Category: Work/life balance

The mental load: what is it and why is it causing parents stress?

 

Recently, I read an article about the mental load and how often many mothers take this on. So what is the mental load? In basic terms, it is when one member of a household is the manager of things, such as chores, and has to constantly ask their partner to do things. While they may share the chores/childcare etc, one person takes on the bulk of the mental load. I found the article (link at the bottom) slightly biased and bit a ‘man bashing’, but it did resonate with me. I think it’s something that we as parents haven’t really considered as being a stressor in our lives.

I’ve always liked having a busy life. Ever since I was a child, I got bored easily and have always liked to keep my mind occupied, whether it was reading, drawing, chatting or watching TV. With my work, I really enjoy being freelance, as it involves juggling lots of clients and deadlines. As a part-time worker and mum to a toddler, managing my work-life balance has often been a challenge over the past couple of years, but I thought I had it sorted-ish. However, since September we added pre-school into the mix and it has thrown me off course!

I’ve struggled with being organised, getting anywhere on time and just the extra things I now have to think about: suitable items for show and tell, correct lunchbox options (yes, I have already been told off for this), labelling clothes, hats, gloves and wellies, cake sales, nativity costumes… the list goes on! This is all linked to the mental load.

I think the reason the article resonated with me is because in our marriage I take on the lion’s share of the mental load. Now, I’m not saying that Grump doesn’t pull his weight or help out with the J or at home – he is what my mum calls a ‘hands-on’ father, which actually means he just does his fair share of parenting. But, I am the one who is in charge of organising things. I ‘run the house’ and coordinate most of the drudgery-type chores. More often than not, I ask my husband to do things; sometimes because he will walk past the dry washing seven times and not think to put it away. Other times, he just needs a reminder to do something because he also has a busy life and a lot on his mind.

I have to admit that we have a cleaner who comes twice a month, because I hate cleaning with a passion. I feel slightly ashamed that I don’t do my own cleaning, but one thing I’ve learned as a parent is that my time is precious and if I have any free time I don’t want to spend it cleaning. But I organise when the cleaner will come, tidy the house in preparation for her to clean, get cash out for her and write her a note.

So back to the mental load. This isn’t just organising yourself at work, this is thinking about everything from which clothes need washing to meal planning, packing lunch boxes and bags, doing drops offs, organising childcare or booking in the car for a service. Not to mention planning and organising our social life and the J’s social engagements! All of the jobs add up to a huge amount of information that needs to be processed. No wonder I have trouble switching off before bed.

I think my recent problems with feeling overwhelmed by life are due to the pressures of running a house, organising a family and running my own business. I can’t say that this is true for every family and I don’t think it’s fair to say that this is always the woman’s problem, but for us, I certainly feel that I take on the majority of the mental load. Perhaps I need to simplify and get a 9-to-5 job at the same place each week or have fewer people looking after the J (there’s currently a rota of pre-school, childminder and two sets of grandparents). However, there’s one mum at my pre-school who has three kids at three different schools – so who am I to moan!

The aim of this blog post is to highlight that the mental load is an often overlooked stress of being a busy parent, whether you are a stay-at-home mum, part-time worker of a full-time worker. So maybe it is just about finding a balance. My brain is so full that I’ve reverted to that newborn baby stage of having ‘baby brain’ and I’ve started doing silly things like going out and leaving the kitchen tap on. Or completely forgetting important engagements. Something has to give.

I now tell people that if they text me and ask me to do something, they need to be very aggressive or remind me over and over until I do it. In fact, I’m trying to do things straight away to prevent me from forgetting. I’ve also started pinning emails in Hotmail, so they are at the top of my inbox when I open it. Currently, I’ve got a bill for the house alarm company to pay, a bill for the pre-school, a work lead to follow up, a music class to book for the J next term, and that’s not including the three different work projects that I need to crack on with. There are probably more things that I’ve forgotten, too.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed with life, then the mental load could be part of it. I don’t have an answer, but perhaps chatting about it with your partner or friends might help. One of my friends has synced her phone calendar with her husband’s (not great for me as I still use a paper diary), but perhaps asking your partner for help might ease the load or making firm agreements on who is responsible for what. I am certainly going to try sitting down once a week and going through all of the chores/jobs to see how we can share them out a bit more evenly. And if that fails… maybe hire a virtual assistant/nanny/housekeeper? If only I was rich.

