Mothers’ “mental load” appears across many interviews. Mothers frequently engage in cognitive labour that encompasses tasks such as scheduling, planning, organization, and the orchestration of various household activities that assume an emotional aspect because they pertain to family and interpersonal relationships (Daminger 2019). The mental load can burden mothers at any time or place because it is “invisible, boundaryless, and enduring” (Dean, Churchill and Rupanner 3). Mothers are not free from it even outside of their homes and this has serious impacts on their mental health. They are constantly fulfilling their responsibilities while collectively managing not only their families’ emotions, but other people’s perceptions of their own emotions as well (Dean, et al. 4).
Mothers’ mental load appears in our data both in the interviews with married mothers and in those with fathers. A married female interviewee (CC27) with two children said that she was satisfied with her division of household and childcare duties but stated that she felt like it was natural to take on more home and childcare duties than her husband: “It’s something about being the mom, and it’s just like — it just falls on you. It’s just naturally your job.”
She stated that she had a greater mental load than her husband and that she multitasked constantly. For instance, she simultaneously cleaned and played with her kids. She always said that she has to “initiate and delegate” home and childcare duties. She also handles drop-oﬀ duty to daycare and when the daycare owner calls out sick, she takes care of her children herself. Additionally, she also works after hours to compensate for the guilt she has about not being able to take on more responsibilities at her job.
“It’s something about being the mom, and it’s just like — it just falls on you. It’s just naturally your job.”
Like CC27, a married 35-year-old father (CC4) of a 2-year-old son also indicated he was satisfied with the division of duties. At first, he stated that he believed childcare and household duties were evenly split between him and his wife, but then revised his answer and added that his wife takes on more responsibilities as she takes care of their son by herself when he works overtime. His answers demonstrated how fathers often do not experience the same mental load as mothers and are instead more comfortable with prioritizing their jobs. He expressed some guilt about this and noted that being a mother also negatively aﬀected his wife’s career.
The mental load does not affect all mothers equally. One mother (CC14) who is married with an 11-year-old son and 17-year-old stepson stated that she did take on more childcare duties in terms of management of her family and communication with her younger son’s daycare. Nonetheless, she did not feel that this negatively affected her mental health or her status at work. She attributed this to being in a managerial position with flexible working hours and being in a workplace where it is common for mothers to be flexible with their hours. She does not mention feeling the same guilt that interviewee CC27 felt for taking time away from work to care for her children.
From the collected data, the mental load seems to affect working mothers less when their place of employment is more supportive. This, however, cannot be the only solution. Even if workplaces are more supportive, mothers will continue to experience a significant mental load due to the structures present in most families. This phenomenon begins at a societal level and progressively impacts individuals’ home dynamics.
Dean, Liz; Brendan Churchill & Leah Ruppanner. 2022. “The mental load: building a deeper theoretical understanding of how cognitive and emotional labor overload women and mothers.” Community, Work & Family, 25 (1): 13-29, DOI: 10.1080/13668803.2021.2002813
Daminger, A. 2019. “The cognitive dimension of household labor.” American Sociological Review, 84 (4), 609–633. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122419859007