The mental load of parenting

I really loved this recent extended cartoon about the “mental load” of parenting.  I think it absolutely captures an underlying truth about how parenting works in many, many a household.  Here’s a key snippet (definitely, definitely check out the whole thing):

Exactly.  Parenting and running a household is so much more than just getting the kids to school on time and picking up the toys and getting the laundry done.  It’s knowing that the kids need to be to school early on Thursday and planning according Wednesday evening, and actually knowing where all the toys go, and knowing that the outfits the kids will need for church on Sunday need to be washed.

Based on regular conversations with fellow dads, I’d say I definitely do better than average on the mental load, but I would no way suggest I’m hitting the 50% mark that really, every parent should be (feel free to assign me a percentage in the comments, Kimberly).  Part of the way we’ve de facto divided the mental load is by sort of having a lead parent for various matters with the kids.  When it comes to my oldest, for example, I’m the one who’s always been at all the parent-teacher meetings, emailed the teachers, kept track of activities, etc.  When it comes to Alex, it’s definitely been Kim.  And for the other two, heck, it’s way easier.  That said, I’ve taken the lead on Evan and piano.  And, of course, I’m the lead soccer parent :-).  Okay, enough of an accounting.  I’ve never put a thought into teacher gifts, or what cute outfits the kids will wear for Easter, or what size Crocs to buy for Alex.  I do, however, think that the “mental load” concept is a great way to think about the reality of parenting and the real balance of parenting and household responsibility.  However much most men may do with cooking dinner, folding laundry, or picking up groceries, I suspect that it is here that we really do come up short.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

6 Responses to The mental load of parenting

  1. Mika says:


    • Mika says:

      Darn it, I know all or most of that and still when my spouse tells me that we should wash the windows I’m usually genuinely surprised. When I was a child I saw my father doing all kinds of household work but very early on I realized that my mother was the one who was in charge. How I’m acting? Should I change my behavior? You know with that daughter’n’all? I fear my head is about to explode. Well, I’ll take orienteering this evening. So I’m the funny one who doesn’t tell her to clean her room. Cool.

      • R. Jenrette says:

        Maybe this is the origin of misogyny in the U.S. today. Mom is the b***h who tells us what household work needs to be done. She keeps track of and sends us to appointments, many for unpleasant experiences like going to the dentist. If she has to tell us more than once, then she’s also a nagging b***h. She even bosses Dad, telling him what to do.
        Then once the boys marry and certainly after the kids come, the wife turns into the same nagging b***h.

      • Mika says:

        No I don’t think so. I don’t remember thinking that my mother “bossed” my father. When I went with my father to our garage it was self-evident that my mother doesn’t come with us. It’s an age old order of things, just the natural way the world works. Women take care of the private sphere and men the public sphere, remember Xanthippe? Some nagging is even wanted – in exchange for that we men get to play the part of the fool.

  2. itchy says:

    “feel free to assign me a percentage in the comments, Kimberly”

    So … she’s the project leader of assigning percentages?

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