Sometime in 2017, which feels like eons ago now, I remember coming across a very compelling comic thread on social media called “You should have asked” by a cartoon artist named Emma. As I scrolled through the simple yet impactful images, it soon became clear why the comic was so widely shared. Translated from its original French, “You should have asked” demonstrates how women, especially those in heterosexual, committed, and cohabitant partnerships, are expected to be the project managers of their households. Even if it seems on the basis of visible action that the man and the woman in a partnership have the same amount of chores, the woman tends to be the one held responsible for ensuring the execution. In other words, even when women don’t seem to be doing everything, they make sure everything gets done. That invisible work, also known as the “mental load,” is absolutely exhausting and is often reinforced by societal stereotypes.
As the world slowly but surely shifts to less rigid gender roles, especially as it pertains to the presence of women in the workplace, the maintenance of the household still seems to be primarily allocated to women. In fact, according to a study commissioned by Bright Horizons, also in 2017, women were two times more likely to be managing the household and three times more likely to be managing their children’s schedules than their male counterparts. Strangely enough, but also unsurprisingly, as women increasingly become the breadwinners of their familial units, they are still 3 times more likely to maintain their children’s schedules than male breadwinners. Crazy, right? In essence, 80% of the time, women are what AdirA Founder and CEO Monica Chaudhari calls the “Chief Wellness Officers (CWOs)” of their families. We are held accountable for making sure everything is neat and organized and everyone is happy and healthy. So yeah, we’re pulling off Mission Impossible more than Tom Cruise ever could and we’re not getting the support or recognition we deserve.
Fortunately, because of comics like “You should have asked” and studies like the one by Bright Horizons, we are beginning to have more explicit conversations about this systemic and ridiculous imbalance on a broader scale. But how do we navigate sharing the mental load in our own households? How do we avoid coming home from a long day of work only to cook dinner and wash the dishes without any help from our partners? How do we prevent the infamous phrase “You should have asked” from leaving our partner’s lips and subsequently resisting the temptation to smack him in the face? All great and valid questions. Sharing the mental load requires some heavy lifting, with all the pain and necessity of policy making. Even acknowledging this can be somewhat twistedly ironic. I don’t want having discussions with our partners about sharing mental loads to be solely championed by us and as a result part of the load itself.
I also want to recognize that much of this information is short-sightedly based on heteronormative relationships. I struggled to find any comprehensive resources about sharing the mental load for partnerships in the LGBTQ+ community. That is a HUGE problem. No one deserves to bear the brunt of the mental load in any relationship. Hopefully, our partners will actually function like partners in considering the nuances of our specific circumstances and taking initiative in sharing the mental load. In doing this at home, we can add further depth to conversations like this for everyone. Here are some further resources. Have your partner read them first: