Join our FREE live Masterclass: Repairing with Your Child After You Lose Your Cool
Register Here!
Join our FREE live Masterclass: Repairing with Your Child After You Lose Your Cool
Register Here!

March 25, 2024

March 20, 2024

How Partners Can Share in the Invisible Load and Reduce Mental Labour for Moms

E:
217
with
Zach Watson
Content Creator and Invisible Labor Educator for Men

What You'll Learn

  • Why the Invisible Load Often Defaults to Moms
  • How Gender Norms Tie Into the Invisible Load
  • How Decision-Making Plays Into the Invisible Load
  • The Dynamic That Often Forms Around the Invisible Load
  • How We Can Break Away From Gendered Division of the Invisible Load
  • The Pressures and Norms that Dads and Partners Face

When we start to feel like we’re drowning in the invisible load, we often blame our partners. It feels unfair—as if we’re carrying labor we never asked for and our partners don’t even seem to see it. 

It’s important to remember that our partner isn’t the problem. Just like us, they are carrying a lifetime of gender norms, socialized expectations, and pressures, which often lead to a dynamic that places more mental labor on moms. 

I truly believe that in many situations, the issue isn’t that our partners don’t want to pull their weight. They might not see or understand the mental labor. They might be battling internal pressures or fears of rejection and criticism. And they might simply not know where or how to interject and start sharing the invisible load

None of this is an excuse—this labor shouldn’t fall solely to moms. But until we examine the beliefs, norms, and expectations that create the dynamic in the first place it’s much more difficult to break out of the patterns and redistribute household labor. 

When partners take an active role in the invisible load, everyone benefits. It reduces pressure and overwhelm on moms, and it empowers partners to make decisions and parent with confidence. 

Today, I’m joined by Zach Watson, creator of Real Zach Think Share and invisible labor educator for men, to unpack why partners need to help carry the invisible load and how they can start. 

Why the Invisible Load Falls to Moms

The invisible load consists of the unseen (and often undervalued) mental and emotional labor involved in raising a family–tasks like remembering who needs what packed for school the next day, noticing when children are getting upset and intervening, planning and organizing, and making in-the-moment parenting decisions. 

Recent studies confirm what many moms already knew–that in different-sex couples, the bulk of this labor falls to moms. When polled, partners often report that household labor is shared equally, while moms report that they take on more parenting and household labor. But when the mental labor is broken down and accounted for, it becomes apparent that moms are overwhelmingly carrying this load. 

So why are partners not seeing this labor? Part of the reason why is because it’s so hidden. Women are often conditioned from a young age to start taking on this labor without realizing it.

We often don’t even realize that we’re establishing patterns or becoming weighed down with the load until we feel like we’re drowning. Because this labor is unpaid and largely invisible, it is often difficult to explain. 

Zach didn’t understand the mental load until he read Fair Play. In the book, Eve Rodsky points out that all time is created equal—whether we’re earning six figures for our work or spending time with our children. 

Reading that shifted Zach’s viewpoint. He said that it’s hard in a capitalist society to think that way. But it’s important to break away from what we’ve been conditioned to think and start to see household labor, including mental and emotional work, as valuable. 

Once he understood the value of the mental and emotional work his wife was carrying, he was able to make changes to take an active role in the invisible load. 

How Gender Norms Tie Into the Invisible Load

Another reason might fail to take an active role in the invisible load is gender norms–expectations that have been established by society, by our family of origin, or by our experiences in the world. 

Even couples who actively reject gender norms statistically find themselves falling into these same patterns, with mom becoming the primary caregiver and carrying the mental load. 

Toxic masculinity is also interwoven with gender norms. Men are often conditioned to push down their emotions and not show weakness and to reject anything seen as “feminine” or “nurturing.” This can lead to an unintentional rejection of nurturing or emotional labor. But masculinity doesn’t have to be that way. 

Dads should be allowed and encouraged to embrace emotions and nurture their children. 

Dads should be allowed and encouraged to embrace emotions, be vulnerable, and nurture their children. One of the things I appreciate about Zach’s work is that it serves as a representation of healthy, positive masculinity. 

Zach pointed out that his content has led him to be publicly held to a high standard of positive masculinity—which can also be hard. But he appreciates being held accountable and serving as inspiration for other dads who want to move away from unhealthy masculinity. 

