May 22, 2017

The work of thinking about doing the work.

The "mental load."

ADDED: Here's what I recommend doing if you find yourself in the household "manager" position, putting all the mental effort into noticing what needs to be done and planning ahead. Explain the issue to the other person. Talk about it. It's possible that he's carrying a mental load consisting of things you are not keeping track of. It's something you don't see each other doing. But if it's really true that he's only ever waiting to be asked, use your acquired manager position to assign him a fair share of tasks. Give him more than you keep for yourself to balance out the mental work. It's pretty easy nowadays — isn't it? — to text a list of things he needs to do. If a lot of your work is going about the house noticing and doing little things — such as picking up clutter — that are more work to assign than to do, just give him enough of the big tasks to compensate and equalize. If this managerial assigning approach is objected to, then he wasn't just waiting to be asked, so you've at least punctured that illusion.


Saint Croix said...

LOL (again!)

Saint Croix said...

I've heard that if you think hard about exercise

you can fool your body into thinking that it's exercising

but I'm too lazy to try!

Saint Croix said...

here's the study

Saint Croix said...

the most annoying thing about brain work

is my body going, "not tired at all!"

Nonapod said...

I had to disable javascript in Chrome on that page since for some weird it kept auto-scrolling to the bottom of the page/top of the comments section and wouldn't let me scroll to the top.

n.n said...

fool your body into thinking that it's exercising

Then you wake up, a hundred pounds heavier, and deeper in denial.

Ignorance is Bliss said...


If you find yourself in a relationship with a woman like this...

Run. Do not walk. Run.

Henry said...

Managing is a lot of work. That's a good point.

The story about the male partner ignoring his wife cooking dinner? He was doing work. He was entertaining the awkward guest. That's emotional work. Somehow I don't think that example will be used in Emma's next comic.

Henry said...

Micromanaging is a ton of work. For everyone.

My advice: Delegate. That's what good managers do.

Anonymous said...

This is going to turn into a woman bashing thread...

But there is a lot of truth in this cartoon and any woman with children could tell you so. Althouse's suggestion makes sense.

Sebastian said...

"He was doing work. He was entertaining the awkward guest." A guest he probably didn't invite, and whom he probably would not have invited if asked by the "manager."

Anyway, I'd like to see some data on this mental load. John Robinson's time diary studies suggest that compared to the 1960s women now spend on average about 12 hours less per week on housework, 5 more hours on TV and videos, and 3 more hours sleeping.

It's the big story of the past century: thanks mainly to male inventions, the physical and mental load on women, from childbirth to housework to childcare, has gotten lighter. But due to the revolution of rising expectations, the bitching has gotten heavier.

rehajm said...

People like to have assigned responsibilities, not assigned tasks. Great managers empower their charges with responsibilities, not tasks. They hold them accountable for those responsibilities as well.

At least this works pretty well in my household.

My advice: Delegate. That's what good managers do.

My wife's been known to delegate her mental load. "Remind me to..."

Kevin said...

Where is the cartoon from the man's point of view where he previously tried to help in the kitchen and was told, "if I wanted your help I would have asked"?

Saint Croix said...

Then you wake up, a hundred pounds heavier, and deeper in denial.

But it was in Scientific American!

I've tried to do "workouts" while you are sitting at a desk doing office work.

I even tried the mind thing for like five minutes once.

It is so much easier to drive to my F3 workout and spend 45 minutes doing exercises I don't want to do. Working out in a group pushes me and forces me to do the bare minimum. Hell, I also cheat. But whenever I try to do them by myself? I quit early.

Earnest Prole said...

But if you do that it puts a crimp in your passive-aggressive martyr plans.

Kevin said...


I like your new profile picture. It looks like a cat in a shark costume saying, "Do I smell tuna?"

Henry said...

I'll reiterate that household management is a lot of work. Managing kids through health checkups and school paperwork these days is an insane amount of work. It makes sense that in a couple, one person take the lead on this. Otherwise there will be endless scheduling conflicts.

Checklists are a tool, but the real way to even out a workload is to divide up entire areas of responsibility.

Henry said...

Or, what rehajm said.

Anonymous said...

Men are cagey. You can try to teach them some household chore and all of a sudden they are slow learners. I think it's a scam.

Farmer said...

Women sure do fucking complain a lot.

