Tips and checklist for how to talk to your husband (or wife) to ease the stress and replace resentment of the female mental load women inevitably take on in your household.
One of the most frustrating arguments I can have with my husband revolves around this topic. Not because I feel it’s taboo, or because I believe the whole ‘women’s chores’ BS (I grew up in the South where unbelievably demeaning attitudes involving gender inequality in household work, among other things, still exist heavily.) I think it’s because I could never quite put my finger on what “it” was for a long time.
One of our biggest blowups involved going to a kids birthday party one Saturday. I am always expected to be the one who knows the day and time, has bought the gift, gift bag, and card, and then prepped everyone for the party, in addition to picking outfits, making the kids get dressed, and then doing hair for 4 females in the house. That doesn’t count me getting myself ready either. And one day I’d had enough.
My husband, after lounging on the bed watching TV during the whole ordeal of us getting ready without his help, couldn’t understand why I was fuming when he didn’t remember to grab the darn gift on his way out the door. And I lost it. (Please know that I have a short fuse, and up to this point I had exercised extreme patience with this whole situation…or maybe not patience, but holding my sh!t together, minimum.)
What is *The* mental load for women
I had to explain that this wasn’t an isolated occurrence. This kind of thing happened on a daily basis with literally any family or household thing going on. I realize I’m a SAHM, but when he honestly doesn’t even put a single thought into anything regarding the kids or family, that’s where I’d drawn my line. And I just could not, for the life of me, put my finger on what the real issue was.
He’s repeatedly said to me, ‘Tell me what to do and I’ll do it!’ So from the outside, it should look like he’s totally innocent and I’m the nastiest Momzilla that ever lived. (Or maybe Wifezilla.) But what had been festering for years finally made perfect sense when another mom with the same issue gave it a name: The Female Mental Load women take on in nearly every household.
It was the mental load.
The overbearing, heavy, unmovable mental load of moms everywhere.
The mental load women take on of having to remember everything, coordinate everything, plan everything, buy everything, assemble everything, and do everything–which smothers me with the stress of it all. It was a lack of initiative from him in any one single part of all those things. He didn’t want to have to think about anything. So he left it all to me.
I already ran the household by myself, especially since he’s gone for work so much. That means I’m already a single parent the majority of the time. So I had that plus the mental load of all of it. All to myself.
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Guilt steps in…as always
For a while I felt guilty; I mean, I am the one staying home instead of working outside the home. But one day I snapped. Ya know, the birthday party day. Yes I stay home with the kids, I’m not at a job outside the home. But I thought back to when we both worked full time. And it finally dawned on me… things were the same way back then.
And I don’t think it’s an on-purpose thing for him (or any male partner.) It’s just, for one–we think differently than men. But I think a little of it is that they don’t want to have to think about anything. (It is for my husband anyway.)
And this happens in soooo many households even though we’re supposed to have evolved from this whole ‘traditional’ attitude of the woman doing everything involved with the kids and household. That whole gender inequality in household work thing. Many friends have told me they feel it’s come from how their husbands were raised. Meaning: we have to be very direct and communicate the fact that they’re not guests in the household (nor are they king of the 7 realms that sits on the iron throne.) They’re our partners. Plain and simple. A partner contributes to running and maintaining the household and children you BOTH have.
So in all this hefty load-bearing, we’ve come to use these 4 ways to work through the communication of the whole issue, to help the load get split more evenly and, hopefully, relieve some of the resentment from the mental load I’d taken on by myself for far too long.
Open a conversation about it
One of the first things I always have to remember in this is to NOT start our conversation while in attack mode. Using ‘I feel’ statements to communicate the burden you have makes a huuuuge difference. Maybe even make a list to give examples. And reiterate that he is one of two parents here, and half of a couple.
Let him know how much you feel this is on you. Maybe even talk about how this kind of thing puts you in a bad mood, stresses you out, and makes sexy time feel so-NOT-sexy. (It does for me anyhow!) Open up about your feelings and let him know that you shouldn’t have this entire load to yourself.
Then make a list of all the things you handle and anything he handles, then split it up. Be very clear that you will each be responsible for those things without the other’s help unless necessary.
The whole point is for you to not have to remind + direct when it’s time to do each thing.
Be calm and listen to both sides regarding the mental load (BOTH of you)
Lord help me this one was hard. I felt like this was so one-sided forever that the years of resentment and trying to figure out how to talk to my husband about the mental load when I couldn’t even define it created this huge storm in me that was a Cat 3 hurricane bout to level our marriage.
But through the stack of books I’ve read and therapy (yes go do this even when you don’t ‘think’ you’re having problems!) I’ve been able to learn the skill of stepping back and putting myself in his shoes for the sake of seeing the other side to be able to put my own resentment to rest. It’s hard. It’s really freaking hard. But it falls in line with the whole ‘forgive someone else for YOU not them’ mentality. This is for your sake.
The other side of the coin is that he has to be able to also be calm and step back himself (or herself) and see your side as well. That’s the whole point of this, and if you don’t have a receptive partner, you’re wasting your breath. So I won’t lie and say this will be easy. It may take extra steps to get into the correct listening mode for both of you.
Tips for collaboration
Make sure you’re planning ahead, first and foremost. It’s super simple to either set a timer, or create a system for something. For example, if his new responsibility is to do one load of laundry a day, ask him to set a timer on his phone, or ask that he throws it in while dinner is going.
Reminders are always going to be your friend (well, actually his since you already remember this stuff.) But using things like lists, sticky notes, and reminders on phones are always really helpful.
Make sure you’re dividing things up by either skill level, or what one or the other likes to do. My husband actually really likes to cook. So when he’s home–I don’t have to cook! 🎉🙌 I don’t mind doing floors, so I sweep and vacuum. (Also, we delegate stuff to the kids as well, and they have chores. If your kids are older, make sure they’re doing their parts, too–sometimes we forget how capable our kids actually are!)
Don’t feel like specific tasks need to go to one or the other based on gender. My husband likes mowing the yard, but I used to do it as a teen at my dad’s house, and actually loved the peace and quiet. And what mom couldn’t use that, right? 😂 So I’m absolutely not opposed to doing the yard in lieu of him taking something I do inside.
I also got a big wakeup call on this after my brother got married and had their first kid. His wife was in the Navy, and he was a ‘military mom’ for years because she was out of the country on tour. Since her being back for months at a time, he’s never handed over the roles he started out with. He still takes the kids to school and daycare, picks them up, and does all afterschool activities. They both work full-time. It’s actually been refreshing to see him in that role–especially since we both grew up in a traditional, patriarchal community. Honestly it makes my heart smile. 😍
Learn to let go
If you have a real problem with things getting done a certain way because you’ve always done it that way… you’re gonna have to just let some things go. Trusting that it’ll get done–even if it’s not exactly how you do it–is gonna be huge in letting some stress fall away from your shoulders.
If it’s a matter of it being done properly (either by your partner or your kid), that’s a different animal. Take some time to teach how it’s done correctly, whether it’s the hubby or a kid, then move on.
The biggest takeaway here is to understand that your house doesn’t have to look like a Pottery Barn catalog all the time. People actually live in it. So if the tasks that have been handed out don’t get done the minute you think they should, you’re gonna have just step back a little. Leave the load on the other person. That’s why you handed it over in the first place, right?
How’s your female mental load, women friends? Have you had this discussion in your household? How did you go about splitting it up? (Let me know in the comments!)
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