To read the article that was my source of inspiration, click here.

And she’s back…

With a background in magazine journalism, I’ve always loved writing, but for the most part, my words have always been for work. I started this blog in 2016 because I had a baby and it was (and still is) hard and everything was different and huge, and I realised I had loads of things to talk about. It grew from conversations with my new NCT and mummy group friends about how we’re all going through similar things and we have similar worries and concerns, particularly measuring ourselves against other people and thinking we aren’t good enough parents or aren’t doing it ‘right’. I wanted to share some of my feelings about becoming a mum and I also wanted to make other people feel better by knowing that they’re not going through these things alone – many of us feel like this and we certainly aren’t all perfect parents.

So, on maternity leave and aching to get back to a bit of normality, I started my blog and wrote my little heart out for a good six months. My friends and family said they enjoyed my blog posts and then a few people I didn’t know started reading my blog. At this point, I had decided to go freelance rather than go back to my old job on an interiors magazine and I was in a mild panic about getting gainful employment, so I started thinking that I should try to make money out of my blog. But the more research I did and FB groups I joined about mummy blogging, the more insecure I got. Why wasn’t my blog as successful as other people’s blogs? There are hundreds and hundreds of parenting blogs out there and everyone seems to have endless hours to promote their blog on social media and write regular blog posts (and parent/work, too. Maybe they can afford a nanny?). I don’t have time for that shite! If I’ve got a spare five minutes then I will be Insta stalking or looking at pics of Tom Hardy (preferably semi-naked, cuddling a cute dog).

I was losing confidence in my blog and I started to write less and less, and feel less inspired. Being a parent, working part-time and just life, in general, made me feel overwhelmed. I had taken on too much freelance work and was working most evening and some weekends, as well as day-time shifts and looking after a full-on toddler. I only wrote a post every couple of months and then I just stopped. I have not written a blog post for probably nearly a year and the longer I left it, the longer I thought I couldn’t go back to it.

Then something happened the other night that changed my mind. My friend asked me: “Why don’t you write your blog anymore? I used to really enjoy it.” And I thought, why don’t I write my blog anymore? Do I not have anything to talk about? Well, it turns out, I’ve still got plenty of things to talk about as a ‘not-so-new’ mum. I may not be breastfeeding or weaning, the J mostly sleeps through the night now and we’ve almost mastered potty training, so many of the ‘big hurdles’ are finished, but there are loads more things to come.

Life is so overwhelming with a toddler, I constantly feel like I’m losing at something, be it work, juggling childcare, preschool or motherhood. So I’m going to start writing again. I’m not going to promise it’ll be every week, I’m not going to promise to be every month, but I’m going to start somewhere and that’s with this post.

I didn’t even write this blog initially. I dictated it onto the notes in my iPhone, because I didn’t have time to sit and write out a first draft. Inspiration struck when I was tidying up the kitchen and getting ready to take the J to pre-school. So my plan is to just see where it goes and fit it in when I’m feeling creative. It is not about making money or getting likes. It is just about me enjoying writing again and hopefully saying something that is vaguely helpful to other parents who are ‘muddling through’. Thanks to Steph for inspiring me and getting me out of my writing funk.

Women at work: lawyer

Copyright: Shutterstock.com/Africa Studio

Continuing my series on women going back to work after having a baby, this week we meet an ambitious lawyer who is refreshingly honest about wanting to get back to work and showing a strong work ethic to her son.

 

How did you get into law?

From a young age, my dad always told me he thought “law was a good job” and I basically followed his advice (and am thankful for it). I took the traditional route of studying law at university, then onto law school for a year followed by a two-year training contract with a law firm, before eventually then qualifying as a lawyer (which I have now been for almost 13 years).

