I'm definitely not the first person to notice that moms tend to be the ones carrying the mental load for our families—that while most dads do lots around the house and with the kids, they often need to be told what to do. Almost everyone has heard of "emotional labour" at this point, right?
I've been aware of it for a while, but a recent holiday—the first one I've had since becoming a parent that allowed me to fully mentally unload—made it crystal clear just how incredibly heavy and exhausting the load is.
When I got back into the swing of things post-holiday, it only took a day or two to be right back in the thick of it. And it go me thinking about just how long the list is of things we moms typically have bouncing around our brains at any given time. The following isn't even exhaustive.
We know what time the kids have to be at school, what time they get out, what time they go to dance class, karate or hockey.Even if your partner is doing some or even all of the running around to get the kids where they need to go, you're probably the one keeping that information in your head and delegating pick up. and drop offs.
Noah needs his immunizations? Mom makes an appointment. Olivia is overdue for an eye exam? Mom makes an appointment.Dental check-ups all around? Appointment. Family photos? They don't happen unless mom makes the appointment. Like laundry, the appointment-making task is literally never-ending.
Planning a family trip? Prepare for a bit of pre-vacation mental gymnastics. Moms are most often the ones making lists of all the things the family will need. We're usually the ones checking whether anyone's passport has expired. And we often are the ones physically packing all the suitcases—including our spouse's. Are we control freaks? Or are we not confident it will be done well and on time if we don't take care of it ourselves?
We worry about the kids' grades, about their social game and about their level of effort. We keep track of field trips, book orders, bakes sales, picture day, popcorn days and school spirit days. If our head falls out of the game for even a minute, then we miss the order deadline for school pizza day. And selfishly, that’s not something we want to miss.
Is dog food on the grocery list? Has anybody walked the pup today? For some reason, moms are often the one with these questions swimming around in their brain.
I seem to be firmly in charge of planning play dates, special outings and family gatherings. My husband is great at physically preparing for all planned events (cleaning, cooking, dropping kids off here and there) so I know I’m lucky. But the mental load still falls to me.
The seven-year-old grew two inches over the holidays? The drawers are overflowing with clothes that don't fit anymore? I'm constantly re-evaluating and keeping track of what needs replaced and what we can make do with. It can be slightly overwhelming. Oh, and I can't forget that their boots from last year are leaking or that their snowsuit strap is broken. I have to be mentally on top of it all.
Should we have left the grocery store during the tantrum? Should I have introduced pureed carrots before rice cereal? Should I have let my four-year-old watch that new Netflix show rated for kids ages 7+? There are a thousand things we're second guessing at any given moment. And in all likelihood, we made the right decision, but the questions still occupy a lot of head space.
I don’t know about you, but when I became a mom, I turned into a worrier. I worry about my kids' safety, their health, their milestones, their overall development, their sleeping, their eating, their screen time. Everything, pretty much. I’m grateful that my worries are just typical worries, but it can still be exhausting.
There are always so many things on our minds as moms. It took having a week off from most of my mental responsibilities for me to realize just how busy my brain feels the rest of the time. Even simple things can take up mental space in an already crowded brain. No wonder a lot of moms have trouble recalling information sometimes! Perhaps "Mommy brain" is actually just our brain running out of space with all the stuff going on up there.
I'm going work on this, though. My plan is to write more stuff down so it's taking less space in my brain; delegate more to my kids, who are increasingly capable as every year passes; share more of the mental load with my spouse; and bring my mental state closer to what it was the week that I was on holidays. Or at least as much as I can. Otherwise I’m going to burn out. And then who’d carry the load?
This article was originally published online in March 2018.
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