I am writing this while on a plane to a work conference. I have spent the last 24 hours getting my family ready to function relatively steadily in my absence. It occurred to me while I was packing myself and leaving seemingly endless notes and piles to direct them that the weight of managing the household and day-to-day needs of the children is a burden often carried by mothers. An invisible one.
You see, last week I was excitedly looking forward to leaving behind the demanding puzzle of part time work, maintaining a functioning household, and attending to the elementary school demands (tennis shoes this day, library book that, returning homework, etc.) for five days. Because sometimes it is just so much to keep up with, I was daydreaming of a quiet walk alone in the mountains or an uninterrupted evening to watch TV.
The last 24 hours? It was crunch time to pack, I stopped and bought the children more pull-ups, checked with the other moms in the class to figure out what would actually be worn to the kindergarten music program I will be missing, cooked an entire pot of soup I wasn’t going to eat, laid out matching respectable clothes for the kiddos, and hand wrote instructions for each day. Last night at 9:30 the kids were asleep and all I wanted was to go to bed, but instead I had to finish up laundry and think about the husbands “needs.” I ended up staying up until almost midnight with not a single thing packed- having simply spent the day meeting the normal needs of my family and anticipating what the next days would hold. Now, I’m leaving for the trip, and all I want is a nap. Even in getting myself ready to fulfill a duty of my job, I put others before myself over and over. Now before you check out thinking I’m merely complaining, can I share a few things that this experience taught me?
I found myself discovering some beautiful truths when I stopped to think about the tension of not being able to leave without paying a price.
No one can replace me. Or let me say it to you. No one can replace you. Your work matters. At first, I was not happy at this realization. Why can’t I just leave? Why can’t someone else do this for just two school days? What about my needs? It is literally taking two people to cover my absence. My husband taking a half day off work and cancelling an activity to make the family work “normally” when I’m not there on top of the hours of prep work I’ve already invested.
This reality makes me so grateful, though. It reminds me that I do matter. That all the seemingly insignificant things I keep in my brain and rearrange my life for make a difference. It is hard for the family to run without me. I would say that to you too, mama, your family needs you and your unique strengths and way of doing things. If you doubt that, just try to leave for five days.
Heavy mental load
You keep things in your brain that no one else even registers as a need. The mental load we carry as women is astronomical. We know where that pair of white tights is that needs to be worn to the school play. We know what pants look best with the over-sized gray sweatshirt. We know what food in the fridge can be cooked to make something everyone in the household will like. We know that the littlest kiddo thinks the black Wonder Kid pants “don’t feel good.” We know what needs will arise even before they do, so we arrange our schedules and environments just so.
This is the biggest reason I couldn’t just leave and hope that everything turned out is that I carry the household needs in my head, and its something I just do without consciously thinking about it.
Share the load
This experience has made me want to be better at sharing responsibilities for the day to day needs of the house and children with my husband. He is a good guy and a strong contributor to the household. Because he works more than twice as much as I do, I feel like I need to carry the weight of everything. That is not true. He needs to know how to pack the kids’ lunch boxes. He needs to be able to help them get to school looking okay, and I know he wants to help. I just need to request it.
So what about you? how do you share the load with your significant other? Do you have any good practices for managing the mental mother-load? Comment below. I’d love to learn from you!