Mental load is real
Janine Hayter’s husband, Gary, makes their three young daughters’ school lunches, does all the big grocery shopping and helps out with the household chores. Although she values her husband’s efforts, saying he does more than many other men, she points out that it wouldn’t happen so well if she didn’t plan and manage the process.
She keeps a comprehensive grocery list for him because he won’t notice if they’re running out of cleaning detergents; she informs him about what chores need to be done; and she plans and cooks the family’s meals. In addition, she also helps all the children with their homework and projects, organises their school pick-up schedule, which involves three different school closing times and scores of after-school activities, and keeps lists posted in the kitchen so everyone can remember what has to happen.
Hayter (43), a head of department at a top Johannesburg government school, knows all about women’s mental load.
“Like this morning,” she says on Wednesday night over a glass of wine. “I came home from a run at 6am and they weren’t out of bed yet. And then while I was trying to get ready for work, my eldest needed a letter written to a teacher about missing hockey practise. And the middle one wanted her hair done, and the youngest needed something for her class theme table about sharks.
“And while all this was going on, Gary was standing in the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee, unsure of what to do,” she says.
Hayter was so flustered by the time she got everyone in the car that she had to go back into her locked house twice to fetch things they had forgotten. Her work day also didn’t get off to the best start.
It is unsurprising that Hayter hasn’t considered applying for a promotion and one day becoming a school principal.
“Oh, I could never do that! Not with everything I have to do right now,” she says.
A lack of desire to progress in their careers has been cited as one of the consequences of women’s mental load.
To ensure she had enough time to get everything done, Hayter gave up running to allow her to juggle her responsibilities. But she developed severe health problems as a result and took it up again on doctors’ orders. Now she wakes up as early as 3am to get her work done, and goes to bed exhausted as late as 11pm each night.
Hayter blames society’s expectations of women: “We say we are ready for women to break the mould, yet we are not ready to let go of the traditional expectations of what women should be doing in their roles as wife and mother. Women try to do both equally well, and then wonder why it feels so overwhelming.”