July 2, 2024

#40: The Real Reason Your “Mental Load” Feels Heavy

In this week's episode, we're diving deep into the mental load and why it can feel so overwhelming. I'll share practical strategies for starting conversations with your partner about lightening the mental load, along with tips for delegating tasks and responsibilities around the home. You'll hear personal examples from my own marriage to see how this advice works in real life. Tune in to learn how to create a more balanced and supportive partnership through loving and effective communication.

About this episode

What you'll learn

  • What the abstract term "mental load" actually means
  • The shocking truth about why you might feel overwhelmed
  • How to initiate an effective conversation with your partner
  • Real life examples from Brooke's marriage about balancing the mental load
  • Hacks Brooke and her husband have implemented to streamline shared responsibility


Make your shopping list for the Just Ingredients sale HERE

Grab a copy of The Milk Mama Cookbook HERE

Listen to episode 31 HERE

Grab my downloadable chore chart HERE


I’m going to be perfectly honest - I know this episode is going to ruffle some feathers and that’s exactly why I’m recording it! I’ve been sitting on this topic for a while now and wanted to gather my thoughts and know exactly how I was going to express them before I gathered the courage to say anything at all.

Today we’re going to be talking about the “mental load,” an abstract term that gets thrown around a lot on social media by women and moms. But like you saw in the title, I’m going to point out what I believe to be the real reason why your mental load feels so heavy. Along with that, I’m going to talk about what I think the mental load truly is and how we can lighten it in a safe, loving, and healthy way.

Sounds like a wish list right? Well I hope to make your wish come true because I think I’ve figured it out. I say this next part not to brag but I’m truly being honest with you when I say that I don’t feel the burden of “the mental load” much anymore nor do I hold resentment for my husband nor have I simply given up and just accepted my fate. 

And I want that to be your reality too, so I’m spilling all my experience and tips and opinions today in the hopes that your struggles might be a little less overwhelming moving forward.

And really quickly, before we jump in, I want to share a new review from a fellow listener that came in after my episode with my husband Tyler: “I loved listening to the episode with Tyler. You two are the cutest couple. Happy 5 years to you!” Mama, if you have not listened to episode 31, it’s one of the most downloaded episodes to date. We talk all about all the lessons we’ve learned in just 5 years of marriage and share some really good tips for communication and navigating conflict in a safe and healthy way. It actually ties in with today’s episode too so if you love today’s episode, be sure to check out episode 31. I’ll have it linked in the shownotes.

And as always, if you have not already done so, please subscribe to the podcast and turn on automatic downloads. This ensures you never miss a new episode and it helps tell your podcast player that my podcast is worth listening to more than once, which helps new mamas discover our community. I need your help to help other mamas!

Okay let’s dive in to today’s episode!

What is the mental load?

So what is the mental load? I asked Google and I got two definitions that I think really encompass what we mean when we talk about the mental load. One definition said, “Mental load is the cognitive and emotional effort that goes into managing life and the lives of others.” Pretty accurate, right? 

The other definition called it the “cognitive load” and described it as “the amount of working memory resources used.”

I think as moms we describe the mental load as all the invisible tasks that accompany the outward responsibilities we take on as the caretakers of the family and the house. For example, it’s usually our responsibility to cook the meals, but the added mental load that comes with that is meal planning, grocery shopping, keeping a running inventory of what we already have in the house, finding new recipes to try, remembering the family favorite recipes, making sure the meals we cook are healthy, and monitoring the bank account as we buy everything we need.

Some other examples include things like remembering and celebrating birthdays, making recurring appointments, staying current with vaccination schedules, organizing homeschool curriculums, planning vacations and trips, keeping track of the kids’ clothes and knowing when to size up, returning Amazon purchases and library books on time… the list goes on and on, right?

Really, the idea is that it’s all the extra stuff that’s still essential but maybe not obvious until you sit down to do the bigger task. Unfortunately, it’s usually the women that take on this additional responsibility.

I have a few theories: one, it’s how we’re genetically programmed. We are caretakers, we are homemakers, and we are really good at what we do. It’s a superpower of ours, if you will. Second, for thousands of years, we did everything at the request of men because we were socially inferior, and in order to survive, we had to get good at bearing the mental load. Three, I think that because we are more commonly the ones who are more intricately involved at home and with the kids, it just comes with the territory, even if our partners are super involved.

