How to share the mental workload of motherhood


February 27, 2020

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I literally said this the other day in a huff as I ran past my mom while gathering water bottles, snacks, shoes, sunscreen, hats, a check to deposit at the bank, plus 3 packages to return to UPS…and crap, I thought, I need to call the insurance company.

My dad stepped out of his office. “Can you talk for a minute about creating a giveaway for this conference?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said as I dropped all the things I’d gathered. My blood pressure rising and my patience dwindling, I made a mental note to add that to the list of things to get done today … maybe when the kids go to bed.

“Oh, and don’t forget to pick up Teddy’s meds from the vet.” Check. One more thing.

The day has just begun, and I’m already exhausted and feeling stressed.

My friends, this feeling of wanting to escape is the result of a full and seemingly endless mental load.

I am sure you’ve been there too, if you aren’t there right now. 

The mental load is the running list of all the “to dos” that you do to manage your life, home, work, relationships, and those who are dependent on you, such as:

  • RESEARCHING: does this shampoo cause cancer? can I bring scooters to the airport? what preschools get good ratings?
  • ORGANIZING: activities, social calendars, summer camps, etc.
  • MANAGING THE HOME: are we out of q-tips?, what’s for dinner, what do we need from the grocery store, there are no clean undies, how do all of the kids’ shoes suddenly not fit?
  • MANAGING EMOTIONAL NEEDS OF FAMILY: who needs hugs?, our oldest is being bossy we need to do something about that, but don’t squash her spirit, make sure they’re kind, but strong, and share (but not the special stuff!), but yeah be kind.
  • WORK: deadlines, feeling like you’re falling short, being the one who always needs to take time off when the kids are sick or don’t have school, etc.

Truly, the list goes on and on. Hear me when I say: the reason you feel so drained or stressed may very well have to do with the mental load that you’re carrying.

Naturally, the follow up question is: what can we do to lessen or relieve this mental load? How can we ask or encourage our partners to take on some of it — where do we even start? 

I want to give you two primary areas of focus when you’re thinking about this. It is important that you focus on both areas, or else you may inadvertently discourage your partner from taking more responsibility for things in the future.

These two areas of focus are: within and between.


The within is the work that you must do in your mind. This is where you challenge the thoughts (and probably behaviors too) that may sabotage your efforts at off-loading some of your mental load.

Here are 6 common mistakes that we, as women tend to make:

01. Personalization

It’s just way too easy to jump to the conclusion that when your partner doesn’t step in, anticipate needs, or neglects to take care of something that he just doesn’t care about you. That it is disrespectful, or that you don’t “matter enough” to your partner. Or that your partner is selfish or thoughtless.

Know that more likely reasons for their behavior are factors like socialization, learned roles, how they were taught responsibilities, long standing patterns in your relationship, or just plain obliviousness.

When you attribute your partner’s behavior to some of these factors vs. the more personal, it can help you to be more patient, forgiving, and gracious as you work to hand over some of the load.

02. Impatience

I cannot tell you how often I hear “I asked and he didn’t do it right away so I just took care of it” or  “it’s easier to do it than explain it.”

I get it, I’ve said these things myself. However, be aware that this approach will not move you toward the end goal of handing over some of the mental load. Instead, it perpetuates the idea that you will take care of everything.

03. Micromanaging

If you’re turning something over to your partner, let them find their way. Don’t hover and correct. It may look different, but you aren’t doing it, so that’s moving in the right direction.

04. Criticizing

If you ask your partner to take something over, and he does it, be careful of criticizing his approach. Like, “is that what you’re feeding the kids?!” There is definitely a time and place to talk about how you would like things done, but as you’re making this adjustment, be careful of discouraging forward momentum.

05. Keeping score

It’s likely that you carry most of the mental load, especially the anticipation of needs and keeping a running inventory of all things home and kid related. You win! You do more. This should change, but when you keep score, everyone loses and this quickly builds into a negative attitude and resentment toward your partner.

06. Expecting mind reading

Probably the number one mistake women make is summed up by these words, “but I shouldn’t have to ask.”  I agree that you shouldn’t have to ask, but to move toward off-loading some of the mental load, you just might have to. 

When you ask, you are involving your partner, you are showing him/her what needs done so hopefully they will think of it next time, you are releasing some of the responsibility, and setting the stage to turn over more of the mental load.

Ask by ask, you are making some steps forward. The thing is, when we make a request of our partner, we need to then give him the space to meet our request, make mistakes, and figure out his own way of doing things. You never know, he may even do it better or more efficiently.


The between work is the work that actually happens between you and your partner.

The between work is done primarily through a conversation, and ultimately a renegotiation of roles and responsibilities between you and your partner. 

Here are three steps to working through this together:

01.Write down your mental load

Take the tangled mess in your head and get it out. Free up some space. When it is on paper and out of your head, it doesn’t require as much effort to manage. It becomes tasks to tick off, instead of competing demands and distractions.

Both partners can do this, and it’s a great way to make the invisible aspect of the mental load visible. It is also helpful to separate things into categories, sorting by how often they need done, and whether they are ongoing or one-time tasks.

02. Look at the list together

Consider what your strengths are and what you each like to do. This doesn’t just help initiate a conversation— it also helps to show your partner what it is that you are “taking care of” that he likely doesn’t even think about or notice.

03.Renegotiate your roles

Really, when was the last time you renegotiated your roles? Consider what items can be permanently given to your partner to take care of, what you can reasonably afford to hire out, and what you can remove from your list.  

The goal here is not equality, but what ultimately feels fair and manageable. The reality is that nothing is truly equal when it comes to roles in relationships, but if you two can renegotiate your responsibilities in a way that feels fair, that will make a major difference.

If you and your partner are able to work on the within and between aspects of the mental load, you will see major strides in your relationship and experience of equity and fairness. And hopefully, with less of a mental load, you’ll feel less of a need to escape, and more of an opportunity to enjoy the life you have. 

Dr. Morgan will be opening a course on the mental workload of motherhood, “The Mother Load,” opening April 13, 2020. Click here to find out more!

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