So, Christmas is fast approaching and, for many women, the extra work involved will prove exhausting. Yes, I know it seems clichéd but research suggests that women do still do the bulk of the work at Christmas. Even in households where the tasks are evenly allocated, women often continue to carry the mental load.
The mental load is the weight of thinking and planning and decision making that goes into creating something. At Christmas this may include choosing appropriate gifts for all the family, planning menus, managing budgets, decorating the house – and the list goes on.
People who don’t do this have no idea of the brain space required for these activities. For example, buying gifts for all the family requires you to:
- Plan a budget
- List everyone who needs a gift
- Remember what you have bought in previous years
- Recall conversations had throughout the year to get ideas for gifts
- Make phone calls to ask what nieces/nephews etc. would like
- Notice changes in habits/hobbies etc.
- Balance gifts so spending is fair (e.g. same amount on each child)
- Generate ideas then narrow them down to a decision.
- Locate gifts (on-line / in store)
- Allocate time to shop in an already busy schedule
- Make sure you have enough wrapping paper, cellotape etc.
- Make time to wrap.
And buying gifts is just one of the extra tasks involved.
Allocating tasks to other family members will help to alleviate the physical load but, as long as you hold on to the mental load you will retain responsibility for the whole thing. Asking someone else to buy the turkey will save you a task but if you are still thinking about where it needs to come from, how big it needs to be etc. then you are still carrying the mental load.
Stop and ask yourself if you would do this at work.
My guess is that, at work, you delegate properly. You probably make sure someone has the skills and knowledge needed to complete a task and then you delegate both the physical load and the responsibility. This may require a proper briefing and possibly some training but, by delegating properly, you empower people to learn.
You can do the same thing at home.
People expect you to carry the mental load because you always have. If family members don’t understand the mental load it is because you have never asked them to carry it. Generation after generation of women have done the same thing.
It is something of a cliché but, “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got.”
This change does come with a warning. Other people won’t do things the same way you would. But so what? You can take a Command and Control approach and continue to carry the mental load or you can accept that other people are capable too. They may get some things wrong but learning lies in failure. Just accept their mistakes, (have you never burnt the pigs in blankets?)
If you a reading this with a sense of abject horror I hope it is because you already share the mental load in your home. If you are filled with fear at the very idea of relinquishing control then please remember that this is a choice. But with choice comes responsibility.
If you choose to carry the whole mental load and do not delegate to others, you also relinquish the right to feel resentful when they just sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour. You cannot choose to do it all and then play the martyr.
However you do things in your house – I hope you remember to enjoy it all.