How Decision-Making Plays Into the Invisible Load

The invisible load often consists of tiny moments that add up to be overwhelming—all the anticipation, researching, remembering, and little decisions that stack up until they feel exhausting. 

Zach pointed out that dads often default to deferring to moms for these little decisions. He shared about a time when his toddler was sick, and asked his wife if he should give her water or milk with ibuprofen before her nap. 

Even as he asked it, he realized that he was putting the emotional and mental labor on his wife—and that it was unnecessary to do so. He could have easily evaluated the options and made a decision. 

Zach pointed out that the “happy wife, happy life” idea reinforces this pattern of passiveness and saddles women with mental labor. 

He believes that one of the easiest ways partners can start to share in the invisible load is by taking an active role in these types of decisions and presenting them to their partners in a way that reduces mental labor. 

He related the idea to teaching—as a teacher he would often create harder tests for his advanced classes, calling for open-ended answers instead of multiple choice. In this way, he was deliberately creating more mental load for these students to challenge them.

But partners should do the opposite—try to avoid open-ended questions when they are unnecessary and instead prep the mental labor and present a possible answer. 

For example, instead of asking, “Should I give her water or milk?” Zach believes he should have made the decision and presented it in this way: “Ok, we can do water or milk. I’m thinking milk—that’s what I’m going with unless you think otherwise.” 

This approach gives both partners a chance to be a part of the conversation while also reducing the mental load and taking an empowered rather than passive standpoint to decision-making. 

The Dynamic That Often Forms Around the Invisible Load

It can be very hard for moms to let go of mental labor in the home. Sometimes it can feel like the only place they have control or power in a time when they feel very out of control. Even when they feel overwhelmed and want to carry less of the invisible load, it can feel uncomfortable to let that go. 

In a way, moms might unintentionally hold on to this labor, to being the caregiving decision makers, because it gives them a false sense of control. This can become even more prevalent if they experience postpartum anxiety, which craves control and certainty. 

Moms might unintentionally hold on to this labor because it gives them a false sense of control.

When dads are conditioned to be passive and moms feel the need to cling to that level of control, it can lead to an overfunctioning/underfunctioning dynamic, with mom taking on more than her fair share of labor and controlling the situation, and dad falling into a more and more passive role as a result. 

In this dynamic, moms might gatekeep to maintain control, and in turn, partners might withdraw out of fear of criticism, rejection, or not being able to meet their partner’s expectations or standards. 

One of the things I love about Zach’s “easy answer” concept is that it still allows moms to retain their active role as well. The goal isn’t to take power or control away from moms—it’s about allowing both partners to be active and presenting opportunities for moms to essentially opt out of mental labor where it’s not needed. 

It’s a great way to cut through that overfunctioning/underfunctioning dynamic and start to ease into a different pattern. 

How We Can Break Away From Gendered Division of the Invisible Load

Breaking out of the dynamics and patterns that keep moms carrying the invisible load allows both partners to step into new roles and away from gender stereotypes that keep us all trapped in one-dimensional boxes. 

Moms don’t have to be the keepers of knowledge, the only ones who know the research, and the makers of all the tiny decisions. Dads don’t have to be passive or defer to mom. 

All parents are capable of seeing the invisible load and taking an active role—but moms are the ones who are often defaulted into this labor. 

If partners find themselves asking unnecessary questions like, “What should I feed the kids?” or “How should I dress them?” they are falling into that passive role. Partners should be able to competently and confidently make these decisions and own this responsibility. 

It’s important for both partners to see each other as decision makers.

Zach said that it’s important for both partners to see each other as decision makers. He believes that the passiveness for dad often stems from fear of disappointing or letting down their partners. 

But everyone deserves to take an active, empowered role in parenting—just as everyone deserves to have their labor seen and valued. 

The Pressures and Norms that Dads and Partners Face

So much of the knowledge and competence in parenting comes from experience. This is another reason why moms end up shouldering so much of the knowledge—dads rarely have access to quality paternal leave, and moms are often the ones at home building the confidence and parenting experience. 

Zach pointed out that men often feel a lot of pressure to earn and provide for their families, especially when there is a financial impact from mom taking unpaid leave. Dads might feel pressured to work even more, leading to less opportunity for hands-on parenting. 

