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Packing lunches, doing day care or school dropoffs, wiping runny noses and coaxing kids to eat vegetables. The daily workload that mothers often bear can feel like an overlooked and unseen responsibility.

"This is the most important thing I do, and it's invisible," said Rachel Frosch, a mother of four.

Too often, the fortitude moms possess goes unnoticed, Frosch said. It can be an overwhelming and at times isolating job. A once-a-year holiday — like Mother's Day — falls short of encapsulating what transpires the other 364 days.

In 2020, Frosch got the idea to launch a digital support system for moms. Last October, that idea became a reality with a smartphone app she calls Mom Badge, which allows people to acknowledge a mother by sending an achievement badge via text or email.

Similar to merit badges given to children in Scouts, moms receive specific badges for certain accomplishments, like giving birth, staying up all night with a sick child, or successfully potty-training a child, things Frosch describes as parenting "rites of passage."

"I really feel like being a mom is running a marathon," Frosch said. "I feel like this is providing a tool to say 'I've been at mile seven. Here's some water. Keep going. It's worth it.'"

While every family has a different structure and dynamic, research shows women in heterosexual relationships often carry the heaviest load for household duties.

A recent U.S. survey of roughly 10,000 moms conducted by parenting platform Motherly found that 58% of moms report being the primary parent responsible for running a household and caring for children.

Similarly, a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. parents found that 70% of moms are the household's usual meal preparer and grocery shopper.

And then there's cognitive labor, a new area of research that goes beyond tallying the daily tasks of parenting. It's the mental load of planning and anticipating needs.

Rachel Frosch creates Mom Badges at the dining room table in her house in Minnetonka and then turns them into digital images for her app.
Rachel Frosch creates Mom Badges at the dining room table in her house in Minnetonka and then turns them into digital images for her app.

Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

Allison Daminger, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, outlines her finding on this mental work in a 2019 paper called "The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor."

For her research, Daminger interviewed college-educated parents with young children. The subjects, she said, believed in gender equality and didn't confine one another to gender roles. Major decisions for the household were made jointly, she added.

Yet cognitive preparation and follow-up work — things like researching logistics on summer soccer or booking flights for a vacation months away — were still managed by women.

"When I asked people to explain why they did it that way, one of the big things I heard was that 'It's our personality. She is super organized. She's Type A. He's disorganized and laid back,'" Daminger said. "They would point to these personality traits to explain it. But my work shows those personality traits are not so fixed."

Men who said they were laid back and disorganized in the home context often tend to be more on top of things in their paid work, Daminger said.

"There's other social and contextual factors that seem to be driving people to divide work in this way," she said.

This cognitive labor is difficult to track and reward. Mom Badge is meant to acknowledge the seemingly little tasks performed on a day-to-day basis.

Users can add personal notes to the badges, and as of a month ago, can attach gift cards to the badge, so she can treat herself to Starbucks, a meal through DoorDash or something at Target. Mom Badge earns revenue through a 5% transaction fee for each gift card purchased, Frosch said.

Eventually, Frosch wants to add a feature where users can send reminders of important dates to their network, like a child's birthday or a graduation, and vice versa, with users able to receive notifications when important dates or milestones for other moms draw near.

A former educator at Anoka High School, Frosch has self-funded the business, with some help from friends and family and a $5,000 gift from Minneapolis-based Open Book Communications.

From her Minnetonka home, Frosch sketches designs for badges, then hand-stiches the designs on fabrics. She photographs the badges and uploads the images to the app, which she paid to have developed. So far, she's made more than 50 badges.

Last Mother's Day, Arden Hills-based Kidizen, an online children's goods consignment shop, made the badges available on its website as a giveaway. By day's end, more than 1,000 badges were shared.

"Most people in today's society, they send each other greeting cards and texts and memes or even likes and hearts just in order to acknowledge a connection that we have with the special people in our lives," said Mary Fallon, co-founder of Kidizen. "But I really think nothing drives connection more than empathy, and I think that's what her app is doing."

So far, Frosch has entered agreements with Twin Cities businesses Rustica Bakery, Cardigan Donuts and Kidizen to create localized gift card options.

In all the chapters of her life as a mom — pregnancy, a full-time working mom, a part-time working mom, a stay-at-home mom, and now an entrepreneur — knowing someone else noticed her efforts made a huge difference.

"It doesn't take a lot," Frosch said. "Life can feel lonely at times. And even when we know we have great friends, it can be hard to reach out. Mom Badge is [a] way to send deep support to a friend and have friends send that love back."