BREADWINNING MOTHERS CARRY THE MENTAL LOAD AT HOME
Angela Anagnost Repke
Mothers everywhere are increasingly the breadwinners. This title looks great on paper, but with it our “mental load” gets only heavier. When my son was first born I, too, fit that role. I would wake up, feed my baby, take him to his grandparent’s, teach all day, pick up my son, and then do all of the evening stuff at home. My weekends were filled with grading papers, cleaning, meal-prep, and one squeezed-in activity with family or friends.
Sleeping was difficult. My head would rest on the pillow, but the to-do list piled up like a stack of books, keeping my eyelids open. I never felt caught-up. After reading some recent research, turns out, I wasn’t alone in accumulating this “mental load.”
The research was conducted by Business Wire and proved that when women are the breadwinners, we take on more responsibilities outside of work compared to their husbands. Yes, on top of bringing home more money, they truly did it all: cleaning, cooking, paying bills, and the planning all of the extracurriculars. All of this is known as the “mental load.”
According to the annual report in Bright Horizons Family Solutions (BHFS), the mothers are the ones who perform and plan almost all of the family matters. This load is often far too heavy for one’s mind. The report shared that women were more than twice as likely to volunteer in their children’s schools, make the schedules, and assure that all of the family’s responsibilities are met.
It’s no wonder that the term “self-care” had to be invented and made a part of the lives of mothers. With carrying the brunt of the mental load, we need to remind ourselves to go for a run, plan a dinner with our friends, or read a damn book. Although women are now working right next to men in the work arena, the jobs in the home are still unequal. If a mother can work full-time, and even bring home more money, then her partner can certainly carry more of the mental load at home.
But, they’re not. According to the BHFS report, “86 percent of working moms say they handle all family and household responsibilities, 72 percent feel it’s their job to stay on top of kids’ schedules, and 63 percent have missed work to take care of their sick children.” And although this seems greatly unfair to women – and it is – men are feeling this injustice as well.
Fathers today want to be more involved in parenting and in the home. But according to the same report, they are feeling judged by their colleagues at work for doing so. For example, “46 percent of dads feel burnout due to not having enough time with family at home. Further, they are nine percent more likely than working mothers to wish their employer offered more family flexibility and 32 percent more likely than mothers to give up a 10 percent raise for more family time.”
Women are making strides in the workplace. It should be applauded that stereotypes there are slowly diminishing. Yet, the traditional roles of the 50s within the home are still blazing. Yes, it’s encouraging that mothers are turning into the breadwinners, but we should not continue to carry most of the mental load.
When I worked full-time, I should have asked more of my willing husband. He could have handled the bills, or the scheduling, or scrubbed the toilets for that matter. Instead, I carried that mental load myself – to the point of burnout. Now that I work part-time, my mental load is much lighter, and I’m finally sleeping better, too. But to be honest, there are times when I feel like I sacrificed my career.
In hindsight, I should have simply opened my mouth, and given more of the at-home responsibilities to my husband. My mental load would have felt lighter – and I would have, too.