The Work-Life Equation Podcast Episode 15: Working Moms and the Mental Load

A mother picking up her toddler son

On this episode of the Work-Life Equation: the “mental load”—the constant need to think about the family’s whereabouts. As a mom, you’re likely more than just a parent; you’re also the unofficial manager of everything your family is doing and when. Turns out, this is weighing many working women down. Here, we present research from Bright Horizons showing the mental load is real, and offer tips on how to manage your own load...and maybe even lighten it up.

  • Guest: Ilene Serpa, Vice President, Communications at Bright Horizons
  • Host: Lisa Oppenheimer

Working Moms and the Mental Load Show Notes

1:01 - Learn about the motivation behind the Bright Horizons study on mental load. The full study results from the 2017 Modern Family Index put numbers to the issue.

1:23 - Read “The Default Parent” blog post by M. Blazoned.

2:43 - Ilene answers the question, “What was the high-level snapshot you got from the study?”

  • 86 percent of working mothers handle all family and household responsibilities
  • 76 percent of breadwinning moms manage the household vs. 22 percent of breadwinning dads

5:09 - Ilene describes how mental load plays out in her own life.

6:20 - Lisa posits one theory about mental load that explains how dads have tangible responsibilities and very specific tasks, but moms often shoulder all mental responsibilities, including all the things that need to be remembered.

9:15 - Lisa asks, “How can working moms lighten the mental load?”

9:44 - When thinking how to lighten the mental load, Ilene suggests two reflection questions:

  1. Am I looking to solve the imbalance between myself and my partner?
  2. Do I really want to share this load? (Which also means giving up decision-making.)

12:06 - Mental load affects new moms coming back to work from leave, which Bright Horizons discussed in a recent parent webinar, Life as a New Working Parent.

13:30 - Ilene says the research also shows dads want to be more involved[1] [2] in children’s lives, are more likely than moms to give up a raise for more family time, and more than ever interested in flexible working hours. Hear our conversation with today’s dads in podcast episode 16, “Talking Fatherhood with Millennial Dads.”

15:51 - Lisa talks about how millennial dads often feel like trailblazers, like the New York Mets player Daniel Murphy, who was criticized for taking paternity leave.

18:05 - Lisa makes the point that letting go is OK for moms to do, citing an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, “The Real Holiday Magic Comes Not From Micromanaging, but Letting Go.”

18:47 - Lisa asks, “Can moms change or are they stuck being tiger moms?” Tiger moms are often characterized as keeping tight controls over their children or families.

22:15 - Lisa celebrates that working moms (and dads) are role models for their children, preparing the next generation for equality in parenting, as discussed in a previous podcast episode, Celebrating Working Mothers.

22:37 - Ilene does not believe in work-life balance that puts work on one side of the scale and parenting on the other side. Listen to the Bright Horizons webinar, Integrating Work and Life, to hear more about this dynamic.

23:43 - Follow this link to read or download the full study or search Modern Family Index on the Bright Horizons website,

Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
A mother picking up her toddler son