You know how you researched the safest and healthiest first foods for your little one, then made a list of all the fruits and veggies you needed to buy, then prepared all the meals, and worried about if you were creating a positive mealtime experience for your bub? Oh, and how you knew exactly when you would run out of bananas, so it is already on the list for you to pick up tomorrow? And how you texted yourself a reminder to toss a load of wash in tonight so that you have got clean bibs for the week?

That is just a teeny snippet of the mental load of motherhood…and it is a real problem.

You might think mums were built to shoulder this responsibility, but that is decidedly untrue. While motherhood does change your brain…it does not magically create extra memory space for you to store all the must-know info of parenthood. And it does not flip on a mysterious internal switch that makes you the emotional-needs guru of your entire family. So then, why are 86% of working mums carrying the majority of the mental load for their household? Keep reading to find out. Plus, learn how the mental load is impacting your wellbeing and constructive strategies for sharing the invisible load, too.

What is the mental load?

The mental load is the invisible, yet omnipresent behind-the-scenes work that ensures your household runs smoothly. The mental load, however, goes well beyond making appointments, remembering birthdays, and keeping the larder stocked. According to a 2023 report in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the mental load involves cognitive labour, emotional labour, and physical labour. Here is what that means:

  • Cognitive labour: This is all about anticipating, identifying, and working to meet others’ needs…and then keeping an eagle eye on the result to make sure everything is going smoothly. Cognitive labour, of course, takes place in your head, thus rendering it invisible to those around you.

  • Emotional labour: This includes regulating your own emotions and doing your best to honor and understand your child’s emotions. For example, when you learn about—and practice—Toddler-ese and gentle parenting, then use what you have garnered to provide emotional support for your little one, that is emotional labour. In short, the emotional element of mental load is all about wanting to ensure your family has a positive emotional experience.

  • Physical labour: The physical labour part of the equation is the act of doing all the things that are jam-packed in your brain.

Researchers from Wake Forest University describe the one who carries the bulk of the mental load as your household’s “project manager.” In the workplace, of course, a project manager usually does not execute projects. too. But at home, you are both the manager and the star employee. Since the mental load of parenthood is not beholden to working hours, the job “percolates through the everyday everynight,” making the mental load invisible, boundaryless, and enduring, according to a 2021 report from the journal Community Work & Family.

Who carries the mental load of parenthood?

Research repeatedly finds that women in heterosexual relationships disproportionately carry the burden of unpaid domestic work, including the invisible mental load of parenting. In fact, a 2023 report found that women take on more of the emotional (worrying), managerial (organizing), and cognitive (thinking about) load in their families than their partners. Another report suggests that the cognitive aspect of the mental load of parenting is “highly gendered,” with women shouldering the majority. Interestingly enough, the invisibility of the mental load extends to mums themselves. According to the 2021 report noted above, many women carry the mental load by default and gender norms, “largely without consent, negotiation, or, even more importantly, awareness.”

Here is what researchers have discovered about the gender divide and the mental load:

  • Nearly 90% of mums surveyed noted that they felt solely responsible for organizing their family’s schedule.

  • The same report also found that at least 7 in 10 mums were responsible for other areas of family routines like assigning household chores, too.

  • 41% of mums feel invisible sometimes, with 53% noting that their partners made them feel this way.

  • 64% of mums surveyed said they were responsible for being “vigilant” of their child's emotions.

  • According to the same report, 78% of mums say they are the only parent who knows who their child’s teachers are.

  • 72% of mums feel it is their job to stay on top of kids’ schedules, versus 22% of dads. This holds true when mums are the breadwinners, too, according to a report from Bright Horizons.

  • The same report found that 59% of mums say they make sure all household responsibilities are handled, versus 32% of dads. (That number bumps to 71% of mums who are their family’s breadwinner.)

  • Compared to female breadwinners, male breadwinners are less than three times as likely to register their children for out-of-school activities (22% vs. 76%), notes the Bright Horizons report.

