The St. Nicolas-load


Last week, for the first time since June, I went away for a few days for work. Upon return, my youngest daughter announced that she was going to place her shoe in front of the chimney. Saint Nicolas is in the country and brings young kids a small gift in their shoe. But for my 11-year-old, it is also still lucrative to believe in Saint Nicolas.

I looked at her, and told her that this was not a very good plan. She smiled, and repeated that this was what she was going to do. Once more I told her that maybe today was not the best day, since I had been away for a week. After some thinking, she looked at her dad for confirmation – and indeed he nodded: placing the shoe would not result in a gift.

Of course I made a mental note to go shopping the next day. It is clear that the workload of Saint Nicolas in my household is mine. But when I look around my room, I realise not only the St Nicolas-load is mine.

With all my children now teenagers it is logistically easy to leave for a few days. Unfortunately, me being away is also the signal for them to drop all routine in relation to household chores. In my few days of absence, it seems like a bomb exploded in the kitchen, and a smaller one in the living room. I am the manager of my household, and when I’m not there, not much gets done in and around the house. The comic of Emma, “You Should Have Asked” very accurately explains my issue. (You should’ve asked | Emma (

If I wish to have our household activities equally shared, I need to carry the mental load. I already know that the next day I will be like a policeman and divide the household activities over my family members. I do not enjoy this and they do not like me when I take on that role. But at least the chores are equally divided and done. Unfortunately, like many women, I have yet to figure out how to share that mental load equally as well. All advice is welcome!

Mindel van de Laar, PhD director of the dual career PhD programme in Governance and Policy Analysis (GPAC2) of UNU-MERIT / Maastricht Graduate School of Governance

The St. Nicolas-load
Mindel van de Laar.