De-facto project leader at home: Ways to tell you’re carrying the ‘mental load’ 24/7

Do you find yourself having two distinct never-ending to-do lists – one for work and the home? While typing up your weekly report in the office cubicle, are you also thinking about how the household chores will be delegated and accomplished? Does your family depend on you to be on top of childcare, planning the vacation in Salt Lake City, or sending a get well soon card to a sick relative? If you answered yes to all questions and are thinking of more tasks to add to the list, then you might be carrying most of the ‘mental load’ at home.

What is mental load?

‘Mental load’ or sometimes called emotional labor, is the burden of remembering, organizing, and executing household and family responsibilities. It is the responsibility – mostly unrecognized – of taking up extra work to keep everything on track and everyone happy and healthy.

In most cases, working mothers take the brunt of the mental load compared to their partners, according to the 2017 report commissioned by nonprofit care organization Bright Horizons. Women are doing seven hours more housework per week, adding an extra seven hours for childcare. If you are slowly burning out and overwhelmed, then you might be under more ‘mental load’ than you thought. Here are five ways to tell:

  1. Nothing gets done without your prompting.

Dishes are left unwashed. Clothes are strewn everywhere. Trash is piling up in the waste bins. If an unkempt home is the result of a break from planning household chores, then you are the project manager of the family while the others are passively waiting for direction. Cries of “You should have asked, and I would have helped” is already a common occurrence whenever you complain about the amount of work that needs to be done.

  1. You act as the calendar alert of the family.

Anniversaries, special occasions, doctor appointments, or even what to eat for dinner. You are aware of all the relevant dates and details that keep your family a well-oiled machine. You have a leather-bound planner filled with different colored post-its and highlights while other members rely on you to be their calendar alert. Sometimes social arrangements are automatically scheduled without any input from the others.

  1. You leave detailed notes when you’re away.

Finally, you get to have a cheese and wine night with just your close friends and no partner in tow. It’s time to leave detailed instructions on what to do so the house won’t burn down in your absence. You can’t help but try to give reminders and delegate tasks instead of leaving your family members to stand on their own two feet. You also check in from time to time with your phone during happy hour because you start to think of worst-case scenarios when there’s radio silence.

  1. You can’t help stepping in.

You may have taken the title of “project manager mom” too seriously, feeling a sense of duty and responsibility to be the caretaker of the family—the satisfaction of being needed and helping others drive you to take the initiative. You’d rather sigh heavily, pat your family member on the head for trying, and carry out the task yourself instead of allowing them to learn what to do without you.

  1. You barely have time to rest.

View of houses

Running on fumes is your constant state of existence, as most of your days are spent doing errands. Your calendar, while full of activities, doesn’t include Me time – be it a yoga session, uninterrupted binge-watching, or a peaceful walk around the park. Resting and doing nothing, sometimes fill you with guilt since you could be doing something more productive for your family.

Coping with ‘mental load’ indefinitely is not sustainable. Exhaustion and stress will eventually creep up and cause health and social problems. Try to talk to your family members about acknowledging and sharing the amount of work that goes into household management. Your future self will thank you for it.

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