I’m sure there’s plenty of dads out there who call themselves feminists, proudly declaring that they did/do their fair share of domestic duties—nappy changing, dishwashing, laundry, cooking, etc.—and sit back awaiting congratulations.

Keep waiting. Don’t expect congratulations from me for doing the bare minimum. Also, helping around the house doesn’t make you a feminist, it just makes you a normal, decent human being who recognises the shared responsibilities involved in living in a family.

I have no doubt that the pandemic and work-from-home revolution has made it harder for men to shirk their domestic responsibilities. Without the guise of ‘working late at the office’ it must be harder to avoid household tasks that are staring them in the face. Also, I’m sure many men have recognised that contributing to household chores is conducive to a happy home environment. Obviously men should be doing their fair share of domestic labour, it’s 2022, we shouldn’t need to labour the point here. And yet.

And yet it seems to me that the home is an area where true equality remains elusive.

While it’s great that everyone is doing more, the reality remains that men are still doing less.

Before you scream “not all men”, let us take a quick look at the statistics. Census data indicates that on average, Australian women spend 5-14 hours on unpaid domestic work, whereas men spend less than five hours on domestic labour a week. Women also spend an extra hour EACH DAY looking after children.

So, women are devoting around three times the hours that men are on household work, and yet the reality is that domestic labour is only half the story. What these figures don’t consider is the additional time that women spend on organising domestic and childcare activities – what is known as the mental load.

The mental load is exactly what it sounds like – basically retaining your entire family’s to-do list in your head, all the time. It’s the organising, list-making, planning and life administration of your entire family. And while we all carry some form of mental load about work, study, finances, health or life in general, the way that burden is distributed is not always equal when it comes to the household.

So while men might be getting better at doing more, the role of household manager and the burden of carrying the mental load disproportionately falls to women.

Carrying the mental load involves remembering a thousand small things, all the time. It’s keeping a mental shopping list, knowing when we are about to run out of conditioner, organising and paying for extracurricular activities.

It’s remembering all the dates, the Easter hat parades, sourcing/making Book Week costumes, filling out a million forms, paying fees, donating prizes/money/tinned food, remember free-dress day, photo day, vaccination appointments, dental checks, trivia nights and rsvp-ing to birthday parties.

It’s volunteering for canteen/school committees/classroom helping, buying gifts, planning holidays, managing the entire family’s social calendar and meal planning while remembering everyone’s dietary requirements and food preferences.

All while you’re doing your best to raise healthy, happy, well-adjusted children, navigate technology, social media and screen time and somehow keep your sanity while going through a global pandemic.

It’s mundane, relentless and it’s basically done by every woman I know.

And while you’re spending all your mental energy making sure everyone is wearing clean underpants, has a packed lunch and had done their homework, you’re not thinking about actual paid work, or study or any of the other things that can help you get ahead in life.

While I’m at work I’m also thinking about what I’m cooking tonight, remembering the dog is due for his arthritis injection next week, reminding myself to order a new pair of bathers for my daughter and making a note to check in with our builder to see how the reno is going. Guess what my husband thinks about at work? Work!

Unfortunately, double standards still exist, the expectations for parents are unequal. While we continue to applaud men for doing the bare minimum (changing a nappy or doing the odd school pick up/drop off) things won’t change.

Obviously, having a family that is happy, safe, and loving is a benefit in and of itself, but the mental load of motherhood can at times feel unrelenting and exhausting.