What is the mental load?
The mental load is the invisible ‘thinking’ part of the work that gets done or needs to get done around the house, for your children, and actually all areas of your life. It’s the:
This work is not necessarily seen because it’s different from the physical act of doing chores, going to appointments, doing the shopping etc.
It’s what happens behind the physical act…
It’s the thinking ‘have the children got enough clean school uniform for tomorrow?’ that precedes the physical act of putting on the washing, hanging it out to dry, putting it away.
It’s remembering the dates of birthdays so you make sure you pick up birthday cards in time.
It’s the time taken to organise a playdate, not just turn up to it.
It’s the constant:
keeping on top of everything that you have going on in your life
mentally storing information that you might need
anticipating everyone’s needs and all the details
ensuring no ball is dropped and everything keeps going
always wondering if there’s anything you’ve forgotten.
Because so much of this goes on inside your head behind the scenes, it’s invisible. You yourself might not even really be aware all the time you’re doing the work. This can mean it often goes undervalued and unappreciated.
The burden of carrying the load persists.
What’s the impact of the mental load?
Even today, in households where both parents work and where the physical to-do list is split evenly between partners, the responsibility for a lot of the thinking that goes on behind getting everything done, often becomes the responsibility of the woman.
The result? It can lead to:
lack of time for self-care
It’s hard to measure how much time and energy is spent thinking everything the mental load involves because it happens in the mind and often a lot of it takes place subconsciously. So even when you do have a moment to sit down and have a hot cup of tea there are likely to be numerous thoughts, plans, worries going round in your head, so that ‘rest’ time isn’t really a break or chance to switch off after all.
It’s as though we’ve become so used to carrying it around that it’s our normal state. And that normal state is constantly being ‘on’ and is relentless. It takes time and energy even if we’re not even really aware quite how much.
You are not failing
It’s tough! But sometimes we become so overwhelmed by how difficult it can be to feel like you’re keeping on top of everything, you start internalising this and thinking that it’s difficult because you are failing.
You are not failing, it’s difficult juggling everything. So be kind to yourself.
Just because it’s a challenge though, doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to managing the load and relieving yourself from some of the stress and taking some time back for you.
5 tips to managing the mental load
1. Talk to your partner
Explain what the mental load really is and what it consists of. Describe what it is you’re managing and the impact that it’s having on you. It might be that because it is invisible work, they just haven’t realised quite how much you’re actually doing.
2. Put boundaries in place
Don’t take on more than you want or need to. You don’t always have to say ‘yes’ to doing something just because you could do it. By saying ‘no’ to doing something that is asked of you, you are making space for doing something else, whatever that may be.
What could someone else (your partner, friends, family, paid help) help with? And when I say help, I mean take responsibility for, including the thinking, remembering part. It might not necessarily get done in the way that you would have done it but it’s another thing that you don’t have to do.
An example for me is when my husband is getting the children dressed – I could go through the process of picking out a suitable outfit and giving it to my husband so all that’s left to be done is to literally just get them dressed. Or, I could leave him to be responsible for getting them dressed beginning to end. If I do the latter, the result might be they end up in completely mismatched clothes and an outfit that I would never have put together, but , as long as they are comfortable and they’ve got the appropriate number of layers for the weather, does it really matter?
4. Write what you’re carrying around in your head down
Secondly, if you write everything that’s in your head down, helps you feel more in control of it, schedule how and when it’s going to get done and feel less worried that you might miss or forget something.
5. Make time for yourself
Taking time for yourself might feel like one more thing to add to your to-do list and end up slipping to the bottom of your priorities. But, taking that time and using it to do something that calms you and brings you happiness, can really help with managing the impact of the mental load and the overwhelm and resentment that can creep in.
I’d love to hear from you if you struggle with the mental load of motherhood. Do you think you’ll try any of these tips?
PS. If you’d like more tips on managing mental overload as a mum, download my free guide.