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The Mental Load

The mental load of "mom-ing" has been a pervasive topic of conversation around me lately. I've been hearing friends and clients describe this state a lot in recent weeks. And then, just last week, I came across this article from the ScaryMommy blog, to which I could totally relate. Reading about the “invisible workload of motherhood" is something to which I find so many women can relate. And I don't mean this in any way to discount all the amazing husbands/dads out there who carry a heavy load of household and parenting responsibilities. (After all I can honestly only speak to how a woman's brain works, being that I am a woman). However, I have found that many of the women that I know personally and women that I see in my private practice are experiencing this weight of "the mental load." Mental load is that running to-do list of all the things that have to be completed and all the tasks required to manage all the moving pieces in your personal and professional life. And it feels like it never ends. My brain never turns off. My husband is actively engaged in household tasks and parenting, not to mention he takes on projects that I would much prefer not to (ridding the house of rodents, fixing plumbing issues, et al.). But he’s not really the one keeping track of when the diapers are running out or when the kids are due for dentist appointments or when we need to register them for swim lessons. Or even that they should go to the dentist or swim lessons. Despite being a relatively organized person, I continue to find it difficult to remember to order a present for that birthday party this weekend (thank goodness for Amazon Prime), to restock the grocery items that we are about to run out of, and to check when our cars are due for emissions tests. And the list goes on. It sometimes feels like my brain is a big, mesh ball of wire, criss-crossing every which way. Whereas, I know many men who are able to separate out the information in their heads into compartments. My husband even tells me one of those boxes in his head is actually a "nothing box". A nothing box! Can you imagine? Literally having nothing on your mind?! (Obviously I am making vast generalizations here, but there is plenty of research that supports the concept that there are differences in the way men and women's brains work. Check out this article, which stated, "New technologies have generated a growing pile of evidence that there are inherent differences in how men’s and women’s brains are wired and how they work.") I'm simply speaking to my own experience and the experiences other women have shared with me.

I can’t tell you how often I see a sigh of relief on the faces of clients when we talk about this mental load and they realize that someone else is acknowledging it and that other people experience it too. And while the camaraderie of that is certainly comforting, we still need some skills and strategies to cope with this. One of the biggest concepts I promote is adjusting expectations. I purposefully like to use the word adjusting rather than lowering, because in certain phases of parenting, life can be pretty hectic and overwhelming. And maybe all phases of parenting are hectic and overwhelming in some ways but those ways change. I firmly believe it is OKAY to adapt in those periods to make things less stressful for ourselves. I think adapting to your circumstances (by adjusting your expectations) is a very acceptable thing to do. (Not to mention, it's a great way to be a little kind to yourself). One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard recently was from Di Ter Avest who's a local mom and professional organizer (check out her site here). Di shared some organizational tips at a talk on managing work-life balance and suggested maintaining themes for meals every night of the week (i.e. Monday is always pasta, Tuesday is always Mexican, etc.), which essentially eliminates some of the 'mental load' of having to think about, plan, and shop for dinner. Brilliant! Such a simple and easy way to adjust expectations and lift some of the stress. There are probably dozens of ways we could adjust expectations in our day or week to give ourselves a little bit of a break from the mental load. Start by being aware of where you can make this happen and give yourself some grace. Chances are you doing a better job at mom-ing than you even realize! (Not to mention, your kids probably care a lot more about spending quality time with you than if you plan 31 different meals each month). So assess in what areas the mental load is most draining to you, and cut yourself some slack! Good luck!

The mental load of motherhood is a popular blog topic. Check out these other interesting perspectives on what it is and how to manage it:

Women do all the 'noticing'

Mental workload of a mother

Reduce the mental load

Share the mental load

The mental load and what to do about it

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