Just lately I have been so weighed down by the heaviness of all the things I need to think about (including the lateness of this blog post) and have noticed that I’m not the only one. There have been quite a few features about this ‘mental load‘ mums carry.
Is it a new concept? A by-product of modern life? Is it that we are more open in talking about these things in 2017 than our mothers were in 1977? (I will stick my neck out and say mothers are particularly – although not exclusively – affected.) Perhaps it’s just easier to talk about it because someone has coined the phrase ‘the mental load’ so we actually have a label for something that has been bothering us for decades?
On a day-to-day basis I know I have a large and heavy mental load. This is partly due to my particular circumstances. If having a child is a full-time job, then having a disabled child is like having a full-time job, with unreasonable overtime hours AND a couple of part-time jobs on the side. We are privileged in that we have family nearby and extra funds to pay for what Ted needs, but life is busy and we are on duty 24-7 (even with help) so things can quickly get too much to handle.
As well as support with Ted’s everyday life, he needs multiple therapies that each bring a set of tasks and objectives. There are carers, a PA, lawyers, therapists, experts, 1:1s, reps from equipment companies, paediatricians, consultants, GPs, pharmacists, who all have regular slots in our lives. People are constantly in and out of the house, needing cups of tea, information sharing, asking questions, giving us plans and tasks, objectives to meet. All necessary and usually helpful, but completely overwhelming and exhausting at times. Plus, Ted has just started school, where settling him in brings eleventy billion more tasks to manage… all of which come back to me.
Without wishing to sound moany, because many others have it way harder than we do –and I am well aware that this ‘mental load’ business can be a bit ‘first-world problems’ – sometimes my head just wants to explode! Despite our circumstances, I know that most mums feel like this at some point (especially working mothers keeping many plates in the air).
Again, I am luckier than most in that my husband and I share a lot of the responsibility of the house. Rik cares for Ted when he wakes at night (which he does, multiple times, almost every night), does all the cooking when he is here, earns a wage, takes the kids out when I need to do work, does baths and nappies and all that hands-on-dad stuff. But, without wishing to belittle his contribution, I feel his load is mostly full of tasks that don’t require so much deep thought and research because he has been doing them for years.
All the new waters we navigate seem to fall to me. From everyday caring for the children (feeding, bathing, playing, dressing etc) to researching therapies, parenting methods and sleep patterns, nutrition, immunisations, teething, schooling and so on. This could be the control freak in me taking over, it could be circumstantial, it could be because it is so culturally engrained in us that everything to do with children is ultimately the woman’s responsibility. It starts at birth – naturally – but by the time that baby is off the boob and going to school, its needs have rocketed and the list of things a mother must think about to keep him moving through life is as long as his newly be-uniformed body.
I know, I know. I could delegate. But that’s another item on my to-do list. Often it takes longer. Every time I do it, it goes a bit wrong and things get forgotten or meetings/appointments are scheduled for the wrong time, creating more work. Maybe if I did it more, it would be smoother? But there’s also something a bit anti-feminist about the idea that to ease the mother’s load, SHE has to then sort out someone to do some of her tasks when surely these should be shared from day one. They shouldn’t be ‘helping’ with the children. They should be parenting their kids. Taking care of them because they are half theirs. Why aren’t dads up half the night Googling random shit like, ‘Is 18 months too old to start giving a dummy for a better night’s sleep’? (Asking for a friend, obvs.)
So what do we do about it? These are my current goals, which I think will help ease the load a little. But if you have any thoughts, I’d love to know. I have a couple of suggestions but always open to more – comment below or on any of my posts on social media, with thoughts on any of this stuff.
Delegate – give jobs to other people. As I mentioned above, it’s hard at first and it will go wrong, but no one will ever be able to help you (me) if you (I) don’t give them the chance to learn how.
Simplify – we’ve been decluttering the house as it makes a huge difference to stress levels. Less stuff means it’s easier to manage. A tidy house means less time wasted looking for things. Clean, open spaces give you more room to think. The weight begins to lift.
Monotask – multitasking is a myth! It’s difficult and inefficient. I am going to monotask instead. This is where that mindfulness pays off; focusing on one thing at a time will hopefully make it easier and faster. Not to mention less stressful because who wants a list of half-finished jobs?
Use lists – a lot of list writing goes on anyway, but I’ve started using an app called Wunderlist. I am always close to my phone so it’s easy to add things when I think of them, I can share lists with others (good for delegating!) and organise my lists into themes and events. No more lost pieces of paper and once it’s noted down, I can kind of erase the to-dos from my mind.
Me first – self-care always suffers when there’s a huge to-do list, but letting it slip altogether shouldn’t be an option. Here’s a reminder that a bit of time nurturing yourself gives you more energy, patience and desire to tackle the rest of what life throws at you.
Here’s to losing the mental weight!