Kate Pollard, Co-founder of Circle In knows the ‘mental load’ first hand. “If you ever want to know what a mother’s brain is like … imagine your laptop with 4,327 tabs open. All. The. Time.”
I recently read an article called ‘You should have asked’ translated from the famous French comic artist Emma’s ‘Fallait demander’. It brilliantly put words to a problem I knew I had but had never been able to articulate. It also explained why as a mother I always felt like I had a million and one things to do but never felt really on top of anything. Like that forever-exploding pile of unfolded washing. Or the dress-up costume I forgot to organise for my son’s book week event. I constantly felt a bit overwhelmed by all the things I was supposed to be doing to keep everything rolling smoothly at home. I felt like I was struggling to keep my head above water most of the time.
Emma nails the reason why being a mother is so exhausting by perfectly describing the gender wars of household chores that many families experience. Her illustrations cleverly demonstrate the burden of the “mental load” many women take on in a household.
The phrase “You should’ve asked” refers to when a man expects his partner to ask him to do things—he is viewing her as the manager of their household chores. Says Emma, “So it’s up to her to know what needs to be done and when. The problem with that is that planning and organising things is already a full-time job, so when we ask women to take on this task of organisation—and at the same time execute a large portion—in the end it represents 75 per cent of work.”
Emma refers to it as the “mental load” and “always having to remember.”
To Emma, the impact of the burden falls in one place only.
“The mental load is almost completely borne by women. It’s permanent and exhausting work. And it’s invisible,” she says. “And while women are more and more present in the workforce, they still remain the only ones in charge of the household.”
Although this is a French article, the statistics from the 2016 Census show the same scenario playing out in Australia. The typical Australian woman spend between five and 14 hours a week doing unpaid domestic housework, while for men it’s typically less than five hours a week.
It’s not that our partners don’t help. They feed the kids, change nappies and participate in household chores. But it’s just not the same as the burden most women carry every day, which is that exhausting mental load, the overwhelming responsibility of being in charge of everything in the household.
I did feel better after reading ‘You should’ve asked’ because it put into words something that I have experienced yet could not articulate. Part of me is also sad that women are still unconsciously assuming this role and that we still have a long way to go. I’m also none the wiser about what we do about it. I guess the first step is being aware of it. And then looking after ourselves and trying to share the load as much as possible.
Written by Kate Pollard, Co-founder of Circle In.