Step Parenting

Bearing that Mental Load

I came across a comic on Facebook the other day called “You Should’ve Asked” that talked about mothers typically taking on more of a mental load than their partners.  That mental load referred to the burden of having to organize, plan, and remember about a gazillion different things at once.  As moms, we do this ALL the time.  I am constantly remembering school’s wacky Wednesdays, planning birthdays, packing lunches, remembering to buy that birthday card, making dinners, making sure everyone has enough underwear packed, etc.  My brain is constantly running a million different scenarios trying to remember the fine details for everything in the upcoming days, weeks, and months.

According to the article, this is not uncommon for moms.  While chores might seemingly be split evenly, it often falls on the moms to remember that chores need to be done in the first place and give everyone marching orders essentially.  I will often stress about forgetting one little thing and then stress about the consequences of forgetting that thing even before I forget it in the first place.


Taking on Everything

I am a pretty big neat freak – I like things organized and put away a certain way.  My house may not always be dust free, but I like it to be organized with items put in their proper places.  I can just focus a lot better and feel like I can relax when everything is put away.  Coming into this family though, that was not the case.  My boyfriend likes things clean but not necessarily neat and the kids had adapted his habits of leaving clothes and toys all around.  It drove me crazy!!  I have sometimes I was constantly picking up after them.

Slowly but surely, I broke the kids of these habits and they learned how to at least pick their clothes up off the floor and put them in the hamper.  Our three-year-old is probably the biggest neat freak of us all.  While he may leave toys out every now and then, he is really good at making sure all trash gets picked up and clothes make it to the hamper.  He is also quick to point out when someone else has made a big mess.

Early on in our relationship though, I definitely felt the need to try and take on everything myself.  With so many people questioning my role, I think I felt like I had to prove that I could be that mom that does it all.  I have a full-time job and I still wanted to be able to have a clean house and make well-balanced dinners and get kids to bed at an early time.  To put it simply, I wore myself into the ground.  I would get angry and impatient because I was tired and felt like all I did was laundry and cook.  I would then take it out on kids or my boyfriend and that just never ended well.

Let’s face it, I still have my moments where I feel trapped in the never-ending laundry cycle, but that being said I recognized it as a trigger for me.  When I felt like there was too much a mental load that I was taking on by myself, it made me angry and get frustrated more easily.  But I still never asked for help.  The comic in the article, appropriately titled “You Should’ve Asked,” points out how most guys won’t help out until their partner asks them to.  They expect women to manage their chores.  But as the article states, the sheer act of having to remember everything is already a full-time job.


“I thought adulting as a single person was hard”

I’m not saying that guys just don’t help out at all because that’s not true.  It is the mental load of constantly thinking of everyone’s wellbeing that can be overwhelming.  I thought adulting as a single person was hard, but when you are responsible for remembering everything for a whole family it can be a lot.

For example, feeding the whole family – I can’t tell you how many times I just don’t want to cook dinner.  After coming home from a full day at work, the last thing I want to do is to spend 45 minutes cooking and then have to turn around and do dishes before getting kids off to bed.  My boyfriend has often said to me “Well, then don’t cook”.  My boyfriend doesn’t know how to cook, so if I don’t cook then I know that means that the kids would just have to eat cereal or that we would be ordering pizza.  Knowing the kids wouldn’t get anything real to eat often stresses me out more than the idea of having to drum up something quick for dinner in the first place.  But I realized, sometimes I have to be okay with that!


Cut Yourself a Break

It took me a while to figure it out, but I realized that I need to cut myself a break sometimes.  So what if the dishes sit in the sink for a day (or maybe even two)?  So what if kids miss their bedtime by a few minutes?  So what if we eat pizza two times in a week?  It’s okay!  Having kids and a full-time job is downright exhausting at times.

As I stated before though, I am now able to recognize what some stress triggers are for me.  Having to tell kids to pick up their stuff more than three times, having dishes stack up in the sink when the dishwasher is empty, finding random socks all over the place, being behind on loads and loads of laundry… when these things pile up it stresses me out and makes me cranky.


Speaking Up

It took me acknowledging what set me off for me to be able to have a conversation with my boyfriend about it.  I don’t have to ask for help, but I do need to speak up when I need a break.  I’ve written before about taking time to yourself, but sometimes that’s all I need to help reset.  Sometimes that means my boyfriend picking up the kids so I can stay late and get some work done or vice versa him dropping them off at school so I can get some extra sleep.

The article suggests some ways we can attempt to even out the mental load with our partner, which I think are all good suggestions.  But, my main takeaway is just that there is this extra burden or “mental load” that us as moms often bear.  I never really knew of a term for it before now.  Sometimes I can handle it and frankly enjoy it – such as planning Christmas gifts or packing for a vacation.  It can be stressful yet exciting.  But, it is key to recognize when you have reached your mental capacity and speaking up if you are approaching that breaking point.


How do you deal with the stress of bearing this “mental load”?  Tell me in the comments below.

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