We need to talk about… The mental load
A friend once told me that she had given herself the title of ‘Minister of Home Affairs’ when she was on maternity leave. She had suddenly found herself doing all the things around the house, and after leaving her fancy job in the corporate world she liked having something that felt a little more official for all the extra tasks she now found herself doing.
Her husband was very hands-on with the kids but still like so many mums, the home and everything to do with it suddenly fell under her jurisdiction.
Even with a partner who helps out and is “hands-on” the thing is, the mental load still falls predominantly on the mother.
It’s everything we do as mums, all the behind-the-scenes that no one else sees because we just get it done. And mums are awesome at “getting shit done”.
It’s the household that runs smoothly, it’s the appointments that get made and met. It’s the gifts that we take to birthday parties, the groceries we buy to make the snacks that get eaten all day long. It’s the spare roll of toilet paper that’s hidden so we never run out. It’s washing your toddler’s favourite t-shirt every night because they demand to wear it daily.
As mums, our minds are always on. Whether it’s our mental to-do list, multitasking or needing to be 3 steps ahead of our dare-devil toddler at all times making sure there’s nothing they can injure themselves on.
It’s the planning, organising, delegating. And the worrying. And this is why mums are exhausted.
As the children get older the sleepless nights become less and less but the mental exhaustion only seems to grow. We wonder why we still feel tired when our baby starts sleeping through the night.
Sure motherhood is physically exhausting, chasing after busy toddlers/preschoolers or keeping up with bigger kids is a lot. But the mental and emotional load that you don’t see is just as taxing.
Now look we’re not dissing the dads/partners here, we’re not saying this is 100% true for everyone and every household. But the stats are pretty clear that in most Aussie households the mental load is falling predominantly on the mother.
A 2019 survey found that women who earned the same income as their partners were still doing seven hours more housework per week (plus an extra seven of childcare). And even where the woman was the main income earner they were still averaging five more hours per week unpaid work than their partner.
If you embrace the role of ‘Minister for Home Affairs’ or ‘Household CEO’ and it brings you joy that’s great. But if you find yourself drowning under the weight of it, then it might be time to think about how it is affecting you and what you can do.
In reality, we know, that if half the stuff on our lists didn’t get done, we would probably all survive.. but we love our families and we want the absolute best for them. So what do we do?
Ways to help you manage the mental load
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Talk to your partner
Explain to them how you are feeling, don’t go in accusing them of not doing enough, but explain to them why you are struggling. If you just continue to do everything then you will burn out. Partners are often much more willing to help out than we think they just don’t know what to do. Sure you wish you didn’t have to ask, but the reality is sometimes things just need to be spelled out for everyone’s sanity. Make it a regular check-in, once a week or once a month sit down and plan out what’s coming up and who needs to do what.
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But don’t just bark orders once something is not done or when you’re at breaking point. Have a conversation in advance about what jobs/tasks need to be owned and completed by your partner/kids. Kids love taking ownership and feeling important so make them a part of the process. And hold them accountable for their responsibilities.
If your partner has a demanding job, or certain tasks aren’t their strengths (and you know you’ll end up doing them anyway) look if there are ways to outsource them to take them off both your plates. Create a list of priorities and work through them from the most important to the least.
Lower your expectations
This is an important one for us mums. Both for specific tasks but just for motherhood in general. And as women we often joke, ‘if you want something done right just do it yourself’. But this doesn’t always serve us. We might love a pristine house but the reality of life with young kids is that mess is unavoidable. You will get your immaculate house back eventually but for now, cut yourself some slack.
Look after yourself
The reality is us mums are probably always going to carry that load a little more. It’s in our nature because we love our family and want the very best for them. But make sure you don’t forget about yourself in the mix. Take time out for yourself, schedule some mum-time into the family calendar and find ways to switch off your brain and put that mental to-do list on snooze. Whether it’s a meditation or a trashy TV show, time for you is just as important as the rest of the stuff on your to-do list.
Jessica Bosco Follow +
Jessica is a writer, editor and professional wrangler of two boys. Working in women's lifestyle publishing for over 15 years she has written about everything from fashion and beauty to royal weddings and true crime. These days she loves helping parents navigate pregnancy and the early years of raising little ones...
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