Care and Wellbeing

The Mental Load On Mothers

What is the mental load on women, and how can it be reduced?

The Mental Load On Mothers

How often do mothers feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of tasks and responsibilities placed on them every day due to their being mothers and workers? All too often there is silence on the matter, which is considered a taboo because society can't come to terms with the idea that a woman, a mother, could ever get to the point of wanting to give up. Let's take a look at the mental load on mothers and what can be done about it.


The mental load: What is it?

The mental load on women, and especially on mothers, is the pressure produced by all the responsibilities of the day. The expression “mental load” was first used in the book The ordinary management of life in two written by sociologist Monique Haicault in 1984. The author wasn't simply referring to the load of “doing”, but to the burden of organising everything and keeping it all under control. The expression refers to mothers who are unable to take a moment for themselves from morning to night, despite successfully dealing with the challenges of the day, planning sports activities for their oldest and a party for their youngest – all while driving –, scheduling a stop to buy groceries for the evening meal and remembering to set an appointment with the dentist.


The mental load syndrome

But having an extremely full day is not a rare exception for a mother; it's every day. Her partner may lend a hand at home or with the children, but she still oversees practically every move and, while in a meeting, makes sure the children have had their snacks or answers messages from their father, who wants to know if their older child should wear a sweater to go outside or whether a shirt would be enough.  What about when the children are with their grandparents?  Then the race is who will call first after picking them up from preschool: the grandparents or the mother? Who knows...? 


What happens when they are too tired? 

One thing is certain, there is no taking a break with kids, and at the end of the day exhaustion sets in:  not physical, but mental exhaustion, the result of trying to fit everything in, keep an eye on it all and never lose a piece along the way, at times without the support of the person at our side.  When we feel tired and misunderstood our mood takes a dive, which opens the door for tense moments that don't benefit anyone in the family. Then we feel guilty for having briefly entertained the notion of giving up, for having imagined life without children, and the next day it starts all over, and everything is still the same.


How to relieve the mental load

What can be done to keep the load from causing mental stress? The key word is share. Share, delegate responsibilities, thoughts and worries, but don't be too schematic: being flexible helps lighten the load.  And the load should be well distributed, don't worry about giving up control or losing self esteem. Keeping every task under control all the time every day is simply not possible, we need to accept the fact that the grandparents and our partner need to do their part and do it their way, without jumping in to do things for them just because everything has to be just so. We also need to lower the expectations placed on us, because perfection and well-being don't go hand in hand: one example being the idea that the house must always be in perfect order. A focus on perfection can take the wind out of everyone's sails. Perhaps the right approach is to rediscover the beauty of going about the day's work knowing we can ask for help, being able to delegate, and being happy for what does get done, without fixating on what is missing. We might even manage to take some time for ourselves and just enjoy being happy.

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