Another external pressure for men includes focus on how the outside of the home looks. While moms often receive judgment for the cleanliness of the house, dads might receive judgment for the state of the lawn or the trees. 

This continues to play into these patterns, with dads heading outside to take care of the exterior of the home, taking even more of that hands-on opportunity away. 

Partners need to see and understand their own beliefs and pressures they are carrying in order to break away from those expectations and deliberately carve out hands-on caregiving time to build the knowledge, capability, and confidence they need to take on their part of the invisible load. 

We need to see and value each other and consider the factors that play into our dynamics. 

When we are all caught up in new roles, new expectations, and new labor, it can be easy to place blame or forget to look at each other’s perspective. But we need to see and value each other and consider the factors that play into the dynamics we fall into. 

When we can approach the invisible load in the home not from a place of blame or from a place of default roles, we can work together as a team to share labor, value each other, and create roles that feel good for all partners. 

Ready to learn more about sharing invisible labor? Order your copy of Releasing the Mother Load: How to Carry Less and Enjoy Motherhood More today! 

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

Mental load, Gender norms, Dads

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Zach Watson
Content Creator and Invisible Labor Educator for Men

Content Creator, Coach, Invisible Labor Educator for Men. Zach makes educational videos and programming to improve men's awareness and understanding of Mental load, emotional labor, decision fatigue, domestic labor and equitable partnering.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
RELATED ARTICLES
March 25, 2024
March 20, 2024
How Partners Can Share in the Invisible Load and Reduce Mental Labour for Moms
E:
217
with
Zach Watson
Content Creator and Invisible Labor Educator for Men
March 25, 2024
February 28, 2024
How to Embrace Career Change as a Mom: Finding Your Passion and Overcoming Guilt
E:
214
with
Jess Galica
Career and Leadership Coach, Best-Selling Author
March 18, 2024
February 21, 2024
Understanding Postpartum Depression in Dads and Non-Birthing Partners
E:
213
with
Mark Williams
International Advocate for Perinatal Mental Health and Author
March 11, 2024
February 14, 2024
Rekindling Your Sex Life After Baby: Communication Is Key
E:
212
with
Vanessa & Xander Marin
bestselling authors & hosts of the podcast Pillow Talks
April 25, 2024
January 24, 2024
You’re Not an Angry Mom: Why We Experience Mom Rage (and What We Can Learn From It)
E:
209
with
Minna Dubin
Author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
February 20, 2024
January 17, 2024
What Causes Mommy Brain? The Role of the Invisible Load on Forgetfulness and Brain Fog
E:
208
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
neuroscientist, psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
January 3, 2024
How Parents Can Avoid Information Overload: Maintaining Confidence in Our Decision-Making
E:
206
with
Cara Goodwin
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
December 6, 2023
Navigating Different Sex Drives in Parenthood: What Impacts Libido and How to Reconnect
E:
202
with
Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy & Dr. Jennifer Vencill
Licensed Psychologists and Authors
February 20, 2024
November 29, 2023
Prioritizing the Invisible Load of Motherhood: Valuing Our Own Time and Letting Go of Mental Labor
E:
201
with
Whitney Casares
Founder and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc
February 20, 2024
November 22, 2023
Erica’s Husband Reflects on Sharing the Invisible Load
E:
200
with
Frenel Djossa
Erica’s Husband & Co-Founder of Momwell
February 20, 2024
November 8, 2023
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Perfectionism? Reframing the Concept of “Perfect” in Motherhood
E:
198
with
Katherine Morgan Schafler
Psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
November 1, 2023
Breaking Out of the Default Parent Role: How to Communicate with Your Partner and Change Patterns
E:
197
with
Erin & Stephen Mitchell
Founders of Couples Counseling for Parents
February 20, 2024
October 18, 2023
Rebuilding Connection and Intimacy After Baby: How Family Systems Can Help Us Navigate Relationship Challenges
