Sharing tasks and the mental load

Sharing tasks and the mental load
Household tasks can be a source of stress and frustration. What’s the best way to split them?

The tasks and mental load of family life can be a source of frustration and tension for couples. Dividing up tasks equitably can help reduce stress and make family life easier.

Advantages of shared responsibilities

Every family has a long to-do list. Common items include household tasks (cleaning, laundry, meal preparation, grocery shopping, taking out the trash, yardwork, etc.), childcare (bath time, playtime, getting dressed, etc.), and everything related to keeping the family organized (scheduling medical appointments, meeting registration deadlines, etc.). It takes two for parents to get it all done.

Shared parental leave encourages a more equitable division of domestic and family responsibilities.

Sharing tasks and responsibilities equally between parents can benefit the whole family. It’s a way for each parent to fulfill their role while spending time with their child and strengthening the parent-child bond.

Sharing tasks equally can also help parents feel less stressed, make them stronger as a parenting team, and improve their relationship. It can also make it easier to achieve a life-work balance.

Remember to share the mental load

In addition to concrete day-to-day tasks are things like management, organization, and planning to ensure that family life runs smoothly. This is referred to as the mental load. It includes things like making the grocery list; registering your child for daycare, school, or extracurricular activities; making doctor’s appointments; and organizing special events such as Christmas dinner or your child’s birthday party.

This constant and invisible mental labour is usually shouldered by women. Moms therefore tend to have a ton of information to keep track of, and this mental burden increases stress and fatigue.

Parents with a heavier mental load may feel discouraged and overwhelmed by their long list of tasks. A heavy mental load can lead to sleep problems, anxiety, and depression.

That’s why it’s important to include the mental load among the tasks parents share to ensure fair distribution of daily responsibilities. Neither parent should have to delegate tasks to the other. Both parents are equally responsible for family tasks. Each parent must be aware of their tasks and take responsibility for doing them.

Women still take on the lion’s share . . .

  • In 2015, Quebec women spent an average of 3.5 hours a day on domestic activities, compared to 2.5 hours a day for men.
  • Women continued to perform the majority of tasks during the COVID-19 pandemic, although men were more likely to take on household tasks during this period.
  • For 61 percent of Quebec parents, task sharing is roughly equal, although still gendered. For example, more mothers than fathers say they are always or most often the one who takes care of family meals, laundry, housework, shopping, and social events. Fathers say they’re mostly responsible for outdoor work, home maintenance, and car repairs.
  • More mothers than fathers report that they are always or most often the parent who attends meetings (daycare, school, activities), arranges medical appointments, or stays home when the kids are sick.

How to split up tasks between partners

  • Find a time when you won’t be interrupted to discuss sharing tasks and the mental load. This step will take time and energy. You may want to break up the discussion over several days.
  • Try to approach the discussion with respect and compassion, and avoid pointing fingers. Remember that what you’re doing is for the good of your relationship as well as the family as a whole. The goal is to take the pressure off the person who does most of the work, reduce family-related stress and tensions, and improve your relationship.
  • Make a complete list of you and your partner’s responsibilities. Don’t forget to include the mental load (i.e., all the planning you do). It’s a good idea to write down what each parent does, plans, and organizes for the family so you don’t forget anything. Some books include tools that can help with this step (see the Sources and references section).
  • Go over the list and determine which tasks are most important for your family. Note how long each task takes and agree on how often it has to be done (daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly).
  • Divide the tasks equally between you: laundry, grocery shopping, meals, housework, shopping for clothes, taking out the trash, outdoor tasks, making appointments, etc. If possible, split them up according to your preferences. Some tasksare more time-consuming and have to be done more often. Task division should take this fact into account. Cooking every night isn’t the same as taking out the trash once a week.
  • Next, commit to fulfilling your tasks on your own. You are now responsible for these aspects of your family life. Keep in mind that some tasks can be rotated. For example, you and your partner might decide to take turns making dinner on alternate evenings. It can be helpful to use a calendar, family planner, or task management app (e.g., Trello, Todoist, Remember The Milk).
  • Establish when each task should be done. For example, you might agree to make supper before 6 p.m., take out the trash on Monday night, do the dishes before bedtime, etc. This helps prevent frustration and ensures that you and your partner don’t end up doing each other’s jobs.
  • Allow the parent responsible for a task (e.g., feeding, washing, or dressing the children) to do it their way. Remember that comments and criticism are only ever discouraging. However, you should both make sure to complete time-sensitive tasks on time (day camp registration, medical appointments, tax returns, etc.).
  • Acknowledge your partner’s contributions and let them know you appreciate what they do. It may seem like nothing to say “Thanks for supper” or “Thank you for doing the dishes,” but it can encourage and motivate the other person and make them feel good.
  • Do the task-sharing exercise again after a while. You can do it once a year or even more often if new events create extra tasks or affect your schedule (e.g., having another baby or starting a new job).

Make time for yourself and your relationship

In spite of all your daily tasks, remember to make time for you and your partner. Quality time together as a couple is the foundation of a healthy and lasting romantic relationship. It also makes it easier to solve problems and conflicts. This is because spending quality time together fosters intimacy and gives you a chance to talk and get to know each other better.

Things to keep in mind

  • Sharing tasks means splitting all family responsibilities, including the mental load that comes with planning and organizing family life.
  • A fair way to do this is to come to a clear agreement with your partner about the major tasks to divide between you and the frequency and duration of each task.
  • As long as they’re done on time, allow your partner to do their tasks their way, and acknowledge their efforts to support and encourage you.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Amélie Châteauneuf, social worker and author
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2023

Photos: and GettyImages/PeopleImages

Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Chabrier, Aude. Allégez votre charge mentale : la méthode d’organisation pour mieux gérer à deux le quotidien! Vanves, Éditions Marabout, 2018, 215 pp.
  • Châteauneuf, Amélie. Si nous sommes égaux, je suis la fée des dents : réflexions et outils pour mieux partager la charge mentale. Montreal, Les Éditions Poètes de brousse, 2019, 196 pp.
  • Conseil du statut de la femme. Pour un partage équitable du congé parental. Quebec City, April 2015.
  • Couturier, Eve-Lyne, and Julie Posca. “Tâches domestiques : encore loin d’un partage équitable.” Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques, 2014.
  • Emma. “Ça se met où?” 2022.
  • Emma. “Fallait demander.” 2017.
  • Frank, Kristyn, and Marc Frenette. “Couples’ perceptions of the division of household and child care tasks: are there differences between sociodemographic groups?” Statistics Canada, April 2021.
  • Hamelin, Maryse. Maternité, la face cachée du sexisme : plaidoyer pour l’égalité parentale. Montreal, Leméac, 2017, 184 pp.
  • Institut de la statistique du Québec. Être parent au Québec en 2022 : un portrait à partir de l’Enquête québécoise sur la parentalité 2022. September 2023, 336 pp.
  • Institut de la statistique du Québec. “Statistical showcase on gender equality.” 2023.
  • Martory, Julie. Mon p’tit cahier zéro charge mentale. Paris, Solar Éditions, 2019, 96 pp.
  • Robert, Camille, and Louise Toupin. Travail invisible : portrait d’une lutte féministe inachevée. Montreal, Éditions du remue-ménage, 2018, 200 pp.
  • Statistics Canada. “Sharing household tasks: Teaming up during the COVID-19 pandemic.” February 2021.
  • Ruppanner, Leah, et al. “Planning, stress and worry put the mental load on mothers – will 2022 be the year they share the burden?” The Conversation. 2022.