The Mental Load – a Christmas story


At this time of year, many women find their 'mental load' increases. What is the mental load? It's all the mental work, the organising, list-making, planning, that you do to manage your life, and that of those dependent on you.

Study after study shows that, in many cases, it's women who bear the bulk of the mental load in a household – day in, day out. And when the time of year rolls around for family get-togethers, that load seems to grow.

We'd like to share one woman's story with you.

An open letter from Mrs Claus

Dear Santa (relax dear, I won't give away your real name),

I saw a comic the other day and thought of us. Of you and me. Have you heard of this thing called 'mental load', dear? Apparently it's quite a thing, but especially this time of year.

Apparently we women are very good at taking on the 'mental load'. Far too good at it, it seems.

What is 'mental load', you ask with your ever-twinkling, well-rested eyes? Well dear, you know how you're so busy delivering presents that you don't have time to see to the bills getting paid, if the reindeers' vaccinations are up to date, whether the sleigh's been cleaned, if we need more dental floss, if you've got enough beard wax, if your jacket needs to be let out a few centimetres (again), if the elves are taking their vitamins in the morning, if your holey socks have been replaced?

Because you know that I'll take care of all that? Right?

Well, about the comic. Have you seen it? 'You Should Have Asked', by the French artist Emma? It talks about how so often it's the women in households that take care of things and make sure 'stuff' gets done, but really, we shouldn't complain about when it all gets too much, because if we need help, really, all we have to do is ask you fellows. Right?

Get real.

I mean, OF COURSE YOU'RE REAL (hello young readers!), but I think your unusual line of work might have blinded you to some realities of how Santa's Kingdom actually runs. And who's actually running it.

Let's cut to the chase. You work ONE NIGHT A YEAR. Oh yes, there's some going through of letters and naughty-or-nice lists (which I help you with, around my lecturing role in glaciology at North Pole University), and some elf supervision.

But really, how about the rest of it?

Who do you think feeds the elves morning noon and night, 365 days a year? And DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY OF THE LITTLE BLIGHTERS THERE ARE?  And how many of them are on gluten-free, vegan or FODMAP diets? God help me. I've got a spreadsheet the size of a hockey field to try to stay on top of that.

And do you think the reindeer just *magically* muck out their own stables, so your shiny black boots stay just so? Or you thought the elves did that job, too? Pfft. As if. "Sorry Mrs. Claus, we're right on deadline for talking dolls, we would if we could, etc, etc." If I had a dollar for every time they said that to me, I could buy all of those talking dolls and get the elves to shovel deerpoop.

Then of course there's your family. Every year I have to cook for at least 30 of them, but before that, I have to find out who's coming or not coming for lunch, work out if it's safe to invite Aunt Mildred and Uncle Bob since the divorce, referee arguments over who gets the drumsticks, work out how to keep Uncle Fred away from the schnapps until at least after lunch and then you say 'how about you make some of those nice Christmas balls for the family on Christmas Day?'. I'm all like, 'what, you want me to do MORE cooking for your family? Sure, I'll be happy to put your balls on a platter for them. After all, who needs sleep?'

Well, you do, of course, when you come home from doing the Christmas Eve deliveries. I know it's a big delivery round, but do you have to sleep the whole of Christmas Day, and leave me to entertain and feed everyone?

You can bet your sweet cranberries I'm not doing it this year. Nup. Sorry dear. I've booked myself a Christmas Eve flight out of North Pole International. Port Douglas, here I come. Business class, too.

Happy holidays!

P.S. Still want your Christmas balls? Here's the recipe.

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