When the Mental Load of Motherhood is just too heavy

We’re all guilty of taking on a bit too much, saying ‘yes’ too often just to please everyone and then complaining how tired we are but that, to some extent, is life. We can control it by learning to say ‘No’ more often, or leaving the dishes until the next day, putting our phone down at night and not sneaking a quick look at our work emails (that we promise ourselves will take 5 minutes and an hour later we’re still dealing with). But what about the everyday ‘Mental Load’ that Motherhood brings? The things that we need to, HAVE to, remember — the things that won’t get done but for us doing them, the things that mean our kids might be the only ones not in non-uniform on the latest school charity day or might not have a packed lunch because the school canteen isn’t in use today. The swimming lesson that they won’t get to unless we leave that meeting absolutely bang on time and beat the rush hour traffic home to collect them, the school trip they won’t be able to go on because we didn’t send the money in on time. These are things that sound menial, really minor aspects of life that you and your kids would almost certainly survive albeit with a very big dollop of self-induced ‘Mum Guilt’. But if we didn’t remember them, who would? If we ALL didn’t get these things done nothing would ever get done. Just this week I’ve had at least a handful of different text messages from my eldest son’s school about the Christmas jumper day, the Christmas party day, the end of term ‘non-uniform’ day — that there is a voluntary donation for — we’ve been asked to check our child’s hair because there is the annual dose of headlice going around, we’ve been to his ‘Nativity’, I’ve been to a Christmas decoration making afternoon, I’ve been asked to send a form back if he wants a packed lunch on a specific date because they are only serving a Christmas meal that day. My other son’s nursery have reminded me via social media updates that there is a sickness bug going around (that we’ve already had a couple of weeks ago, oh the joys) and that he has a Christmas party invite for one afternoon next week. I need to also remember that this weekend my eldest son has gymnastics on Saturday morning (Christmas t-shirts) but also has a medal presentation in the afternoon (gymnastics uniform t-shirts), a birthday party on Sunday morning that’s a 200 mile round trip, a pantomime next Weds afternoon, no childcare for my youngest next week because it completely slipped my mind that his nursery were breaking up this week for the Christmas holidays — so scrabbling around for someone to look after him next Monday and Tuesday while I go to work and that I can’t cancel because I have a meeting and I already lost 1 day last week because my youngest was ill and then I was ill — step in his Auntie who luckily works from home and can have him one day and his nan and grandad on the other day despite his nan having just had an op but grandad will be able to keep an eye on him and then a paid for extra session at nursery (they can go in for ‘extra’ sessions outside of term time but you’ve got to pay) so that I’m not reliant on everyone else to do me a favour. The sheer logistics of trying to make just one week happen without any mishaps is full of pressure of remembering where everyone is supposed to be at any one time — and me trying to actually get to work in-between these times, string a sentence together, do my job, not be late, stay awake and generally appear to be a competent human being. Add all of these things to the fact I’ve written 117 Christmas cards — no I’m not joking — 58 for my eldest son’s ‘free flow’ reception class where they mix with all children in that year, and another 59 for my youngest son’s age-group which has been amalgamated from about 20 kids in separate classes to many kids in a year group across 3 rooms but he mixes with them all — so as to not leave anyone out we wrote a card for everyone — I say ‘we’ and I mean ‘me’ because my youngest is 2 and my eldest, who is 4, got fed up of writing his name by the time we got to the letter ‘m’ in the class list! I’ve also written every single family card, bought every single present, wrapped every single present, put the Christmas tree and decorations up and sorted out the Santa visits, the family visits, the friend visits, the get-togethers, and everything else that needed doing for the festive season. I will be doing the food shopping at the last minute and hoping that the shops have still got food left, or it’ll be pizza for Christmas dinner.

And let’s be realistic, it’s not just about it being a busy time of year — because if it’s not Christmas it’s something else — it’s all the birthday’s, the parties, the replying to invites, the trips, the homework, the illnesses, the sleepless nights, the breaking up arguments, the shopping, the bills, the cleaning, the washing, the ironing, the cooking, the running a business, the working a job, the walking the dogs, the booking the holidays, the looking after family members, the seeing friends (if you ever have a chance), the hospital appointments, the hair cuts, the new school uniform, the school shoe replacements, the list goes on and on and on. And it’s hard work — really hard work. This isn’t just a general moan about motherhood — or fatherhood if you’re a dad that does most of the caregiving as is becoming more often the case as women return full time to work — but it really is about putting too much pressure on the people that already have an immense amount of pressure put on them — most of my days are spent just trying to keep my tiny humans alive and that is no mean feat, so to try and cope with the mental load of so much more, on very little sleep, while not properly able to take care of yourself because you’re so busy taking care of everyone else, can be really difficult. This parental peer pressure that we put on ourselves and each other, that schools put on us by having 37 different style of dress days, that work puts on us because we’re never now expected to be ‘off duty’, that the media puts on us to be ‘perfect’ — yummy mummy not slummy mummy (who even comes up with these terms?) — to be thinner, fitter, prettier, more intelligent, more organised, dressed better, have a better house, a tidier house, basically Mary Poppins — practically perfect in every way — it’s unhealthy and it’s causing very serious and detrimental issues to mums (and some dads) and their mental health.

So how about a new year’s resolution? To be kinder to ourselves. To be kinder to others when you don’t know if they’re running on empty. To learn to say ‘no’ more often if you’re feeling overwhelmed. To only do what really needs doing — the vacuuming can always wait a little bit longer. Maybe we should be grateful that every gadget in the house can now shout out the 153 daily reminders across the room at us and magnets still exist to put the lists of lists on the fridge door but what I’m sure we’d all be more grateful for is a bit more understanding of just how hard and completely exhausting the mental load of parenting actually is.