Consequences of Shouldering the Mental Load

Carrying the mental load is exhausting! Part of the reason: The brain can only focus on three to four things at a time. So, when you are constantly juggling right-now tasks with future tasks, you sap your brain of energy, according to Dave Schramm, PhD, an associate professor of family life at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. The result is, well, not great. For example, 52% of mums surveyed say they are burned out from the weight of all their household responsibilities, including the invisible ones. Beyond burnout, research shows that carrying the invisible load has other repercussions, such as:

  • Angry outbursts

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Exhaustion

  • Feelings of emptiness

  • Having little time for one’s self

  • Lower satisfaction with one’s partner

  • Relationship conflict

  • Distraction from paid work

  • Distraction leisure activities

  • Increased anxiety

  • Increased feelings of depression

  • Greater bedtime worries or stress

  • Poor sleep quality

How to Reduce Your Mental Load

The first step in reducing your mental load is talking about it with your partner. The catch? “Initiating this conversation also contributes to your mental and emotional load,” notes Gayane Aramyan, LMFT, a family therapist in Los Angeles. So, take a deep breath and…

  • Start the conversation. If the invisible load is not on your partner’s radar, then nothing will change. Find a peaceful moment with your partner when you are both calm and nobody is exhausted or exceptionally stressed. Then, without criticizing or attacking, share what you are experiencing—along with concrete examples. Try something like, “I often feel exhausted and mentally tired. I have recently read about what it may come from, and I would like to share with you what I have learned and what I have been experiencing.” Next, “make it clear that this is not you just worrying too much or complaining,” says Dr. Schramm. “It is an exhausting mental load that affects your mood and attitude throughout the day, and it spills over into family relationships.”

  • Start delegating. The truth is you should not be the one who has to divide the household tasks! Doing so simply piles on yet another to-do. Instead, sit down with your partner and, together, make a master list of all the tasks—both visible and invisible. Finally, collaborate on figuring out who should do what. Need help? Consider buying Fair Play Cards, which highlights 100 household tasks and gamifies the divvying process. (There is also a Fair Play book and documentary!) Do not forget to give your kids age-appropriate chores, too!

  • Create a shared calendar: When parents synchronize their calendars, all scheduling information is always available to all parties…and Mum is no longer the gatekeeper of all the whens and wheres of the family. Beyond simply creating a shared calendar, both parties need to commit to using it to schedule appointments and outings.

  • Use technology to help. Set up a subscription for some always-needed household staples, like toilet paper and dog food. Add reminders to your shared calendar to alert folks when it is their day to tackle certain tasks. Select autopay for specific bills along with an automatic reminder to review the balances every month or so. Consider signing up for a mail-order meal plan, like Hello Fresh.

  • Embrace “I do not know.” News flash: You do not need to be the holder of all knowledge! You are not the human Internet nor a walking talking calendar. Unless it is an emergency, try your darndest to let your partner figure out the answer to what they are asking of you.

  • Edit your life. Tired of thinking of all the gift-giving ideas, doing all the meal planning, and anticipating when your spouse will need their dress shirts dry cleaned? Stop. Have a chat with your partner and simply say something like: “I no longer can handle remembering all the nieces and nephews’ birthdays and then thinking of–and shipping—presents, so I am going to stop. If you would like to continue gifting, feel free to take that task on.”

  • Curb gatekeeping. One of the hardest parts of delegating tasks is accepting the results—and not jumping in to “fix” things. Packed a lunch void of fruit? Your child will survive. Spouse forgot to send his mum a Mother’s Day gift? Truly not your problem. Socks were washed and dried in a ball. C'est la vie! “If you monitor, criticize, or correct the way your partner does chores, you may easily discourage them from fully engaging,” reminds Dr. Schramm.

  • Continue to check in. It is important to have regular conversations about the mental load. This is not a one-and-done situation. “Remember [sharing the load] requires patience, flexibility, awareness, and expressions of appreciation for both partners,” says Dr. Schramm. (Schedule your next check-in on the shared calendar!)




    • Bright Horizons Modern Family Index 2017
    • “It was too much for me”: mental load, mothers, and working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontiers in Psychology. October 2023
    • Who’s Remembering to Buy the Eggs? The Meaning, Measurement, and Implications of Invisible Family Load. Journal of Business and Psychology. May 2023 
    • The mental load: building a deeper theoretical understanding of how cognitive and emotional labor overload women and mothers. Community Work & Family. November 2021.
    • Invisible Household Labor and Ramifications for Adjustment: Mothers as Captains of Households. Sex Roles. January 2019
    • Peanut Presents: Invisible Mothers: The State of Invisibility. October 2023
    • Utah State University: Ask an Expert — Five Ways to Share the Mental Load in Marriage
    • Gayane Aramyan: Managing the Mental Load of Motherhood: Tips from an Expert
    • Bright Horizons: Moms, Lighten Your Mental Load

    View more posts tagged, mental health

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    Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.