Case studies

Mental Load on a Monday Morning


Sigga and Bjarni wake up with their two children at 7:30. Sigga’s initial thoughts are these: Today is a Pink Day at the kindergarten, the waterproof overalls are down in the utility room drying since yesterday, the boots were left at the kindergarten, the son has an appointment at the doctor’s at 11:00 but has his sports training at the same time, so he needs to be home by 10:00 and must not forget the keys. Sigga thinks of reminding Bjarni to go home to pick up the son and to take him to the doctor’s. Sigga reminds Bjarni of the day when they first noticed the child’s symptoms and what medicine the child was given last week for treatment. She also thinks of the pants their daughter had on this morning but has outgrown. She thinks of setting a reminder to buy a special lunch box for the following morning and that there is a watermelon in the fridge that her daughter must take to the kindergarten for a Fruit Day.


Bjarni prepares breakfast for the family, and reminds the children to brush their teeth, go to the bathroom and wash their hands. He remembers the Pink Day at the kindergarten and the doctor’s appointment. Bjarni is about to prepare the pink outfit but does not find the jumper; Sigga reminds him that it is located in the drawer with the outdoor jackets. Bjarni takes the children to school and kindergarten and later leaves work to take his son to the doctor’s. On the way to the doctor’s, Bjarni calls Sigga because he is lost. Sigga tells Bjarni that their doctor has moved to a new location, notes that the reception uses the back entrance of the building and reminds him to ask what painkillers are the best for treating ear infection and what dose should be taken. She asks Bjarni to make a note of this so it won’t be forgotten.

Bjarni and Sigga do their best to evenly share the responsibility between the two of them; Bjarni enters the second shift, but Sigga carries the weight of the third shift, the mental load.

Absent Minded at a Kid’s Birthday Party

Erla and Ólafur took their daughter, Vera, to a kid’s birthday party at family friends’ house. They sit down and at first, they both seem to be there for their daughter, present; after all they have had the conversation about the shifts and the mental load. However, Ólafur pulls out his phone and starts browsing social media; he thinks to himself that their daughter is playing nearby anyway, and she is completely fine. He loses track of time, and 20 minutes later, he is still on the phone. Meanwhile, Vera has asked Erla to: give her a drink, take her to the bathroom, wipe her mouth, take off the jumper, get her some snacks. In addition, Erla has watched Vera the whole time who has looked up at her mother when in need of security and approval whilst playing with the other children. Erla has thus been present in the moment to provide security, eye contact and guidance to their child when communicating with other four-year-olds. Erla watched as another child pulled a toy off Vera and intervened, helped them share the toys and solve the problem. Here, Erla took both the second and third shift. Ólafur showed up for the second shift but was absent minded. He showed up at the party but was not present.

The Third Shift for the Middle-Aged

Dísa is a 50-year-old mother of three. Her children are adults now and all aged 20 years and older; however, they still live with their parents. Dísa is married and has a husband who works a full-time job. Dísa is in a full-time job as a receptionist, shows up at 8:00 and leaves work at 16:00–17:00. Despite working outside of her job description, she makes the coffee at work, and it is important to her that the ambiance is cosy in the workplace. She also wipes the tables before the 10:00 coffee break and lights the candles on dark winter’s days. On the lunch break, Dísa contacts her sister who has been sick to find out how she has been and offers to visit her on the weekend.

After a full day of work, Dísa calls her parents who are around 80 years old. They live on their own in a flat in a different suburb and have a hard time getting around much. They would rather not move to a retirement home and do not want to discuss that option. Dísa checks what they need for the home, goes to the store and does the grocery shopping for them. She takes the food to her parents’ house and stacks it in the fridge. She sits down and joins them for a coffee, as she knows she is their only company for the day. Dísa airs out the flat and empties the dishwasher. She puts a load on in the washing machine and dryer and brings their clean linen from when she took it home for cleaning two days ago. She notices that their remote control for the TV is out of order and notes down to buy batteries before her next visit to their house.

Dísa’s mother asks her to go to the pharmacy before the next visit, as her doctor will be calling today to renew her prescription. Dísa agrees to that and adds it to her list of things in her head. She also runs her mother through her pills, as she is not entirely sure about the dosage. Furthermore, Dísa assists her with categorising the pills for each day for the next two weeks into relevant sections in the pill box. Dísa prepares food for her parents and says goodbye.

Dísa gets home at 19:00 that day. The children’s laundry and dirty dishes await her. Dísa’s husband is still at work and the children at a sports training or at a friend’s house. Dísa prepares dinner for her three children and husband who arrive at home between 19:00 and 20:00. For a long time, Dísa has had the urge to exercise more; however, the only time she has is in the mornings and late afternoons. Usually, the late afternoons are dedicated to taking care of her parents or grown-up children and to meeting their needs. Dísa thus takes on the third shift in addition to the first and second shift. Dísa takes on the second and third shift of unpaid work, while on her first shift, she is in a paid job. By 20:00, Dísa is exhausted and naps on the couch until she crawls into bed at 21:00 where she falls asleep.

This is a daily reality for many women today, and the pressure has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which older relatives became even more isolated and needed a greater support from their families.