The Part Of A Mom's Mental Load That We Don't Talk About Enough

It's yet another thing women are often tasked with in their families — and it's exhausting.

The mental load” has been a hot topic in recent years. And while awareness of the term has increased, it’s still something many families struggle to divvy up.

The mental load is defined as the invisible work of running a household and managing a family. There are the obvious physical tasks of grocery shopping, doing the dishes, packing lunches, taking out the garbage, folding laundry and dropping the kids off at school. But then there’s the never-ending, behind-the-scenes mental gymnastics required for everything to get done.

That includes things like anticipating needs (making sure the jerseys are clean in time for the kids’ soccer game), planning (keeping track of the family calendar), decision making (choosing a car seat) and delegating (hashing out who’s going to take the kid to the weekend play date). In most heterosexual relationships, this burden tends to fall on the mother’s shoulders.

But there’s one aspect aspect of the mental load that doesn’t get talked about enough, according to Renee Reina, a content creator and mother. That’s “the countless hours” moms spend researching parenting stuff to learn the best strategies for helping their kids, she said — things like how to manage tantrums, picky eating, potty training, nap schedules and more.

On a recent episode of her podcast, “The Mom Room,” Reina said: “For the most part, it’s moms who are following parenting accounts, who are listening to parenting podcasts. So we’re gathering all of these tools to be able to manage certain situations with our children — whether it be a meltdown or tantrum [or] bedtime struggles.”

Moms are taking time to learn these tools, while their partners might not be doing the same. That means moms are not only tasked with gathering the information, but they’re also in charge of relaying it to their partners.

“The issue arises when your partner does not do the same or doesn’t take an interest in these parenting-related topics, and now you’re having to basically teach them what you have learned so you can both be on the same page,” Reina told HuffPost. “Usually this explaining happens in the moment — i.e., a tantrum‚ when tensions are high and it can often lead to an argument between parents.”

A video clip from the podcast that she shared on Instagram has been viewed more than 860,000 times. The hundreds of moms in the comments saying this problem “drives me crazy” and that “I feel so much resentment” show it is a frustration many women are feeling.

“The most common piece of feedback I receive from listeners is, ‘I didn’t understand why I was feeling so irritated with my partner or resentful until you explained this,’” Reina said. “I think many moms are burnt out for multiple reasons, but they don’t have time to sit and think about why they feel this way.”

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Gayane Aramyan, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, said the mental load is a topic that comes up all the time with her mom clients. Among the many other invisible tasks (planning meals for the kids, keeping inventory of diapers and other household items, and scheduling doctor’s appointments), they’re also spending time educating themselves on the best parenting practices.

“The default parent, which generally tends to be the mom, thinks about all the things that have to do with the child and child care,” Aramyan told HuffPost. “The mental load consists of learning about all of the up-to-date information about raising the child, researching what the ‘right’ thing is to do when it comes to feeding, sleep schedules, behavior and discipline.”

This task can be daunting, given the sheer amount of information and opinions out there on parenting topics.

“In today’s world, information and research is available within seconds of searching something on the internet or social media. With this fact alone, moms are overwhelmed with how much information they are receiving, not just from their friends and family [or] doctors, but also the online world,” Aramyan said. “Many moms feel overwhelmed with the different types of methods, especially when it comes to sleeping, feeding and discipline.”

“You’re having to basically teach ... [your partner] what you have learned so you can both be on the same page.”

- Renee Reina, the host of "The Mom Room" podcast

Over time, a heavy mental load can lead to anxious and depressive thoughts, Aramyan said, and create resentment toward your partner.

“For couples, it’s important for the mom to share about the mental load she carries with her partner,” she said. “Most of the time, the partner has no clue that the mom is carrying all of this weight. Once the mental load is shared, the couple can decide what each person can take over in order for the other partner to feel more relieved and feel like a team.”

On Reina’s podcast, guest Ashurina Ream — a clinical psychologist and creator behind the @psychedmommy account on Instagram — said it’s important for couples to talk in detail about their respective household duties (both visible and invisible) so they can figure out how to redistribute the load.

“You want to write them all down and then say: ‘OK, whose name are we going to write next to this task? Who’s going to take ownership of this task?’ Because what we find is when two people sit down, they talk about this and they agree, things feel more fair,” Ream said on the show.

“It’s not always going to be even,” she continued. “I think that’s the misconception that we have: that it’s always going to be 50-50. You’re going to go through seasons of your life where you’re going to carry more of the load. And then there’s going to be another season where maybe your partner is carrying more of the load.”

After the initial sit-down, regularly check in with each other to ensure both partners are holding up their end of the bargain and make adjustments as needed. In the book “Fair Play,” author Eve Rodsky recommends that each partner fully own their tasks from conception to execution.

“Owning includes not just doing, but also the cognitive and emotional labor that each task requires—the forethought, the planning, the remembering when, where and how to get the job done—and without excessive oversight or input from the other partner,” Rodsky told the site Motherwell in 2020.

In her own marriage, Reina said she is usually the one to reach out for advice or research how to manage parenting situations. Her husband takes on other parts of the mental load, like scheduling appointments or handling school correspondence.

“It is perfectly OK for one parent to be the ‘researcher,’ but the other parent needs to step up in other areas,” she said. “When I do bring things up to my husband, I never react in the moment when I am already irritated or stressed because I know my delivery won’t be the best. We always have discussions about these things when we’re alone and calm.”


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