Mental load – relieving the burden for busy working Dads

A scenario you may recognise that might be warning signs you may be carrying too much mental load.

Lately, I find myself staring blankly at my computer screen more often than I’d like to admit. The endless to-do lists both at work and home seem to blur together, forming a relentless fog that weighs on my mind. I manage a hectic work schedule by day and juggle the kids’ schedules by night. Every day feels like a race against the clock, and no matter how much I achieve, the finish line keeps moving.

It’s not just physical tiredness, though my shoulders often ache like I’ve been carrying my eldest boy on my back all day. It’s more than that. It’s as if my brain itself is exhausted. The simplest decisions at home, like what to cook for dinner or sorting out the laundry, feel as monumental as leading a high-stakes meeting.

I’m not depressed—I know that much from the odd occasion I’ve spoken with a professional – but there’s a definite sense of detachment. It’s as though I’m moving through my own life as an outsider, watching from a distance.

The Mrs does her best, but the unspoken expectation that I’ll remember birthdays, schedule doctor’s appointments, and plan family outings just because I always have, adds an invisible strain. She thanks me, and I know she means it, but it doesn’t lighten the load. I hear about mental load now and then, often in the context of working mothers.

I’ve never thought to apply it to myself, but it fits—this constant, unrelenting mental gymnastics I’m performing day in and day out.

If you recognise this picture in yourself, maybe this article can help.

There’s other resources from the Dads In Business web too, namely The Seven Types Of Rest, Routines and Monotony, and Methods To Manage Stress & Anger.

The concept of mental load

For many men, the gradual accumulation of mental load is barely noticeable until it becomes overwhelming. This phenomenon often stems from traditional expectations and roles that subtly dictate behaviour from an early age. Men are frequently taught to prioritise providing for their families, often equating their value with their ability to manage work and family responsibilities seamlessly. (watch; Rethinking Masculinity) This mindset can lead to a reluctance to acknowledge when we’re struggling, out of fear it might be seen as a failure to fulfil our ‘duty.’

In the life of a dad, each day adds more to the pile—organising the kids’ activities, remembering family commitments, managing home maintenance, all while maintaining career trajectories or business performance. Each responsibility is absorbed almost automatically. There’s an underlying belief that admitting the struggle or asking for help diminishes their role as a provider and protector.

This self-imposed pressure to be both financially and domestically capable can lead to a deep-seated resistance to sharing the burden.

Social conditioning plays a significant part too. Men often observe a scarcity of role models who openly manage and share domestic responsibilities or discuss the stress it involves. The traditional images of fatherhood don’t usually include fathers openly addressing or sharing their feelings of being overwhelmed. This lack of visibility reinforces the idea that men should cope silently.

Moreover, in professional settings, there is often an unspoken stigma around men taking full advantage of family-friendly policies like paternity leave or flexible working hours. There’s a pervasive worry about career repercussions or diminished respect from colleagues and superiors, which discourages open discussions about balancing work and home life.

Indeed, our own research suggests half of Dads see having young kids at home as a risk to their career opportunities at work!

The combination of cultural expectations, personal pride, and lack of community support leads many dads to shoulder a quietly expanding mental load. Breaking this cycle requires not only individual awareness and action but also broader societal shifts in how we perceive and value the roles of fathers at home.

What is mental load, anyway?

Invisible Labour: The term “mental load” captures the essence of the continuous, often unrecognised work involved in planning, managing, and coordinating household activities and family needs. This aspect of mental load is largely invisible and frequently undervalued, despite its critical role in maintaining family dynamics and home management.

Cognitive Burden: Mental load involves the cognitive demands of remembering, organising, and prioritising a wide array of tasks and responsibilities. These range from daily chores and errands to long-term planning like family budgeting and scheduling. The constant need to keep track of these details can be mentally exhausting, as it requires sustained attention and mental energy.

Emotional Aspect: Beyond the tangible tasks, mental load also encompasses the emotional care taking responsibilities of the family. This includes being aware of and responsive to the emotional states and needs of each family member, supporting them through challenges, and celebrating their successes. It requires emotional sensitivity and resilience, adding another layer of complexity to the mental load carried by individuals.

Together, these elements constitute the mental load—a crucial, yet often overlooked, set of tasks that are essential for the smooth functioning of family life. Understanding and addressing this load can lead to a more balanced and supportive household environment.

How mental load may become overbearing

Juggling Responsibilities: Busy professional working dads frequently find themselves at the intersection of career ambitions and home responsibilities. The modern workplace demands high performance, critical thinking, and often long hours, which are just the start of their daily commitments. Once the workday ends, another layer of responsibility begins, involving active parenting and household management. This dual demand to excel both in the office and at home creates a relentless cycle of tasks that leave little room for error and even less for rest.

Limited Downtime: Amidst these overlapping duties, personal time becomes a rare commodity. The pressure to continuously perform at peak levels across all areas of life cuts deeply into the time normally reserved for relaxation and personal interests. Hobbies and downtime, essential for mental health and well-being, are often the first sacrifices made on the altar of productivity. This loss of leisure time not only diminishes life quality but also perpetuates a cycle of stress and exhaustion, making it harder for dads to recharge and remain engaged with their families and careers.

