As we head into spring, a time of the year associated with new beginnings and growth, it’s a good time to reflect on our mental load and whether we need to create a greater sense of balance in our lives. So what is the mental load? Well we all have one, irrespective of whether we are male or female.
However, there is something quite distinctive about the mental load of a mother (sometimes referred to as the mother-load), I think. For me the mental load incorporates all of the thinking, planning, organising and doing that is required on a daily basis and for mums, this is no mean feat! An old neighbour of mine once referred to his wife as ‘The Manager’. Yes! I thought. It felt like a very accurate role description of a mother – the cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, gift buying, house admin, school admin and the endless to do list that we carry around in our minds…all things that we not only have to manage but appear to do so seamlessly and which can sometimes feel unnoticed.
It’s fair to say that on the whole, these tasks are mainly carried out by the mum or main care giver, regardless of whether we have a career too. This can lead to mums feeling frustrated with their partner for not doing more, perhaps envious or even resentful of their commute or walk to work. It can be something that is seen as time for themselves, a commodity many mums feel they don’t have. So is it really any wonder so many of us are exhausted, frustrated and stressed?! But here’s the thing, how often do you ask for help? How often do you end up just doing things yourself, rather than asking your partner to do it instead of you? And why is that? How much of this mental load are we actually inflicting on ourselves, all be it indirectly at times? I think it can be a difficult but useful question to ask ourselves. By taking on more of the load are we at risk of perpetuating the myth of male domestic ineptitude? What are we teaching our daughters (and sons)? Again, something to ponder on perhaps. So what can we do change this? Whilst there is no magic answer (after all we are all different and what works for one might not work for another), there are a few suggestions below which might help:
1) First is to stop striving for perfection – it’s not achievable and the pressure you put on yourself can be crushing.
2) Next, ask for help. Your husband might say “well if you tell me what you want me to do, I’ll do it!”. Whilst this might feel helpful to him you may feel it is missing the point entirely. Instead, write-up a list of assigned chores and stick it on the fridge. Make sure everyone at the start of each day knows what their job is. The tricky part is accepting they’ll do it in their time (and their own way) and not always when you want it done or how you want it done. But let them do it and resist the urge to take over.
3) Take a moment to work out what really matters to you and what makes a difference to your day. For example making the beds might be nice but is it as important as giving yourself 20 mins to do a quick bit of exercise, which is great for both body and mind! It could even be giving yourself a chance to sit down and read a magazine, drink a hot cup of tea or even do the meal planning for the week ahead.
4) What’s achievable in the time you have? I mean really achievable. Take the non-essentials off the plate and use your time to do the few important jobs well and at a normal speed!
5) Can you outsource any jobs? For some it could be things like getting a cleaner or a PA to do your accounts once a month. For others it could be asking a friend to watch your little one for an hour so you can get the food shop done. The point is, ask for help! People are usually very willing when asked nicely.
6) At all costs, carve out and fiercely protect some you time in the week. Whether it be having a bath, going for a walk or even just taking 5 mins at the end of a day to lie on the floor and breathe! Give yourself permission for this at the very least. For me, I always take comfort in the notion of a pause or reset button. The idea that tomorrow is a new day. We can start again. We can take our learning from today and move on, perhaps resetting our intentions for the day or week ahead. Self care can go a long way too – we need to be kind to ourselves on this motherhood journey of ours. X