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Opinion: How the mental load of parenting distracts from the physical burden

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 29, 2023 · 5 mins read

Once upon a time, before heading out for the day, you would simply pack a small handbag with a few essentials and your makeup kit, and wear outfits that could afford to favour style over comfort, depending on the occasion. If you were going on a vacation, you would decide to get coffee or a bagel at the airport in case you get hungry, and maybe just toss in a few energy bars just in case.

And that was it. You were done.

But that was a long, long time ago, in a different era and a different world.

Today, even a trip to the grocery store with two toddlers in tow requires more luggage space than most people need for a two week European holiday. There’s also ensuring everyone has used the restroom and that you have a full bag of snacks, beverages, and inflight entertainment to last you the 20-minute drive.

You pop in a load of laundry before leaving to save time and make sure you are back in time for your 4:30 appointment with the plumber.

It has taken a lot of begging to get him to agree to drop by for a visit, and you don’t want to miss him by a few minutes like the last time. And heaven knows that sink needs to be unclogged because you are dead sure a deceased skunk is spraying its way to heaven in there.

Parenting: The good, the bad, and the unseen

Welcome to parenthood, which is just a cuter remake of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. You are basically a full-time personal assistant to your little divas.

Oh, and you don’t just do laundry pick-ups, you do the laundry too.

And if you happen to be the mum, there’s a good chance you’re performing more cognitive, emotional, and physical labour than the father. There’s increasing research on how the weight isn’t equal and is in fact, getting more unequal with time.

The physical burden to bear in addition to the emotional stress

The unseen or hidden load of parenting has been divided into three categories.

  • The emotional burden
  • The cognitive load and
  • The physical load

Now, I’m going to explain this with the concept of a commercial aircraft flying across the Atlantic.

One parent finds themself in the pilot seat, navigating the route and, basically, flying the plane from Point A to Point B.

While the other parent, ends up as the co-pilot, flight attendant, steward, cleaning crew, ground crew, baggage handler, and, on rare occasions, a customs officer.

Yep, baby lizards and stray puppies will be confiscated at the security gate as they are a safety hazard on this flight.

Now your passengers, who happen to be your kids, just come along for the ride, but they’re dependent on you for a smooth experience.

The emotional load

The emotional load is putting out fires and handing out peanuts to passengers to keep them at ease. One passenger is upset because, well, he’s just upset. So you have to get on his level and figure out why he’s upset.

Parenting is full of days where your children will cry, wail, throw tantrums, bang doors, and refuse to communicate.

And all this emotional load falls, in most cases, on mums.

The cognitive labour or mental load of parenting

Cognitive labour is the long list of household responsibilities as well as doctor’s appointments, play dates, parent-teacher meetings, and project deadlines that you mark in your calendars.

It is just a whole lot of planning and event management that is absolutely invisible because it looks like “a small playdate with just a bunch of toddlers.”

The physical burden

The physical stress for parents starts with their newborn – and sees an upward trend with every milestone they achieve.

This physical burden includes more than just carrying the baby, diaper or baby bags, or doing five loads of laundry; it also includes grocery shopping, cooking, general housekeeping, cleaning, and nappy changing.

All 3 of these loads are invisible, and they slowly build up. They lead to emotional fatigue, and frustrated mums who are just burned out and unable to enjoy the process.

How to share the parenting load with your partner

The solution is simple: By sharing the parenting load, both partners can experience a happier, healthier parenting journey.

Unfortunately, sharing can get complicated if your partner isn’t on the same page, or even willing to take the initiative.

Remember, the secret to parenting is thinking of yourself as a team and pretty much juggling your way through the expedition.

Here are some simple steps that can help lighten the invisible load, and ease the emotional fatigue, and physical burden of household responsibilities that tend to typically fall on mums.

Divide and conquer

Play to your strengths and tackle tasks that you can do faster and better. I never forget laundry day, but I often forget our dentist appointments and playdates. So my husband has taken over those.

Take a break, come back stronger

Alternate between Fridays to take a break and hang out with friends, or get some “me time.” One parent takes over while the other gets a break to do their own thing.

Throw gender roles out the window

List down all you know about gender roles and toss it in the trash. Grab a new piece of paper and list down all the invisible loads and tasks that have to be tackled.

Learn to say no

No, your child doesn’t have to be a part of every playdate, and neither do you have to arrange all the sandwiches at the party to look exactly like a unicorn.

Many of us focus on the mental load without acknowledging the physical burden. If you’re doing a lot more than you can handle at the cost of your mental health, it is a good idea to step back and reconsider.

It is our responsibility as parents to ensure that they, too, find joy in their flaws. Besides, they would prefer energetic, happy parents over a tired mum with unicorn-shaped sandwiches any day.

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