E:
195
with
Aaron Steinberg
Co-Founder of Babyproofing Your Relationship
February 20, 2024
September 27, 2023
Understanding Overfunctioning in Relationships: How to Change Dynamics After Baby
E:
192
with
Dr. Tracy Dalgleish
Clinical Psychologist and Relationship Expert
February 20, 2024
September 13, 2023
Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home
E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
June 14, 2023
The Invisible Load of Fatherhood: How Dads Can Challenge Gender Norms and Become More Involved
E:
177
with
Dr. Singley
Psychologist and Director of The Center for Men’s Excellence
February 20, 2024
February 22, 2023
Navigating Working Mom Struggles: How to Let Go of Norms, Expectations, and Guilt
E:
161
with
Mary Beth Somich
Mental Health Counselor
February 20, 2024
February 8, 2023
Overcoming Mom Guilt: Rewriting the Motherhood Contract and Charting Your Own Path
E:
159
with
Libby Ward
Founder of Diary of an Honest Mom
February 20, 2024
December 14, 2022
Navigating Career and Motherhood: Approaching Maternity Leave with Confidence
E:
151
with
Allison Venditti
Founder of Moms at Work
February 20, 2024
November 30, 2022
Can Dads Get Postpartum Anxiety? The Importance of Mental Healthcare for Dads
E:
149
with
Dr. Pierre Azzam
Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
November 23, 2022
The Mental Load of Motherhood: How to Address the Imbalance of Household Labour
E:
148
with
Gemma Hartley
Journalist and Author
February 20, 2024
October 26, 2022
Adjusting to Becoming a Dad: From Bonding with Baby to Changes in Relationships
E:
144
with
Travis Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 19, 2022
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: Navigating the Emotions, Difficulties, and Challenges
E:
143
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
September 14, 2022
Dividing Labour Fairly in the Home: Redistributing the Mental Load of Motherhood
E:
138
with
Dr. Darcy Lockman
Author and Psychologist
April 25, 2024
August 31, 2022
Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning
E:
136
with
KC Davis
@domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care
February 20, 2024
July 27, 2022
Overcoming Working Mom Guilt: Why Moms Should Never Be Ashamed to Be Ambitious
E:
131
with
Lara Bazelon
Law Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
February 9, 2022
How to Prepare Your Dog for a New Baby: Planning, Introducing, and Keeping Everyone Safe
E:
107
with
Dominika Knossalla
Certified Dog Trainer
February 20, 2024
January 26, 2022
When Mommy Rage Strikes: How to Prevent and Control the Anger
E:
105
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
January 19, 2022
Carrying the Mental Load: How to Redistribute the Burden and Give Moms More Freedom
E:
104
with
Eve Rodsky
New York Times Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
December 29, 2021
Decluttering: The Secret of an Easy to Tidy Home
E:
101
with
Katy Wells
Declutter Expert
February 20, 2024
December 22, 2021
100th Episode: Erica’s Husband Tells All
E:
100
with
Frenel Djossa
February 20, 2024
December 8, 2021
Learning to Fight Fair
E:
98
with
Elizabeth Earnshaw
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
December 1, 2021
The One and Done Family
E:
97
with
Renee Reina, Ph.D.
Founder of The Mom Room
February 20, 2024
October 20, 2021
Social Justice Parenting
E:
91
with
Dr. Traci Baxley
Author
February 20, 2024
September 22, 2021
Working As A Mother
E:
87
with
Dr. Courtney Tracy
Founder of The Truth Doctor
February 20, 2024
June 16, 2021
The Overstimulated Mommy
E:
73
with
Larissa Geleris
Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
March 17, 2021
Replay of Navigating Intimacy After Children
E:
60
with
Dr. Tracy Dalgleish
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
March 10, 2021
Respectful Parenting as a Team
E:
59
with
Janet Lansbury
Author
February 20, 2024
August 19, 2020
Organizing All the Mess
E:
40
with
Holly Blakey
Professional Organizer
February 20, 2024
April 22, 2020
Prioritizing the Mental Load
E:
30
with
Erica Djossa
Founder of Momwell
February 20, 2024
April 8, 2020
Coping with the Mental Load
E:
28
with
Dr. Morgan Cutlip, Ph.D.
Relationship Expert
February 20, 2024
January 29, 2020
Racism and Privilege in Birth Work
E:
19
with
Sabia Wade
Doula
February 20, 2024
January 22, 2020
Do Dad’s experience postpartum depression?
E:
18
with
Dr. Dan Singley
Psychologist