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.