Breaking down the mental load – what is it and how can we solve it?
‘The mental load’ isn’t a common phrase, yet it’s a persistent pain point in most households – every single day
The daily tasks involved in managing a family are daunting. Appointments, errands, cleaning, cooking, schoolwork, carpools, special events, kids’ activities – the list is never-ending. But one thing that often gets overlooked when discussing household responsibilities is the added layer of mental labor often described as the ‘mental load’. More simply, the mental load does not necessarily refer to the task itself but rather the anticipation, planning and ongoing project management that is involved in making the task a reality in the first place.
In a work setting, we have designated roles whose primary focus is taking on this cognitive labor – they’re called project managers. We have entire teams who oversee the work rather than execute each task. Project managers anticipate problems, delegate tasks, gain participation from other team members, manage timelines and more – all to empower others to complete their respective tasks more efficiently.
And yet – when it comes to the home, one partner is often both a project manager and an executor, while other family members only execute tasks as assigned to them. This partner, who is typically mom, not only takes on the majority of the actual tasks themselves but also takes on the invisible work that is planning these tasks. This doesn’t change even when she is the higher earner at work, either.
While we’re seeing some improvement in distributing the workload when it comes to completing the household tasks themselves, we are still seeing women carry the majority of the weight when it comes to the cognitive labor involved in running a home. We tend to just call mom a “superhero” who “does it all” instead of actually finding solutions for the mental load. We think of this as a compliment, but really it’s perpetuating the mindset that mom should have to do it all.
So, what is the mental load, exactly? The mental load is:
Gathering information from disaggregated sources
You know your school flyers, sports teams’ schedules, doctors appointment notices, texts from friends about playdates, event reminders… and more? Lots of different sources of information all bombarding you, with no real place to aggregate everything.
Anticipating needs and foreseeing conflict
The constant planning for what’s up ahead, forecasting next steps, seeing around corners and solving problems before they even arise.
Delegating, tracking and monitoring household tasks
All the to do lists, star charts, chore charts and more.
Gaining participation from others
Having to nag, remind, or constantly assign things to family members.
How do we solve the mental load?
Economist and Professor Diane Elson of Essex University identified three ways we can help improve the mental load. She broke it down with three R’s:
Reduce household labor through technology
Redistribute labor across the family unit
Recognize the work as real work – rather than ignoring it
How is Hearth solving the mental load?
At its core, Hearth is focused on alleviating the mental load for parents. To do this, we're:
Reducing work through technology automations
Redistributing tasks by creating systems and tools that empower others to take on more responsibility
Recognizing the work by creating visibility and transparency, and aggregating all the information in one place
Hearth’s primary goal is to make your life easier by reducing the mental load of family management. Instead of scattered sources of information, Hearth will collect and organize information for you. Instead of constantly reminding others of their tasks, Hearth will nudge them for you. Instead of feeling like “everything is in your head,” Hearth provides a place to store all the information so that everyone can see the work – not just you.
Hearth is more than just a digital calendar or to-do list. It is an all-in-one solution that simplifies your life, so that you can get back to focusing on what matters – your family!
If you haven’t pre-ordered yet, make sure to get on our waitlist to be first to know about our next batch.
The Cognitive Dimension Of Household Labor, Allison Daminger
What is the Mental Load?, Mind Body Green
Invisible Labor and the Ramifications for Adjustment, Lucia Ciciola
Why Women Do the Household Worrying, Jessica Grose