Is the following a familiar refrain in your home?
“Put the washing on to dry, darling?”
80 minutes later, you discover an empty dryer that just blasted nothing while wet, clean towels remain in the washing machine. All due to a lack of detail when asking for help with a household chore.
When this happened to me, I should have said, “Can you take the wet, clean laundry out of the washing machine, place it in the dryer, then turn on dryer, darling?”
But, I was, uh, busy doing a terrible job of breastfeeding my newborn at the time.
It seems what I have been experiencing has now been aptly coined “la charge mentale” or mental load by Emma, a French graphic artist. Her much talked about comic called “Faillait Demander” (You Should’ve Asked) describes with funny-yet-painful accuracy women’s “mental load” – how frequently we carry the responsibility of running the entire household on top of our work and how men abdicate responsibility by requiring such detailed instructions that we give up asking them to do their fair share.
The churning empty dryer is not an isolated event chez moi. If I ask for something out of the fridge, Hubby can stand there for a long, painful minute until he’ll venture, “Um, where is it?” And I’ll reply which shelf it’s on. Around here, that’s called Fridge Blindness. It’s as much fun as Out-the-Door Syndrome, an inability to get kids outside with their metro card, snack, school bag, or appropriate clothing. Then there’s Help Me Help You Fold Socks, where every sock gets held up with a question: “Is this yours? Or…” (which kind of kills my Netflix binge buzz). And do not get me started on Doudou Amnesia.
Read Emma’s entire comic on Mental Charge in English here.
It seems I’m the only person capable of finding anything: hairbrush, nail clippers, toothbrushes, shoes, coats, library books, keys. The people I live with have stopped tracking where their stuff is. It’s all in my brain. And sadly, where the hairbrush is takes up half of my RAM. I am now failing to remember other important info (like when my VAT declaration is due) because my neurons are tracking loved ones’ paraphernalia. I can tell you right now how much cat food we have left. But I forgot to go to the gym all weekend. You see? Women who suffer from Mental Load are too busy keeping their homes functioning to chill out or go have some fun.
At times, I become quite… uh, sarcastic. Okay, shouty. I become shouty.
How to Tell if You Suffer from Mental Load?
- You know how many clean pairs of socks are left in everyone’s drawers.
- To go on a girls-only weekend, you have to write a 6-page rundown of instructions (including what your children eat/don’t eat and where in the freezer is all the food you pre-cooked).
- Your partner asks you if you’ve seen his plastic things he puts in his shirt’s collar to make it sit right… and you have and know where they are.
- The last time your partner washed a load of dirty laundry, your favorite top shrunk two sizes.
- You can guess how many rolls of toilet paper are in your house right now and be right within 2 rolls.
When an article appeared in The Guardian newspaper about Emma’s comic, the comments fell into two categories: “don’t get married or attempt to have a family” versus smug reports from blokes who claimed to do 50% or even more of the household chores. (I suspect some comments were written by bots.)
When I’ve had “The Talk” with Hubby to ask him to cook or take responsibility for something, I get the argument back that he does most of the driving, all of the power tool operation, unblocks drains, and… earns more than me. All of this is true. Just yesterday, we built a bunk bed together and my screwing was awfully sub-par. It’s true, he did have to talk me through every tricky maneuver – when to lift and which direction to walk in. He carried the full Mental Load of that bunk bed assembly. But I knew where the clean sheets were when we made the darn thing.
And I’d argue that these jobs are not what our daily survival pivots on. We aren’t unblocking a drain every day. Nor are we operating power tools every evening (unless you count me getting out the food processor…). However, we are using toilet paper, eating meals, taking out the garbage, and feeding the cat. 90% of that is on me.
My cure is to disappear for long weekends for any reason I can conjure on a completely not-regular-enough basis — sometimes without even the 6-page missive on where everyone needs to be and what they like on their toast. Yes, this doesn’t actually cure the problem, but it does trigger a short bout of Mental Load Amnesia, and when I get home, I too can bask in the chill of the open fridge door and enjoy Fridge Blindness.