parent opinion

"I tried to give up the 'mental load' for a week and I failed."

“Right,” says my partner, as I try to explain to him what I am about to do. “I think you’ll find you’re less stressed.”

That is the point, I think, sighing inwardly.

You see, I’m letting go of the mental load. Throwing off the shackles of the household. Refusing to be the one who notices stuff. The one who plans. The one who knows when the toilet paper will run out. Or when the cat needs his injections.

For a week.

The sexiest thing a man can do is share the mental load. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

Look, I know it’s not much but I want to see if I can do it. My partner, who is a good guy in this scenario, by the way, is bravely just grasping the concept of mental load, and has admirably taken on more shopping chores and cleaning duties since he realised it was a “thing”. But it’s not just those jobs that women take on and he – like most men – can’t really wrap his head around how much we carry with us emotionally and mentally every day of the week.

And while he – like most men – will do more IF YOU ASK HIM TO, the whole point of this damn thing is that if we have to ASK them to do it, we’re still essentially the ones in charge of making it happen.

There is a great comic by a French comic artist named Emma that neatly illustrates this concept. In a nutshell, she asserts, the problem is this: when a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he is viewing her as the manager of their household chores, so even though he’s helping she still has to carry the burden herself.

Let’s think about canned tomatoes.

If I don’t ask my husband to get canned tomatoes he won’t notice on his own that we need them. It’s as simple as that. I am a tomato manager. That is my role.

While he will clean the house of his own volition – and bloody well I may add – and does the washing without prompting, he doesn’t take on the rest because he simply waits to be asked or told what to do because I KNOW WHAT WE NEED DONE. And the reason I do? Because I take on the mental load.

Gah.

mental load emotional labour
Would you forget to give this cat his injections? No, look at him! Image: Supplied.
ADVERTISEMENT

He is from the – enviable – “just leave it” side of the fence, and while I agree that just flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to weeknight dinner, or weekend outings is a good idea, that doesn’t help when it comes to family commitments, where you have to go for Christmas, why it is you can’t get to the gym more than once a fortnight because it would mean you don’t eat til 9pm if you go after work. A well-meaning “Don’t stress about cooking, we can have something from the freezer” is a fine way of looking at the dinner problem. As long as there is food IN THE FREEZER to pick from, amiright?

So let’s see how we go, shall we?

I start off on the wrong foot. I notice we are running out of toothpaste so rush to Woolies on my way to work to get some more.

I realise I’ve done it and am tempted not to take the toothpaste home anyway, in a small act of rebellion. But then I fear my dentist so much I realise I can’t.

I get home with the toothpaste and open the mail, then place the gas bill somewhere it won’t get lost, berating myself for not having let them know we want paperless, and immediately thinking about what will happen when our new bank accounts kick in and I have to change all the direct debits.

Then I stop myself. This is the load in action. It has to stop.

As the week goes on I fail and succeed in equal measure. I plan nothing, which is good, go straight home without a mental canned tomato count (unheard of) and even go to the gym. My mother happens to visit my brother in Melbourne so I don’t have to juggle a drive over to her place with what I have on for the weekend, but if I had needed to pop over, I’m sort of confident I’d just have gone without rushing around changing cat litter / watering the indoor plants first. Neither of which - I realise - are crucial, but which I do every week.

The washing lies in the laundry basket unwashed all week, and my partner does it on Friday without me asking – which is good, as I’m deliberately NOT asking. Not that he notices.

ADVERTISEMENT

There is a little tension in the back of my head I am calling a mental load hangover… it’s itching to take over, but I’m keeping it at bay – just. Of course we have no conversations about Christmas/cat injections or other “pressing” issues. I can’t bring them up, of course. It’s hard to monitor how many I would have had sans experiment. Let’s assume three.

On the plus side, we don’t look to be running out of toilet paper so that (t)issue doesn’t come up.

mental load emotional labour
This made me anxious. Image: Supplied.

Dinner is taken care of with a takeaway one night, some of that food from the freezer on others, and on Friday night my husband offers to buy some fish, which we eat with a weird combo of vegetables that have been losing the will to live in the bottom of the fridge. BECAUSE I HAVE NOT THOUGHT TO BUY MORE.

It’s a small triumph, but I’ll take it.

And then… disaster strikes. I’m avoiding thinking about what the house may need doing to it on Saturday morning – yes, I’m cleaning the bathroom, I’m not a MONSTER, but I’m studiously ignoring the nagging thought I should clean more than the toilet and sink, avoiding the cat litter tray, not looking at the brown leaves on the spider plant -- when I spot that gas bill. And pay it. And then start to worry again about the fact I will need to change the direct debits. AND SEND MYSELF A NOTE ABOUT IT SO I DON’T FORGET.

I am a failure at this. I didn’t choose the mental load life. The mental load life chose me. And I truly can’t see how to change it.

Claire Isaac is a journalist and podcaster who loves a good red wine and not cleaning the bathroom. She’s currently avoiding the washing up and is the co-host of Playing Devil’s Avocado. You can find her on Instagram @claireisaac or Twitter: @claireycluck.

Have you ever tried to 'give up' the mental load? How did you go? Tell us in a comment below.

00:00 / ???