So before we go smashing the men for creating us this way, let’s first realize that while they might have played a part in it, there are other things at play that contribute to this situation.

The real reason the mental load is heavy

So the question still stands: why is the mental load so heavy and why does it feel like our partners aren’t pulling their weight?

I’m going to be totally blunt with you and say that I personally believe that more than half the time, it’s our fault.

Yup, you heard me, I’m blaming us women.

Why? Because we aren’t communicating effectively. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, I’ve noticed that a majority of women literally keep everything in their head or in their own personal notes app or calendar so of course things feel heavy; you’re the only one thinking about them and working on them!

Now before I really explain this I want to remind you that this is a generalized statement made from observation and experience. There are definitely relationships where it’s mostly the man’s fault, but I’m not talking to those relationships today. I’m talking to the relationships where the women don’t realize they’re the main reason why things are hard. 

Honesty, regulation, and communication

So what do I mean by ‘not communicating effectively?’ I mean that we are not involving our partners enough and when we do have opportunities to speak up about how we’re feeling, we’re not honest.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

Because I’m the one who cooks all the food, I’m also the one who orders the groceries and keeps track of what needs to go in those grocery orders. For the last couple years, it’s kind of been a running joke that I get everything I need and then I realize I’m missing 3 or 4 things only after I’ve unloaded all the groceries. On top of that, I have ADHD, so I’m not the best at writing things down as soon as I think about them. And on top of that, my husband has his food staples that really only he is eating and he would forget to tell me to restock his things until he was completely out of them. Or he would just forget to tell me altogether.

Perfect storm right? Well, it got to a point where I hit a major breaking point and I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” No matter how many times we’d had a conversation about “hey I need you to tell me before you run out” or “Brooke you have to write it down as soon as you think of it” I was still stuck on the same hamster wheel.

Okay this is so embarrassing but literally TWO weeks ago we finally found a solution that solved all of our problems: we created a shared note on our phones that we could both edit at any time. Now, instead of trying to remember to tell me verbally when he was running low on something, my husband could just pull out his phone and add it to the grocery list. When I tell you that just that increase in participation from his end made all the difference, I mean it. I’m much less stressed now and as a result, I don’t struggle to remember to write things down.

I want to point out that it wasn’t that Tyler wasn’t helping at all before or that he didn’t want to help, it’s that he wasn’t helping enough and it was because I wasn’t letting him. When I found a way to involve him more in a way that worked for my system and his schedule, it solved our problems.

Another example that highlights not being totally honest is the classic “what’s wrong?” “nothing I’m fine” situation. I know we’ve all been there. Our partners notice that something is off; maybe we’re being short with them or maybe we’re crying at the drop of a hat or maybe we can’t get off the couch because we’re so overwhelmed. Our partner comes to us and asks “hey what’s wrong” and in our brains we have a mile long list of all the things we’re frustrated with and stressed about but we’re too scared to tell them because they’re part of the problem so all we say is “I’m fine” or “I’m just tired” or “I just need some space.”

Can you see how you’re the one breaking the chain? Because you weren’t willing to actually say how you really feel, your partner a) doesn’t really know what’s going on and b) won’t ever know how to change or help.

Let’s get a bit more specific: maybe you could say “Thank you for recognizing and asking. I’m feeling really burnt out because my to-do list is a mile long but I always feel like I’m missing something on my to-do list so it makes me more stressed and I just can’t keep up with everything. I need you to take on some of the tasks. Which ones are you willing to do?”

Another script could sound something like: “thank you for noticing something is off and giving space for me to explain without judgment. I’m feeling frustrated that I had to do everything to get ready for our friend’s birthday party and all you did was ask if I’d done everything before we got in the car. It seems like you just assumed I would take care of everything and that all you needed to do was show up with me. Next time, I need you to do more than just go to the event with me. Would you rather be in charge of RSVP and scheduling or finding a present?”

Wow. I know those were long examples but can you see the difference between “I’m fine” and what I just said? And I probably could’ve said way more too.

