The mental load – mums know what it is, it’s time dads did too

Ian Dinwiddy, Founder and Director of Inspiring Dads, writes about the benefits of doing the washing up. Really.

dads, housework


In a recent survey for GQ magazine 66% of respondents chose “being a present father” as the number one aspect of modern masculinity.

But modern masculinity goes way beyond that.

Real men not only want to spend more time with their families, they understand and help with the mental load. It’s not just about your quality time with your children – life is a partnership and your presence has to add up to more than just getting home on time and making great memories at the weekend.

Your role doesn’t begin and end with money in the bank and feeling good about yourself because your kids love you and you get to work from home once a week. (In fact research from Germany found that when men worked from home they actually worked longer and did less childcare than if they were ‘at work’ that day, by contrast women did more childcare than they otherwise would.)

It has to be about taking on the “burden” of life. It’s about pulling your weight, not waiting to be asked, about managing at home as well as at work.

It’s called ‘the mental load’ and generally men aren’t very good at understanding it and then doing something about it.


If you’re wondering what your wife says behind your back this may be an eyeopener. Here’s some typical messages I’ve seen:

“I’m putting the kids to bed when my daughter says, what’s for tea? It’s 8.15 and I feel raging tbh. I was out from 4-7 but I did just assume tea would be taken care of. Am I wrong?”

“I think it’s time you had a chat about this situation. Ffs we do not live in the 18th century! Seriously if you have to go out to work, then the balance within the home needs to be altered too. Atm my oh is ironing whilst I am doing other jobs. If he did not help out with the kids/ housework etc I would just down tools.”

Some partners think we’re stupid.

“If I’m out for dinner I leave either something pre-cooked or easy to make (frozen that just needs sticking in the oven) & give him very clear instructions on what to do, but to be honest I try to feed them before I go out… otherwise I know he’ll just resort to takeaway.”

This is what they want us to do…

“Men need to start taking on board the fact that women are not born with any special skills and that not only can men organise the home/kids/social life/etc, they should just do it without waiting to be asked. They shouldn’t expect those tasks to be delegated to them by women. And whilst there are men who do this, they are few and far between”

Work Life Balance

As a working dad, getting your work life balance right is really important but there’s bigger purpose here – it’s about the fundamentals of your life in partnership as a couple. If you are just focused on your own personal work life balance you are really missing a trick when it comes to your overall family and relationship happiness.

I don’t believe men are inherently selfish. Many of us were raised in households where mum did most, if not all, of the domestic chores and there’s plenty of research to show that men – and women – tend to repeat the example they were brought up with. But that also means it’s on us to set an example for our kids and muck in with the menial jobs.

And evidence shows the couple that puts out the bins together stays together. So it’s worth having a serious conversation with your partner about housework. It might not sound like the most convincing pillow talk but it will help you have a more mature and stronger bond.

One client, let’s call him Toby, told me, “If there’s one thing I wish we’d done better, it would have been to have those really honest discussions – rather than the more off-hand comments and observations – about the work life balance for both of us, including as a couple and as parents.”

The modern dads mantra might be ‘don’t split up, split the chores’.

Engage with the mental load properly and your partner will be saying nice things about you to her friends behind your back.


Ian Dinwiddy is Founder and Director of Inspiring Dads – a coaching business specialising in supporting men with their work life balance.

Comments [3]

  • Role modelling matters for working dads in so many ways - 3 Plus International says:

    […] that paid work is followed by a “second shift” of unpaid housework and emotionally demanding mental load. The UN estimates that globally 75% of unpaid labour is carried out by women (about three times as […]

  • Jeremy - ThirstyDaddy says:

    Its interesting because both my wife and I both think that we do almost all of the household chores. I’m sure that the truth is somewhere in the middle, as it often is

  • V Young says:

    Interesting article – as a mum it’s one of the things I take on without thinking about, but then, when I’m away with work for a week or so, and need to communicate the kids / home needs for the week, it sometimes stretches to spreadsheet length!! But again I do know of Dads who take all of the load on – at the end of the day it’s all about partnership ..right?!

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