Briefly, describe a typical day at work…

No day is ever the same – which is one of the many things I love about my job. However, typically it might look like this: Early morning tends to see some form of management meeting (maybe a Business Development meeting, firm strategy meeting or a Graduate Recruitment issue – I am also the firm’s Training Principal and Graduate Recruitment Partner). Then it’s client work, which can be anything from meetings, calls, document reviews, drafting, court applications and hearings. I am a private client lawyer and specialise in a mixture of contentious and non-contentious trusts and estates work. Lunch might be a training session or another internal meeting – or it might actually be lunch! The afternoon will be back on client work, which will see me through to the early evening and then it’s either home or it might be a networking event.

What is the best part of your job?

I absolutely love the variety of my work and the fact that I am challenged every day. I knew early on that dealing with pure transactional work was not for me, but working in a large corporate city firm means I am very fortunate with the type of clients I have. By way of example, I can be looking at succession planning for high-net-worth individuals who might hold large companies or landed estates, negotiating deals with national heritage bodies to save estates for the nation or I might be dealing with applications being brought against trustees of multi-million-pound trusts. I also feel very fortunate to work with some of the brightest lawyers and barristers and not just in the UK.

And the worst?

The hours are long and clients’ expectations are high – but then so they should be, as ultimately I work in a client-service industry. As a partner, there are also a lot of demands on you that come from other areas, such as the need to build your practice. This involves not just doing the work on your desk, but going out searching for the work too and investing time in other areas for the firm’s growth – in my case Graduate Recruitment and the development of our trainees. Juggling the demands of a busy career and making time for the important role of business development, and ensuring we recruit and retain the best talent does have its challenges and very often I feel there are not enough hours in the day!

How many children do you have?

I have one delightful little boy who is almost 21 months old.

How old was your child when you went back to work?

My son was 10 months old. I started my maternity leave three days before he arrived (which wasn’t planned, although in fairness I hadn’t left myself much time as was aiming for a week of feet up on the sofa before he arrived). Part of the reason in leaving it to the last minute was because I had decided early on to take 10 months and return to work full time, so I wanted to make sure I used all of my maternity leave with him.

How did you find going back to work after having a baby?

The honest answer is that I was actually rather desperate to get back to work. To some, this might sound horrific, but that does not mean that I didn’t find it hard leaving my son, nor do I find it easy that I don’t see him as much as I did. But I have got my own identity back and I also truly believe that it is important for my son to see me working and understand the importance of a strong work ethic.

Did you go back to the same job? Or consider a career change?

I went back to exactly the same job and never considered doing anything but this.

Who provides childcare for you?

We have a nanny for three days a week and our son attends nursery two days a week. I work from home on one of the nursery days so I can do the pickup and I sometimes leave the office before 5pm on a nanny day so I can do bedtime. This allows me to see my son one or two nights during the working week and my hugely-supportive husband is responsible for all the other days in terms of getting home on time to do pick up/relieve the nanny.

Was it easy to negotiate flexible working/returning to work?

I was in a very fortunate position, as being a partner I am ultimately responsible for my own practice. Of course, going back full time meant little was changing, but I was able to make the decision about working from home and if I want to leave early I just do – but if I do I am then in the study after bedtime logging on and catching up on emails for a couple of hours.

Would you say your attitude to work has changed since having a baby?

I still have the same career aspirations I always had and, in that regard, my career has stayed very important to me, but I do work more efficiently now and I do say no to things. I can’t go to every drinks evening (and lawyers do find themselves at a lot of these!) and I have to think carefully about travel that takes me away from home for a few days as I have other responsibilities now. However, I believe in balance and sometimes there is something in the work calendar that is very important and I have to prioritise this, and other times I cancel things to make sure I see my son.

What advice would you give to mums on maternity leave?

