Mental load: how does equal family management work?
“Those carrying the mental load work round the clock, particularly when they have children,” says Karin Macke. “Even in couples who think they split the tasks equally, the thinking of all the tasks mainly falls to the women.” Responsibility is only fairly divided if fathers actually take on the thinking work too. It’s about knowing when the children have which events, what they need at school for example and what day their recreational programme is. These multiple big and little things that are part of the household and care work, often unseen care work, are referred to as mental load.
“As women, we are raised to feel responsible for most of these things,” says Karin Macke. This leads to women being greatly overburdened, being able to do less paid work and as a result earning less. However, some women would not be able to let go and often find it difficult to hand tasks over to their partners. “It often fails because of the woman’s self-confidence. Having everything under control improves her confidence, and losing this position is a source of anxiety.”
Macke recommends talking about the division of labour during or even before the couple is pregnant with their first child and negotiating how day-to-day life with the child will go in the future. Men need more awareness of which tasks are part of childcare, and women need to learn to say no and express what they want. This takes clarity and bravery.
“In our counselling sessions, it often becomes clear that women are worried about a loss of love if they ask for more. That's got to change,” says the expert. Ultimately, it’s set out in law that half of the child-raising is the responsibility of the man.
You can talk to experts about this topic in many Austrian family counselling centres. Use the search function on our website to find a suitable centre and make a free appointment.
Our interview partner
Karin Macke is a psychotherapist, coach and counsellor on the team at Frauen* beraten Frauen* (Women Counsel Women).
The interview was conducted in December 2022.