Too Much

I'm So Done Carrying The Mental Load

Pick something — anything! — and hand it off. Dust your hands. Forget about it.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

My son came up to me one day and asked what month his friend Marlowe’s birthday was. “April,” I replied without thinking. He went through a list of several of his friends, wanting to know the same thing. And I knew the answer for all of them.

My brain is an encyclopedia of information relevant to my child. His schedule, the foods he currently loves and the ones he loathes, when he needs to see the dentist next, the size of clothes he’s wearing right now and how close he is to moving into the next, and even what his teacher’s favorite color is so that he can draw her a birthday card that “will make her smile.” Oh, and how could I forget the science fair project and opening day of Little League?

My husband, meanwhile, knows that our son goes to school Monday through Friday, his birth date, and the fact that he’s starting Little League “soon.”

To be fair, we fill different roles in our household. My husband works full-time, and I am a stay-at-home mom who works from home part-time. I’m the one taking our son to the birthday parties, making the majority of his meals, and buying his clothes. I need to know a lot of these things. But that doesn’t mean my husband can’t hold some of that information also. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he does nothing else but pay our mortgage, which is a HUGE contribution in itself. He also takes care of the trash, the yard work and does a lot of the cooking. I’m grateful for all he does; I have friends whose partners do much less. But my head is so heavy with mental responsibilities that it feels as if it’s about to split open. I desperately need him to add one more thing to his list: carrying some of the mental load.

Some people think it’s actually funny if a dad forgets or doesn’t know something pertaining to their child. Once, at a dinner with some other parents, somebody mentioned the name of a teacher at our kids’ school. One dad asked who that was and his wife replied sarcastically, “our daughter’s teacher.” He raised his eyebrows, said “oops,” and everyone laughed, like this aw-shucks routine was funny. Well, it’s not. A mother would be crucified if she did the same thing.

It’s not that my husband is left entirely out of the loop, either. We both have access to all the apps — there are three of them — that keep us connected with his teacher, school, and district. I think it’s safe to say that he never looks at any of them. I know for a fact that notifications from one app were going directly to his junk file for months and he had no idea. We only discovered this when my phone was dead, and I used his to look up a message about a school event that week.

To be fair, he doesn’t have to stay up-to-date on every little detail — or anything, for that matter. I read all messages, talk to the teachers and stay connected with my fellow school moms. I add important dates to the family calendar and tell him directly when there is big event that I think he should know. I’m also the one who goes shopping for the supply lists and birthday presents. My husband’s contribution generally comes about an hour before we leave the house when he asks things like, “Do we need to get a birthday present?” or “Are we sure the glue is dry on that poster board?” Yes, dear. We took care of everything.

It mirrors some of the struggles that we — and many couples — had in the early days of parenting. One person (often the mother) feels like they’re doing the majority of the work but doesn’t ask for specific help. Instead, they just assume their partner knows what to do and is choosing not to help. The other person doesn’t know exactly what to do and any effort they do make comes across as cursory and is rejected.

That approach didn’t work for us with a newborn and it’s not working now.

It’s a two-person problem: I need to be specific with my asks. And my husband should step in and take some real, concrete things off my plate before I reach breakdown status — not after. Yes, I’d love a day at the spa or to not always be the one to empty the dishwasher. But more than that, I’d like to stop constantly carrying a mental list of what items we need to bring with us when we go to swim lessons.

It’s never going to magically happen, though. I can’t sit around, silently stewing as I wait for him to come to me one day and say, “I’d like to be responsible for knowing all the specific details of our son’s summer schedule.” I need to explicitly explain what I need from him. Instead of asking him to “help with the summer schedule,” I will have to ask him to “please download the camp schedule and be responsible for what he needs to bring each day,” which will make it easier for me to manage packing his lunch, driving him and keeping track of which days the camp ends early.

Sure, it would be nice to have some backup in case I forget something. But mostly, it would be great to not feel like the entire burden is upon me. Just knowing that one item can be erased from the list inside my brain would be a big relief. But I have to actually tell him that task, and he actually needs to do it.

The fact is, acting like an exhausted martyr isn’t going to get our partners to jump in. Instead, they’ll just see that for the passive aggressive behavior that it is. It can’t be about scorekeeping or who reaches out first, but rather how to end this mental imbalance. We have to take charge and share the load. Start with one mental task we can ask our partners to own moving forward.

I’d say we begin with letting them handle their own mother’s birthday. But I’m open to suggestions.

Becky Vieira has been wearing mom jeans since 2016. She writes for a variety of parenting outlets, and can often be found oversharing intimate details of her life on Instagram. She's immensely proud of the time she thought to pee in one of her son's diapers while stuck in her car, as opposed to her pants.

Vieira’s debut book: Enough About the Baby: A Brutally Honest Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood is a guide book for women who recognize the necessity of self-care—even if sometimes the rest of the world does not. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, son, dog, three cats and a partridge in a pear tree.