Friday, June 9, 2023

How One Woman is Teaching Women AND Men To Split The Mental Load

Let's be friends!

The books we're reading, the vibrators we're using, the rants we're having and more in our weekly EDM.

Last week – on Mother’s Day no less! – we brought you the first instalment of this two-part story in which we get to the bottom of what a lot of women would really like to achieve: equally splitting the mental, or invisible load!

If you missed it, or need a refresh, please revisit Part One, then read on for our insights from Robyn Miller.

Robyn Miller is a practising doctor who will finish her specialist paediatrics training in six months. She lives in Brisbane with her husband, five-year-old daughter, and one-year-old son.

Having degrees in medicine, public health, arts, and management (as you do), Robyn is the woman behind The Mental Load Project ( For three years, she’s been personally running six-week online group courses to help women better share the mental load with their partners. The project has a strong social-media presence and Robyn’s emailed newsletters have titles like ‘Can I just copy/paste my mental load to my husband’s brain please’? To that, many of us will say, ‘yes please and also how?’.

The mental load, She describes the mental load, which is sometimes called the invisible load or emotional labour, is “basically when one person is always thinking ahead and planning ahead to make sure things run smoothly in their household.”

Tell me about the Mental Load Project course.

So I started running the group courses in 2019, on Monday nights, via Zoom, and via Facebook. I have since run groups which have each had between 15 and 30 women, with probably around 100 women from at least eight different countries participating. There’s probably a 40/60 split between Australia and New Zealand on one hand, and on the other hand Europe, North America and occasionally Asia and South America. It emphasises that this social conditioning is present in so many cultures.  

Is your course mainly targeted at mothers?

Most people who do the course are mothers, but not all. If anything, the earlier you do it the better, because if you evenly divide the mental load, it’s not as overwhelming if and when you do have children. After kids arrive, there will be an adjustment, but you already have the foundation to share it [the mental load]. So, some women doing the course are planning to have children, others are doing it after having children, and some others even do it after their children have left home!

How long is the course?

The course runs over six modules – more or less one module per week – and I find it takes about six weeks to set the new structure in place, settle into the division, and see the benefits. I don’t say to a woman who is doing the course ‘oh, make sure your husband does x, y and z’. You need to have a conversation with your partner and decide what is a fair split of the mental load, based on lots of factors. If you’ve determined that fair split, Then the division of labour flows from there.And if things change in your lives, you can have another conversation about a fair split. For example, after we had our son last year, my husband was the stay-at-home parent for the first nine months, so we had a different division of the mental load compared to this year when we’re both back working.

Did you get people saying ‘oh, you’re so lucky your husband did that!’? Whereas I imagine people wouldn’t say that to a man if his wife was home with the baby.

Yeah, if you flip something like that, you realise how socially conditioned we are to think ‘oh, we’re lucky because our husbands do more than a lot of other men do’. But if you feel in yourself that the mental load split is unfair, that itself is your answer about needing a change.

How is the course structured?

Initially, I was working part-time so I had a bit more flexibility and time. So I ran the courses every few months. But at the moment, because I’m working and have two young kids, I don’t have that time and availability, so I’m moving to a more open-ended enrolment system. On Friday, my new website went live, so now people can enrol anytime to do the course at a time and pace that’s right for them. This means that when someone reaches their limit [with the mental load], they don’t have to wait six months until I run another programme. I can still support people when they need it, as opposed to doing a fixed Zoom call every Monday night. I’d like to still do the original group course every now and then, because some people derive more motivation and benefit from that.

If a woman wants to sign up for the more self-paced course, what will she get?

She’ll get immediate access to all six modules, and will work through the process in her own time, but generally it’ll take about six weeks to implement.  I’ve made the videos seven minutes or less, because for women to sit down and watch a 20-minute video after a busy day – that’s not going to work. There will also be PDF worksheets that can remind you and guide you. A lot of the work is undoing your socially conditioned mindset and thinking habits, so there is ‘homework’ on the go. Then you’ll look at how you’ve changed your thinking patterns.

I run two Facebook groups as part of the Mental Load Project. One is the private group for paid students, which is very individualised. So a person I’ve worked with from step one to three, might ask me ‘I’m stuck on step four, what do you suggest?’.

There is also a public and free community Facebook group that anyone can join. There is support among the thousand-plus people in this group. So women will post comment or questions. If someone posts, for instance, that they’re stuck on something, I’ll write a suggestion when I have time. But a lot of ideas come from the others in the group. We’re currently running on our social media – Facebook and Instagram – a series called ‘My Mental Load Means…’ which has generated some fantastic – and at times hilarious and/or tragic – discussion around what the mental load looks like on a day-to-day basis. 

How many people have you reached so far?

There are around 10,000 people in the Mental Load Project community between e-mail subscribers, Instagram followers, Facebook followers, and the Facebook groups

Would you ever develop a course specifically targeted at men?