John said...

Wow. That was incredibly annoying to read. Probably why I never really got comic books.

Anyway, Ignorance and rehajm both have great advice: First: Run away - if possible; second: how about a little delegation - preferably before the doorbell rings.

Martyrdom is a lonely world shared by many.

I'd say more but I need to get dinner started before the wife gets home...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kevin, this kitty is such a good little guy, after eating tuna he washes himself so nicely, he never smells like tuna afterwards.🦈

Saint Croix said...

another thing you can do is try to relax at home and have fun

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Couldn't make it through all of that windbaggery. OMG, land the plane, lady.

I guess I'm just delightful and superior and a fine, fine wife, but I enjoy the challenge of the mental load and feel like a rockstar administrator because of the way I keep the plates spinning in our complex household. It's a privilege, remember ladies, to have a home and a family to care for. Do you want the alternative?

And also, immature and whiny women, it's not rocket science to nicely, to respectfully, delegate. If your husband is a good man, he's eager to help. Ask him to do things, but don't treat him like he's a moron. My awesome husband respects my managerial skill enough to not get all up in my bidness doing things for me (he knows I always have a plan) but he always says either 'put me to work' or 'tell me where to stand.'

Saint Croix said...

if you're a single mom

which is what happens when you get rid of your man

who do you yell at then for the spill in the kitchen?

the kids?

or your guest?

it's kind of rude to yell at your spouse in front of company

disrespectful to the spouse

and embarrassing

Saint Croix said...

so what you might try

is a quiet conversation in bed

during foreplay

when your power is strongest

he probably won't remember it later

so do it several times until he is trained

you are welcome

rehajm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Pants, you remind me of Peggy Lee

"I'm A Woman"

I can wash out 44 pairs of socks and have 'em hanging out on the line
I can starch & iron 2 dozens shirts 'fore you can count from 1 to 9
I can scoop up a great big dipper full of lard from the drippings can
Throw it in the skillet, go out & do my shopping, be back before it melts in the pan
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again

I can rub & scrub this old house til it's shining like a dime
Feed the baby, grease the car, & powder my face at the same time
Get all dressed up, go out and swing til 4 a.m. and then
Lay down at 5, jump up at 6, and start all over again
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again

If you come to me sickly you know I'm gonna make you well
If you come to me all hexed up you know I'm gonna break the spell
If you come to me hungry you know I'm gonna fill you full of grits
If it's loving you're liking, I'll kiss you and give you the shivering fits
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again

I can stretch! a green black dollar bill from here to kingdom come!
I can play the numbers pay the bills and still end up with some!
I got a twenty-dollar gold piece says there ain't nothing I can't do
I can make a dress out of a feed bag and I can make a man out of you
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, and that's all.

Saint Croix said...

Boss: "I'd like a progress report on the work you did today."

Me: "I was thinking about work. Going over my work in my mind. It's the mental load. I can send you some scholarly works on the subject. Or maybe a cartoon. But I'm definitely working hard, in my mind, about the work that needs to be done."

Saint Croix said...

It might look like non-work to you.

Because obviously you are unfamiliar

with the mental load.

Kevin said...

Men are cagey. You can try to teach them some household chore and all of a sudden they are slow learners.

I never seem to find men complaining that they've tried to teach a woman a household task to no avail: "I've tried to show her how to put the snow tires on the Buick, but she just doesn't get it."

You can imagine the response to the man who feels his wife is less than adequate and can't take his proper instruction. Yet many women seem to have no problem going down this path with their man - time and time again to no avail.

Anonymous said...

OK! I plead guilty, if my son is over for dinner and I see a spider, he gets to do the hit job. Once I had a dead mouse in my furnace room and he mercifully disposed of it for me.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

It's amazing how many household tasks don't actually need to get done. There's my mental work for today.

Michael said...

The question is not so much that as: how much really needs to be done? And who decides? Does the woman (presumably) want to shed half or more of the work but retain all of the control, and all of the decision power over what has to be done how often? Obviously everyone has to operate in good faith here - you can't claim the baby only needs to be changed twice a day, but the bed linen doesn't have to be changed every week. It seems to me the first step is to agree (mutually) on what the standards are going to be. Maybe some portion of the mental load is resentment a his failure to agree that her standards are the only possible way to go.

