lucky enough to be a man and not be subjected to other forms of discrimination."
3. 4 solutions to stop it
I agree with you: when you see such injustice, the first thing to do is to look for a solution.
... Except that it's not that simple!
Because the mental burden is one of the direct consequences of our loooong patriarchal lineage.
Well yes: women in the kitchen and men at work. It's up to them to bring home the bacon, and if Madam also wants to find a job, that's her problem: it's up to her to succeed in combining work and family life.
The fact is that it is still very complicated to make some people understand that domestic tasks must be distributed fairly (as proof, you saw the figures I quoted earlier, not all men are ready to change their behaviour).
So in concrete terms, how can we change a system that has been well established for centuries?
I suggest a few lines of thought so that we don't have to bend over backwards.
At a governmental level:
Offer fathers paternal leave equivalent to maternal leave, or at least ensure that fathers are present for the duration of maternal leave.
It is often said that mothers have a greater need for parental leave to take time off from childbirth or to properly re-educate their perineum.
Yes, but do they really have time to take care of themselves if they also have to think about housework while looking after their baby? Instead of pulling out the grandmother's magic card, it would be interesting to count on the father who would be present from the very first steps of parental life.
Because frankly, a solo maternal leave is not much of a leave... It's more of a parental job.
Speak out on this subject at school in order to teach everyone the natural division of labour within a family.
This is the case in Japan, for example, where pupils are taught to clean up their classroom environment, girls and boys alike. This is an excellent way of making everyone responsible for their role, regardless of their gender, and of integrating this practice into everyday life.
We often talk about the "school of life" in the figurative sense, but I think there is also a literal sense to be exploited. The school teaches us mathematics and literature, but also community life and in fact helps to build the citizens of tomorrow. School education should therefore also address issues of equality by tackling themes such as sexism and the mental load that is a reflection of it.
At the level of our relationship:
Discuss it openly with your spouse or partner without being afraid to do it in the most transparent way.
Explain that, yes, taking care of a house is morally exhausting; that a child is made by two people, so it's up to both parents to take care of him; and that, finally, it's not so complicated to take a sponge and do a little washing up from time to time...
Explain, but also make yourself heard: it is not a question of mentioning it, but of insisting on the subject to make it clear that you have had enough. After all, last time I checked, your spouse is also a responsible adult: there's no need for him to be mothered any longer.
Take some time for yourself, to put this weight aside for a well-deserved break.
By being a female model employee, mother and wife, you can quickly forget that you're a woman first and foremost and that you deserve some time for yourself. From a simple relaxing afternoon where you don't have to worry about anything anymore, immersed in a good bath, to a real solo trip, each one of us has her own way of disconnecting...
If you can't leave without your baby, whatever the reasons, don't worry: travelling with a baby is possible, as Gill testifies.
In fact, everyone, at their own level, should decide to let go of the burden that weighs on their shoulders. Because as long as we bear it, as long as we accept it, it is invisible; and it is the day we decide to put down the bag on the ground that the others can finally see what we were carrying on our back.
And then, refusing to carry this load means stopping the machine. Because we are not going to lie to ourselves: if we had to wait for real government decisions to be taken in our direction, without suggesting it to those around us, we would still not have the right to vote...
Since no one wants to see our situation, let's impose it on others.
After all, to my knowledge, there is not, as far as I know, a specific gene inherent in the female gender of cleaning or cooking. And yes, I'm sorry to disappoint you, dear sexist sayings, but women's place is not exclusively in the kitchen, just as men's role is not only to bring money to their families. Hence the limits of "girls only" trends.
This evidence deserves to be highlighted in order to better combat these small everyday injustices which end up being a dangerous burden for women... And of which Maxime very rightly spoke to us about, proving the importance of this still recent subject.
It is a theme which brings together many factors (patriarchy, ordinary sexism, conjugal life), applies to many notions (family, home, work) and implies countless consequences (including risks of burn out).
In fact, I could talk about it for a long time to come, but unfortunately, I have to leave you...
... My companion and I have to do grocery shopping together.
30 Octobre 2020
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