Parents at Work

Research: ‘Mental load’ weighs down working mothers

With kids all over the United States on winter break, the hands of working mothers everywhere are full as ever.

As the recently-released Bright Horizons Modern Family Index shows this year, among working mothers, 72% think it’s their responsibility to keep their children’ schedules up to date, compared to 22% of fathers; 59% manage all home tasks, compared to 22% of men; and 63% have stayed home when their kids don’t feel well instead of coming to the office, compared to 29% of fathers.

The report sheds light on the “mental load” working moms face, which requires them to take on a variety of roles.

Kelton Global carried out the research, Bright Horizons Family Solutions commissioned it, and it’s the fourth installment of a yearly series. The research team surveyed 2,082 working 18+ Americans who are parents to one or more kids younger than 18.

Here’s what working women take on

Citing 2013 evidence from Pew Research Center, the report said that in 40% of American homes, women are the “breadwinners.” It said that 86% of employed mothers report being in charge of most things involving their families and homes, including transportation to appointments and scheduling them.

Among women who provide the main source of income for their families, they are “34% more likely than other working mothers to manage the family finances (71% vs. 53%).”

Fifty-two percent of employed mothers say they’re “burning out” because of how much they have to do at home, and 69% of them say that “household responsibilities” are behind this mental load.

“The mind share versus time share equation is at the heart of the mental load — the requirement on women to be not just parents and caretakers, but also unofficial keepers of where the entire family needs to be and when, and perpetual guardians against anything falling through the cracks,” the report says.

That’s why employers should promote equality — offer something for everyone — according to the report.

“Upending the order will require changing expectations. To allow women’s and men’s careers to flourish, employers will need to offer family-friendly benefits that appeal to both genders. Perhaps more importantly, they will need to ensure employees have equitable, gender-blind access to support,” the report says. “The goal is to change workplace cultures that quietly favor men as employees and women as mothers, and so to create environments and cultures in which mothers and fathers feel they can equally share the load.”

Here’s what working dads do

The report said that fathers who are breadwinners are “more than three times less likely to stay on top of the family’s schedules,” maybe because they’re not supported at work when they try to manage household responsibilities, “leaving mothers with both the personal and professional heavy lifting.”

Only 22% of male breadwinners sign up their kids for recreational activities at the end of the school day, versus 76% who bring home the main income. Just 23% of male breadwinners take care of the kids when they’re out of school or feeling under the weather, versus 49% of breadwinning women.

While the 2016 Modern Family Index reportedly found that more than 25% of working fathers thought they might be let go from work after letting their workplace know they were having a child, this year’s research found that employed dads are “are 32% more likely than mothers to say they would give up a 10% raise for more family time.”

Bright Horizons CHRO Maribeth Bearfield commented on the research in a statement, showing what being more progressive can do.

“Now is a more important time than ever to break out of traditional male/female stereotypes – both at home and at work,” she said. “The fact is that for most employers, much of their most valuable talent in the workplace is playing double duty as manager of family life as well. By providing supports to working women, they can help open up mindshare that can contribute even more to the workplace. And by creating environments where men are encouraged and valued for taking advantage of work/life supports as well, workplaces can start to catch up with the culture this generation of working families demands.”

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