I think the big struggle here is that we expect our partners to think and operate like we do and 95% of the time that’s not the case. So while our brains can see all the sub tasks and steps that go into a big to-do item, their brain probably doesn’t. So instead of waiting for them to figure it out on their own and then get upset when they didn’t, be proactive and just communicate upfront. Take the initiative to say “hey, I know you’re pretty busy with this work project, but our friend’s birthday is coming up and there’s a few things we need to do before we see them. These are the things I’ve thought of, can you think of anything else? What would you like to be in charge of?”

By communicating upfront, you’re eliminating the resentment, frustration, and overwhelm that will surely come if you wait to say something until after.

I’ll give you one more example from my marriage because this is something Tyler and I have been working on for a long time. I’ve gotten frustrated multiple times because Tyler will see me cleaning and say “what can I do to help?” and that drives me absolutely insane. Like use your eyeballs dude. One day I lost my cool and I said very loudly, “just look around! There are so many things that you can do. You have eyes and you don’t need my permission to clean. Just clean!”

Tyler very calmly explained to me that he noticed that I have a particular way of cleaning and organizing and there were certain things I cared more about than others and that his question of “what can I do to help?” was his effort to show me that he wants to help, to try and respect my process, and to do what was most helpful to me in that moment. It was a genuine question with a genuine desire but because his approach didn’t speak to me in a way that I was responsive to, I got frustrated.

I was then able to tell him that it made me more frustrated rather than relieved when I had to try and sort through a giant mental list of things and figure out which one I wanted to delegate to him. So here’s what we decided to do:

From then on, if Tyler noticed I was cleaning, he would try and notice two things he could help with and give me a choice. This honored my need for him to be proactive and his desire to do things in a way that will work with my method of madness..

For example, if we were having people over for dinner and he saw me tidying up the living room, he would come over and say, “I see that you’re getting ready for our friends and there’s still some things to do. Which would you rather me do: clear the kitchen counters and set the table or go check the guest bathroom and do a spot clean?” Both of those are important to me, but because there’s only two options, it’s much easier to decide than just scanning through my entire brain.

Again, I can’t reiterate this enough: it’s not necessarily about changing our partner’s brains, but learning to work with their brains in a way that serves our strengths, our to-do lists, and most importantly, our relationship.

How to share the mental load

So now that we’ve identified how we need to rethink the mental load and why we’re part of the problem, let’s talk about a real solution that works for both partners. In other words, let’s talk about to better share the mental load.

Practice the pattern

First I want to identify a pattern of how we structure our conversation when approaching our partner. I did this in all the examples I shared but I’m going to break it down for you now: 

Start with a “thank you,” then share an “I’m feeling” statement, followed with an “I need” statement, then end with an open ended question to let your partner problem solve based on the information you gave.

Let’s revisit one of the examples I shared from earlier. See if you can hear all parts of the pattern in my approach: “Thank you for recognizing and asking. I’m feeling really burnt out because my to-do list is a mile long but I always feel like I’m missing something on my to-do list so it makes me more stressed and I just can’t keep up with everything. I need you to take on some of the tasks. Which ones are you willing to do?”

Why does this structure work? Because it starts with gratitude instead of criticism, it focuses on your perception (I vs. you), and it asks for collaboration rather than compliance. I promise you that if you use this pattern when trying to address your frustrations it will make all the difference in how your partner responds!

Let’s do it one more time just to make sure we’ve really got it down. I’m going to use an example I saw just this morning on social media. I saw a popular influencer share DMs from many of her followers in response to a story she posted the day before. She was talking about how stressed she was leaving for vacation because she had to pack her suitcase AND all of the kids’ suitcases and make sure all the details were in place before they left. Dozens of women joined in and said how angry they were that the husbands only packed their suitcases and didn’t help with the kids or any of the travel logistics.

Now, I don’t actually know what each situation was like for each family and I can’t really assume, but for today’s conversation, let’s assume that the wife either never said anything to their husband about helping prepare or she did, but she did it after the time had passed without a chance for the husband to repair the situation.

If you were one of those moms who felt frustrated at your husband for only taking care of himself, I want you to know that that’s a very valid frustration! I would be frustrated too and I don’t want you to think it’s not ok to be upset. We just need to work on how we are going to fix things.

