Ah, how lovely, your family is invited to a first birthday party! What is there to do, but turn up?

Well, as any mum knows, you have to RSVP, then choose a present. Ooh, your own 1-year-old will need something to wear that fits. And you might ask what food you can contribute – and arrange that.

All this invisible labour contributes to our “mental load”. Google data shows our awareness of the load has been growing steadily, especially over the last 5 or 6 years.

As well as doing more visible work (paid plus unpaid), mothers also do more invisible organising than fathers. For example, 8 in 10 Australian parents surveyed said it’s the mum who always or usually coordinates the kids’ activities. And our mental health suffers as a result.

There’s no magic wand yet for sharing the load. But while we continue those conversations, there are practical ways to lighten it now.


Outsource, but dodge the work involved

Sick of living in a grimy home, you might hire a cleaner. (Or a gardener or dog walker.) If so, resist the urge to be the one to book them.

Let your partner do the work of asking around, comparing rates, meeting with cleaners to discuss your needs, and communicating and paying each time.


Stop asking for “help”

Unless something is your job and yours alone, asking for help is getting in your way of sharing the load.

“I don’t use the word “help” when talking about domestic labour in our home…because asking for help implies it’s my responsibility,” says Gemma Hartley, author of the book Fed Up.

Instead, talk about doing things together. “Let’s hang the washing up together, kids,” or “Hon, do you want to sort through bub’s toys with me?”

With older kids, you can start inspiring them to recognise what needs doing themselves. “Ooh, it looks like Banjo’s water is empty,” or “Wow, we’ve got a big mess of blocks here.”


Reduce incoming data

There’s no shortage of things to read and look at in our modern world.

In just a few minutes, you can give your brain breathing space with data decluttering:

  • Unsubscribe from email newsletters – it’s as quick as hitting delete.
  • Order a no junk mail sign – stick a temporary one on your letterbox now.
  • Delete unused phone apps – you can always reinstall later.


Ensure both partners have the same info

Now you’ve removed annoying emails, make sure the important stuff gets through. Day care needs to email both parents, and you both need access to their apps. There’s always a dress-up day scheduled or a photo to send in.

If your little one has swimming or other regular activities, make your partner the point of contact for at least some of those.

Ad hoc child-related things, like vaccinations, go in your shared calendar. And use reminders. Setting a day for “Matt buy party supplies” and “Bec book next pest inspection” gets them out of your head.


Automate and relax

Do you already pay your bills automatically? What about other financial chores – like making extra super contributions? Regular savings for an annual holiday? Set them up once then ignore.

You can also have your appliances carry the mental load for you:

  • Load the washing machine at night and set it to finish after brekky in the morning.
  • If you can get a robot vacuum, tell it to run itself daily.
  • Set a smart lightbulb to turn on a lamp at dusk.


Put basic housework on a schedule

The only thing more boring than dusting is feeling guilty you can’t remember when it was last done.

Let your routine do the thinking by putting things on a schedule. For example: bath the dog every second Sunday; change the linen on Fridays.

Put these jobs on the fridge, and at least some of the invisible work will become more visible.


Stick to Taco Tuesdays, and other weekly meals

Having a weekly meal plan might seem limiting. But it frees you up in many ways.

Knowing what you’re eating each night means anyone can cook. And – voila! – the ingredients are there, because you have a weekly shopping list too. No more dithering in the grocery aisle.

Sit down as a family to work out a menu everyone loves. (Bonus points for catchy names, like Fish Fridays and Wonton Wednesdays!)

While learning to share the mental load takes time, these tips can free up some brain space now – ready for those tougher conversations.


By Louise Wedgewood