I have come across a few courses for men – like ‘learn how to do the washing’. It’s just like, can we please not? If you don’t know how to do the washing, look it up on YouTube. What we need to change are subconscious habits and thinking patterns. In my course, the current structure is either that both people in a couple can watch the videos and do the work at the same time – or, as I did originally, that the woman watches the first half of the video, does her thinking and mindset work, then brings her partner onboard for the second half. In the course, women change their thinking first to create that space for their partners to change. Any relationship is symbiotic.As one person changes, the other person will change too. Their partners can create new habits for themselves so they’re noticing the division of the mental load, and starting to think ahead.

we’re kind of brainwashed into thinking ‘oh, men can’t multitask, so it’s up to us’.

Robyn Miller

Could men recognise these things earlier without women having to bring this up?

Potentially, except often we don’t give our partners the space to recognise and change things because as women we’re so trained to do things ourselves. In our house, my husband is totally responsible for the food. One day my husband said that someone at work gave him some ideas for toddler food. This is the shift: he was talking about it because [providing] toddler food is part of his mental load. There can be a minimum agreement; for example, if my husband got us takeaways every night, then we’d probably work on an agreement that we get takeaways just on Friday nights, or whatever suited our family budget/values/capacity etc.

What does your husband think about this project?

He’s very supportive. He’s very much on board with the division of the mental load being fair. I actually think I’ve noticed the difference much more than he has. That’s partly because, to me, 50% feels more like 30% because things are less overwhelming and more organised than they were before. The feedback I’ve heard is that people’s partners are willing, able, and enjoy the autonomy and satisfaction of knowing that this thing is something they’re responsible for and they can do it their way. They enjoy not feeling like they have to wait for instructions. Another benefit I’ve seen with couples is the appreciation of each other and what they do.

How do you find time to run this project? Does it add to your mental load in a way!?

Well, the ultimate goal is that the project will be more self-sustaining. As in,with the income from course participants, I could at some point pay an employee to do some of the admin and organisation, because I currently have so little time. I would then focus on the leadership work and the ‘public-facing’ work in promoting the ideas behind the project, and I’d do a few speaking engagements, and also do one-on-one and group support for the participants.

I wrote a story recently on ditching working-mum guilt, after having felt guilty about some daycare, then some after-school care, for my son. Do you find that some women feel guilty like that about childcare, so they’re almost trying to do too much to make up for it?

Definitely. I’ve actually just added an extra master-class unit to the course, which is about ditching the guilt. Because, after they did the division, some participants have had trouble letting go of something because they felt guilty and felt so responsible that they thought they should keep doing the tasks. So, it was like, ‘Oh, I can’t let my husband organise the extracurricular activities because if it doesn’t work, it’s my fault’, whereas actually it’s just that you’ve had more practice at this. No one has an innate skill to organise their child’s extracurricular activities better than anyone else, given practice. In the course there is some psychological work about not feeling guilty when it’s not required or justified, but to also not feel guilty when you’re dividing the mental load.

How important is this project to you?

Extremely important. For me, it’s about the impact of the mental load on gender equality. For example, with the ‘glass ceiling’ of women earning less than men, and not getting leadership positions, it can be put down to ‘oh, they took time off to have kids’. Whereas, maybe a woman took one year off, but the mental load has had much more of an impact on her career. This is something that is under-recognised. I’d like to have it recognised – and to have other women able to free themselves of that and get more balance. Because otherwise it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘oh, I can’t take that promotion or management position because of the mental load’, then it’s ‘I’m earning less so I should take on more of the mental load’.

This kind of thing perpetuates itself over generations because what our children see is that the mums do these certain things, and the dads do those different things. Girls and boys learn to think these ways. For instance, if a man gets a lot of accolades for being an involved dad even without him taking on the mental load.

Is this project rewarding for you?

Definitely – it’s like changing the world one relationship at a time, step by step. If I can impact just one relationship, then those two people are not only going to benefit from it but, if they speak to their friends about, it there can be a ripple effect. My overall goal is to put myself out of business, because if there was no reason for the program to exist, great!

Is mental-load equality possible?

Definitely. My main point is that there’s nothing biological about it – we’re kind of brainwashed into thinking ‘oh, men can’t multitask, so it’s up to us’. Whereas it’s just the way we’ve been conditioned, and we can undo that conditioning bit by bit – and make a change.

“It’s About Humans Trying to Feel Less Alone, Be Seen, Be Heard, Be Loved” – Let’s REALLY Talk About Sex with ‘Sexpert’ Melody Thomas

Podcaster, journalist and mother-of-two Melody Thomas wants to normalise conversations around sex and relationships. She made three seasons of the popular, award-winning podcast BANG!...

10 INCREDIBLE Fiji Honeymoon Spots: The Best Luxurious Accommodation Options For Your Perfect Romantic Escape

Ok, so you have something BIG to celebrate. Maybe you’re getting married and are looking for the perfect Fiji honeymoon location? Or, maybe you’re...

So, How Is Succession Going To End? Our Predictions, Plus Everything the Stars Have Said…

Succession fans, we're nearly there - the final episode of the final season is upon us.So what's going to happen? What do we...

‘Fighting the Middle-Aged Spread’ – Where Are the Stories That Say Gaining Weight During Perimenopause is NORMAL?

Women are generally expected to fight the weight gain that often accompanies perimenopause. But should we really feel we have to? Sarah Lang looks...