Gahrie said...

Yeah honey sure....hey since you're in the kitchen...could you make me a sandwich?

Freeman Hunt said...

The comic made me laugh because there is some truth in it based on what I see going on generally.

To reduce the mental load, I'd say (1) Let the stuff that doesn't matter slide. (2) Refuse it. If asked a question the asker can answer with effort similar to what you would need to contribute to answer it, tell the asker to figure it out. (3) Don't baby adults. Some people treat other adults like children, exponentially increasing their own "mental load." There is no reason to do that. (4) When considering one's "mental load," one might also reflect on her partner's "mental load." This might during some times reveal that the loads carried differ in appearance but are quite alike in weight.

Freeman Hunt said...

I saw a video online of a woman explaining how she cleans her refrigerator, a process requiring half an hour that she repeats weekly. Perfect example of (1) and a great candidate for workload reduction.

A perfect example of an opportunity not to baby an adult (3) can be found in the linked comment when the woman is tracking how many clean shirts the husband has left. She could cease doing that.

Amanda Cowan said...

So glad I am not married or partnered with anyone who has commented here.

Virtually Unknown said...

"woman is tracking how many clean shirts the husband has left."

Controlling behavior certainly seems exhausting to me.

PatHMV said...

The biggest REAL challenge is when each partner has a different mental picture of what constitutes "clean." My wife, for example, has a much more stringent definition of what constitutes "clean" than I do. However, and this is key and one of the many reasons I love her, SHE RECOGNIZES THAT. She recognizes that her preference is, ultimately, just a preference, her own mindset rather than some ultimate true standard.

She also hates to clean, so I wind up doing a lot of it, or the house stays a lot messier than either of us would like. She sometimes does get frustrated that I won't clean it to the higher standard she holds, but she recognizes that this frustration is irrational (since she doesn't want to do the work) and she either bites her tongue or apologizes after venting her frustration.

We've got cleaning issues pretty well down now, 5 years in. Probably the hardest daily life hurdle we navigate is our (nearly) 4 year old. When I'm doing some task, I can and do tune the (adorable) little girl out a good bit. I tell her she needs to go play by herself, and I enforce that by ignoring her. My wife simply can't do that, and so gets frustrated with me, because she winds up continuing to be responsible for dealing with the child even after I get home in the evening and on the weekends. Here, too, she recognizes that there's nothing wrong with my approach, it's just different from hers. Many times, she's wished she could adopt my approach, but she's simply not capable of it.

There's an area where compromise is key (and in a marriage, is there any area where compromise isn't key?). I have to recognize the reality of my wife's inability to tune the child out (and I don't mean tune her out to the extent where she's running off to play with matches or anything unsafe like that), and I have to do more than I might otherwise choose to do, to lighten the load on my wife.

For example, if we go to see my step-son play high school lacrosse, I am able to pay attention to the game and ignore the little one's demands to be our focus. So she inevitably turns to my wife, tries to climb in her lap, etc. My wife can't tune her out, so my wife is unable to watch the game. My wife then gets annoyed with me because I'm not helping with the baby. I get annoyed because I think the solution is for her to tune the baby out a bit more, which will lead to the baby learning to sit quietly when we're all watching the game. After many discussions, I have come to realize that my wife simply can't do it, even though she acknowledges the validity of my argument. So if I want my wife to be able to watch her son play lacrosse (and I do), I have to step up and just take the little one and sit somewhere else. That's worked well so far.

The important thing is that we both listen to each other, and we both are willing to sacrifice our own preferences in order to keep the peace and make the other person happier. And we're willing to be direct and provoke conflict, when necessary, to get issues resolved. We deal with each other and don't turn household disagreements into major political screeds.

pdug said...

"I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully" 1 Timothy 5:14

Guide the House.

pdug said...

At work we have a ticket system to track all the tasks we need to do. Not much mental load.

Saint Croix said...

So glad I am not married or partnered with anyone who has commented here.

You are probably married to a lurker

Unknown said...

One issue I see is women tending to discount the hard stuff the husband does (work all week, cut grass, etc) and focus totally on a single dish that got put away sort of dirty (spots even though went through dishwasher) or a single sock on the floor. It is a lack of perspective.
It is also key to remember that it is impossible to be totally caught up on chores. It will never happen.