So in this situation, maybe a few days before the vacation, instead of storming around your house hoping your spouse picks up on body language or muttering to yourself while you anxiously pack, you take a deep breath and gather yourself. Then, you find your husband and say something like this:

“Hey babe, I’m really excited for our vacation in a couple days. Thank you so much for all your hard work to make it possible. I’m starting to make packing lists and get stuff organized before we leave. I remember feeling like last time I did most of the leg work before we left and it was really stressful and frustrating to do it by myself, and then it took me a lot longer to relax on vacation. I need your help these next few days getting the kids ready and double checking all of our reservations. Here’s a list of all the things we need to do. Which ones would you like to be responsible for?”

See how you still got to share your feelings but in a non-accusatory way?

The last thing I want to point out, which I’m sure you might have been thinking about this whole time, is that yes, you still had to take the initiative to think about everything that goes on the to-do list and it was still you who instigated the preparation. In a perfect world, both partners would be doing all of this intuitively and work together effortlessly. But we don’t live in a perfect world.

So while there’s still a bit more on your end to make things happen, and that can still be frustrating and exhausting at times, I want you to recognize that it’s probably better that it’s that way because do we really want to rely on how thorough our husbands are to get everything done the right way on time? I don’t. So let’s not ask for the moon here, let’s be reasonable and use our strengths to our advantage and then invite our partners to participate.

Cater to each other's strengths

This actually brings up my second tip for sharing the mental load and that’s that you should focus on each other’s strengths.

I’ll stick with the trip/vacation scenario. In my family specifically, I’m really detailed, thorough, and anxious, so I’m doing things pretty far in advance, especially if there’s flights or rental cars involved. And since my husband works and I’m at home, we decided that those responsibilities are mine. When it comes to packing, I make the list for the kids, Tyler and I both pack our own stuff, and then we’re both throwing things in the suitcase for the kids. Tyler is in charge of getting laundry done before we leave so we have clean clothes to travel with, and if any long drives are involved, I am the pretty passenger princess who gets to sleep while he drives. 

I suck at laundry. I suck at long drives. Those are Tyler’s strengths so those are the responsibilities that he takes on for traveling. But we had to have a conversation about allllll of this to figure out how we were both going to contribute to the workload. And it’s taken years of practice and communication to refine it so neither of us are frustrated with each other.

So what about day to day tasks at home? Same principle applies. You both live in the home, so you both have to keep it clean. Figure out what each person is good at and what each person hates doing and divide and conquer. In my marriage, Tyler is in charge of laundry. My ADHD makes laundry impossible and it will never ever get done or done right if I’m in charge. So he does that. Tyler HATES unloading the dishwasher, so I said I would do that. Since I cook our meals, he washes the dishes. All other things we don’t have strong opinions about we just talk about and work on together.

I’m more stressed about money and I’m a bit of a control freak, so we decided I would be the bookkeeper. I manage our accounts, I pay the bills, I do the taxes. And I like it that way. I don’t want anything to do with the car or the house, so that’s Tyler’s job. He takes the car into the mechanic, he fixes things or calls the repairman, and he does the weeding.

This is just an example of our family. Yours could be totally different. My point is that you need to have a conversation about everything and cater to each other’s strengths and weaknesses so everything is efficient and you aren’t keeping track of everything.

Don't strive for "equality"

The last thing I will say is don’t focus on making things “equal” because 1) it’s impossible, and 2) you can’t quantify everything. Rather than approaching things with “I’m doing 3 things and you’re doing 3 things,” think about it like “I’m 100% invested and you’re 100% invested” and if you feel like the results aren’t yielding 100%, have a conversation and be curious. See why there might be a gap in effort and work together to figure out how both of you can be 100% invested and give 100% effort, even if the “degree of difficulty” or “level of intensity” for your tasks isn’t exactly the same.

Ok if you’re still with me I have two last things to help make things go smoothly. One, create a shared to-do list on your phone that both of you can edit. I don’t know why it took us so long to figure this out, but Tyler and I just started doing this a few weeks ago and it’s made everything exponentially easier. We have a shared master to-do list and a shared grocery list that we both update daily.

The other one is make a chore chart! I know this might seem a little childish, but if you physically print out a reusable chore chart for your and your partner that reflects the household responsibilities, it might make things a little more collaborative. 

But guess what mama, I love you so much I made it for you. Head to the shownotes to get your chorechart template.