Expectations vs. Reality: Societal expectations paint a picture of fatherhood that is often at odds with reality. Cultural narratives suggest that a dad should be able to manage work pressures seamlessly while also being an ever-present, emotionally supportive parent. This discrepancy between societal ideals and the lived experience of many fathers leads to increased stress and feelings of inadequacy. The gap between what is expected and what is achievable can make dads feel as though they are falling short in both of their critical roles, exacerbating the mental load they carry.

Impact of Mental Load on Dads

Increased Stress Levels: For many dads, the constant balancing act between work demands and home duties serves as a potent stressor. Each sphere of life brings its own set of challenges, and managing both simultaneously can elevate stress and anxiety levels significantly. This persistent state of stress not only impacts mental health but can also lead to physical health issues, such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and a weakened immune response.

Risk of Burnout: Continuous high stress without adequate support or opportunities for recovery can push dads towards burnout. This state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion reduces a person’s efficacy in both professional and personal roles. Burnout not only affects one’s performance at work, possibly leading to job dissatisfaction and reduced productivity, but it also dims the joy and engagement in family activities and responsibilities.

Watch more about burnout on the Dads In Business YouTube channel.

Relationship Strain: The burden of mental load often goes unrecognised in family dynamics, potentially leading to conflicts or misunderstandings. If one partner perceives an unequal distribution of responsibilities, it can cause significant relationship strain. This tension might manifest as resentment or frequent arguments about household management and parenting, eroding the foundational trust and partnership necessary in a relationship.

Read more: How to keep your relationship exciting.

Emotional Withdrawal: As a coping mechanism for the overwhelming demands placed on them, some dads may withdraw emotionally. This withdrawal can be an unconscious attempt to conserve energy by reducing engagement with emotionally demanding situations. However, this response can alienate partners and children, leading to a cycle of miscommunication and disconnection within the family.

The impacts of mental load on dads are profound, influencing their health, work satisfaction, and family relationships. Recognising these challenges is the first step towards addressing them and fostering a more supportive environment that allows dads to thrive in all aspects of their lives.

Supporting Dads with Mental Load: Roles of Spouses and Self-Help Strategies

Open Communication: Key to managing the mental load effectively is fostering an environment of open communication. Spouses can help by initiating regular discussions about household responsibilities, which allows for the mental load to be acknowledged and shared more equitably. For dads, being transparent about their pressures and limits can prevent misunderstandings and facilitate a more supportive relationship.

Active Participation: Rather than maintaining traditional roles where one partner may inadvertently become the ‘manager’ at home, spouses can proactively share the planning and decision-making load. This involves taking initiative, not just in executing tasks but also in managing them from conception to completion. Dads can aid this process by being receptive to their partner’s initiatives and by stepping back to allow them to lead in certain areas.

Support Networks: Encouraging the building of a broader support network can greatly alleviate the mental load on both partners. This might include delegating tasks to other family members, sharing responsibilities with friends, or even seeking external services like counselling or professional home management advice. Dads can promote this approach by actively participating in these networks and recognising the value of community support.

Acknowledgment and Appreciation: Recognizing each other’s efforts plays a crucial role in managing household dynamics. Spouses should openly appreciate the work each does, which helps in making each partner feel valued and seen. Dads can reciprocate by regularly expressing gratitude and acknowledging the shared efforts in maintaining the home.

Regular Check-Ins: Scheduling frequent check-ins can help both partners stay connected to each other’s needs and stress levels. These moments are opportunities to reassess the division of labour, discuss emotional well-being, and make necessary adjustments to support each other better. For dads, participating actively in these check-ins demonstrates commitment to shared responsibilities and personal well-being.

By incorporating these strategies, both spouses can work towards a more balanced and supportive household, reducing the mental load and enhancing their partnership.

Further Reading and Resources on Managing Mental Load for Working Dads


Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live)” by Eve Rodsky This book tackles the issue of uneven household responsibilities through an innovative system designed to help couples rebalance their domestic workload. Rodsky uses relatable case studies and practical advice to help partners understand and manage their responsibilities more equitably.

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” by Brigid Schulte Schulte explores the pressures of modern life that lead to the feeling of being overwhelmed, particularly focusing on time management and the distribution of household duties. This book provides insights into how societal pressures affect both men and women, with practical solutions for finding time for work, family, and oneself.

Other Resources:

The Mental Load Podcast This podcast series addresses the concept of mental load—particularly how it impacts parenting and professional life. It offers interviews with experts and real-life stories from parents who navigate these challenges, providing strategies for balancing personal well-being with familial and professional responsibilities.

Harvard Business Review articles on Work-Life Balance HBR offers a range of articles discussing the challenges and solutions related to work-life balance, including how to manage mental load effectively in professional and personal spheres. These articles often combine expert advice with research-based insights, suitable for those in leadership and management roles looking to better manage their time and responsibilities.

Supporting Men & Dads in the workplace

Download our free guide to help employers create a more inclusive and supportive work environment for men and dads.

Supporting Men & Dads in the workplace

Download our free guide to help employers create a more inclusive and supportive work environment for men and dads.