Make the most of the time, as it goes so quickly. Try to get out and about as much as you can. Meet new mums and make an effort. Maternity leave can be lonely and you need to have at least one person that you can be open and honest with and call on for a coffee. I would also say don’t feel guilty if you pine for the office (or equivalent). Having a baby and how that changes your life is very personal to you – my own view is that I don’t believe motherhood defines you. It certainly adds a new layer to you and brings a new element to your life that brings so much joy. But for some (and I absolutely accept it’s not for everyone) being a working mum can make you a better mum and don’t be afraid of accepting that if you fall into that category as I certainly did. If you miss work while you are on maternity leave then do whatever you can to keep in touch. Take the baby into the office, log in and check the odd email – do whatever keeps you sane! Quite frankly, maternity leave can be really hard work and yes there is coffee and cake (and sure I miss this now and again) but it’s not a breeze by any stretch.

 

 

 

To work or not to work? That is the question

hands

I’m jumping well ahead from pregnancy in my blogging adventure, but this is something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about recently and I’m sure many of my fellow mummy friends are in the same boat. The old ‘going back to work’ dilemma.

While on maternity leave I decided not to go back to my old job in London, as the cost of commuting and nursery fees didn’t add up and, to be honest, I didn’t want to commute to London with a baby back in Kent. For those of you who do a similar commute, you know what Southeastern trains are like, even on a good day.

At the moment I’m officially unemployed, but it just feels like I’m still on maternity leave (except I’m not getting any money coming in each month and I’m still going out for coffee a lot). I recently had a job interview and it felt fantastic. Mainly to be out of the house alone, with hair done and make-up on, wearing clean clothes that didn’t have baby sick on them. Oh and wearing a nice necklace that I didn’t have to worry about being grabbed and chewed. I was a bit nervous about the interview, but when you have a demanding eight-month-old child you don’t have time to spend sitting around worrying (or preparing for that matter); its more of a seat-of-your-pants, blag-it type situation.

When I got home, my Mum had enjoyed a lovely morning with a well-behaved baby and I was excited to see her (the J that is, not my Mum – no offence Mum). Being greeted by a big smile when you open the front door is always a treat. After I’d given Mum the low-down on how I thought the interview went, she and I got chatting about childcare and how I felt about potentially going back to work.

To be honest, I swing from never wanting to leave the J’s side to being ready to have some adult time away from her. Then there’s the whole childcare issue and whether to go down the nursery or childminder route (we can’t afford a nanny). I hate the idea of leaving her with strangers who don’t know her little quirks or how to comfort her when she’s upset. Sometimes I feel like the J is too young to be left without me. She’s eight months old, but she still seems like such a fragile little thing and my maternal instinct to protect her is so strong. When I first got pregnant I couldn’t wait to finish work. I’ll be a lady of leisure, I thought. Never in a million years did I think I would get fed up of being at home. But then I didn’t know what it’s like being at home with a baby. I think I had visions of chilling out on the sofa all day, watching reruns of Friends and drinking cups of tea. Ha ha ha, how wrong I was.

It turns out, I find being at home all day quite boring. Don’t get me wrong, I love looking after the J, but it can be monotonous. I try to fill my weeks with fun activities (some for her, some for me). We do a baby sensory class once a week and I go out for coffee and cake with my mummy friends on a regular basis. We also like to walk around Sainsbury’s and look at the baby clothes (this is probably the highlight of my week). We go to the park and for walks, but there comes a point where I don’t want to talk about baby stuff any more (ironic seeing as I am spending my free evenings writing about baby stuff). I need something more. So it turns out I do want to go back to work.

I suppose I always had visions of the J going off to pre-school or nursery when she’s two years old and is a boisterous toddler who loves playing with other children. At the moment she is so little and mostly wants cuddles from her Mummy. Am I being selfish by wanting to go back to work so soon? I feel really torn and that there’s no right answer.

I’ve been offered some freelance work for a magazine at the end of October and Grump is on half term, so he can look after the J for the week. I think this will be a really good test to see how I fare away from her, but then I won’t be too worried as she will be having lots of fun with her Daddy. I’m also hoping that he will get a better understanding of how difficult it is being at home with a baby all day and will cut me some slack when he comes home from work and the house looks like a small nuclear device has detonated and blasted toys, sicky muslins and random socks all over the place.

I don’t think I’m cut out for life as a full-time stay-at-home mum, but am I cut out for life as a part-time working mummy? Only time will tell.

P.S. Why do my hands look so weird in this photograph?