Managing the Mental Load of Motherhood

Motherhood. There are so many amazing wonderful moments that come with being a mum. The feel of a little hand inside yours as you cross the road, seeing your child excel at something they love, the smell of a newborn baby, the glimmer of hope when siblings do something nice for each other. These are the moments that friends and family capture and share through social media.  The moments that make your heart melt, the reason you wanted to become a mother, but behind those magical moments is a lot of hard work.  Becoming a mother, for a lot of women, also means becoming the manager of the household.  Cooking, cleaning, washing and organising every member of the family’s social events as well as trying your best to make sure the emotional wellbeing of everyone is being met.  

 Some women thrive in this “top management” role. For other mothers, depending on whether they also work outside the home and the ages and number of their children, these responsibilities feel physically overwhelming, exhausting and emotionally draining.  `French comic artist Emma highlights this concept that she terms the “Mental load”. It refers to all the invisible jobs that a mother has to remember on a daily basis.  Thinking ahead to make sure that you have the right kind of food to make the school lunches, ensuring you have the right equipment for the school project, worrying about who will care for the children on school holidays.  It is lying in bed at night and remembering to schedule the play date, buy the birthday present for the party next week, book the doctor’s appointment, get haircuts before school starts, and making sure the children have the right size and right season clothes in their cupboards.

 Fathers are definitely helping out a lot more than ever before with the physical load of running the household but it is still probably fair to say for most that it’s the mothers that carry the majority of the mental load.  A couple of years ago I woke up one morning incredibly sick and couldn’t get out of bed.  Our daughter had to be at a dance eisteddfod with her hair curled an hour drive from our place and she needed to be there by 8:30am.  I told my husband that he would have to deal with all of this. My husband is very capable and managed to sort everything out but in the past I would have laid the costume out the night before, arranged to have her hair done and printed out exactly where he had to be, as well as sort out the movements of our other 3 children.  Not only had I become so used to managing the family my husband had become used to it as well. It was refreshing to realise after this one situation that I don’t actually have to micro manage every detail. 

 It would be ideal to not have to be sick in bed in an emergency before realising we need help to juggle all the chaos.  So what can we do to alleviate some of the mental load that mothers deal with every day? 

 Tip #1 Write everything that you have happening down and put it in a place that is visible for everyone in the family to see.  A calendar in the kitchen or a to do list on the fridge is a great way for everyone, especially your partner, to see what is happening.    

 Tip #2 Connect and work together with other mothers.  Mothers are great at sharing the load with each other.  

 Tip #3 Have routines in place.  A lot of what happens in a household is the same each day.  The more you do it in the same way each day the more it will become second nature and you won’t have to think about it in advance which means it won’t be part of the mental load you are carrying around.

 Tip #4 Look after yourself.  When life becomes overwhelming the first thing we let go of is taking care of ourselves. However you need to be at your best in order to help your family function at their best.  

 Tip#5 Ask for help.  It is not a sign of weakness and in no way reflects on your ability as a mother to put your hand up and say that you are not coping.  Motherhood is by no means an easy job and there are professionals, friends and family who are available and want to listen.

 There is no quick and easy solution for dealing with the mental load that comes with being a mother but it is important to have steps in place to prevent you from burn out. Managing your time, having a routine, sharing the load with others, asking for help and most importantly making sure you make time for yourself on a regular basis are all ways you can help manage the chaos of motherhood. 

Written by 

Jo Larcom 
Counsellor & Author of 'Ben's School Daze'
Owner Motherhood & You
Co-Director Magnetic Moves

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