My wife recently shared an excerpt from a comic called “The Mental Load” which has inspired me to write this piece. Before we proceed I feel compelled to clarify that I am not intending to dismiss the experiences of new mothers nor should this be taken as a competition between parents. In fact, good communication and mutual empathy of the difficulties that both parents face is the key to a successful partnership in child rearing. The purpose of this piece is to dispel some myths about the father experience and hopefully give parents some points to discuss if they feel they are having difficulties.
“The Mental Load” depicted a story of how new mothers may be viewed as the “managers” of household chores by fathers and that this means they have to organise and execute the majority of the tasks in the home. The need for mothers to remember everything all of the time is referred to as the “mental load” and the comic implies that fathers do not share in this, which may be reinforced if they overlook household chores or rely on their partner to ask for help. While there is a lot to break down with this narrative I thought it best with the limited word count to simply share a story to demonstrate a fathers “mental load”.
At the time my daughter was born I was in charge of a wellbeing department in a mid-sized government school. In my role I managed psychologist referrals, GP appointments, supervised placement students, managed at risk students and supported teaching staff with difficulties in the classroom. None of this disappeared while I was on paternity leave for a week and so in the midst of discovering how to be a father, change nappies and supporting my wife I was also carrying the mental load of work building up in my absence and the safety of students.
The comic also showed men returning to work as a sort of fun adventure when in fact for many men returning to work can be difficult as we try to strike a balance between meeting performance requirements at work and supporting our partners and children at home. If we are away for 40+ hours, it can be difficult to keep track of the rapid developmental changes of our child and we often feel on the outside of the mother / child bond. So what might be seen as reinforcing a “manager” role on the mother may in fact simply be burnout and a lack of continuity.
The prevalence of postnatal depression in men could be as high as 10% and so while it is definitely important to recognise the immense pressure that mothers are under, narratives that serve to dismiss the difficulties of new fathers are not helpful. Communication and empathy are the best tools for new parents to survive the storm that is parenthood.
– Opinion of Jarred Kellerman, Business Support Manager at Cire Corporate Services.