Mental Load: Unpaid, Invisible Work of Moms Everywhere

Two days ago, in a temporary “role-reversal”, my husband was pinch-hitting domestic duties while I had a packed schedule at the office. He was left to manage two doctor’s appointments, an unexpected clothing change to school, and a visit from the home repair person. Later, he did something that warmed my soul…

Unpaid, Invisible Work

I asked him a simple favor, and he answered in exasperation, “Jennifer, my mental load…” with a grand gesture to his forehead that told me, “I’m full up!” We shared a quick smile, then broke into laughter. He got it, and there was some joy that welled up inside me at the recognition. Solidarity. 

The mental load we’re taxed with as moms might be described as a death by a thousand paper cuts. It isn’t the one item we do for a family member, it’s the 5,392 to-do items that run through our brain on an endless loop. The loop never stops, the list never gets completed, and if we take even a slight break from the work, the conveyor belt of to-dos gets backlogged. 

Usually, it’s Mom who takes the biggest hit. We do the worrying, thinking, and planning for activities happening now, in the past, and in the future. We keep the conveyor belt moving. Those who take notice only do so when something goes undone. Not when all the little things get accomplished. 

The Opposite of Fairy Tale

Here’s a tale to highlight a day in the life of a mentally bogged down mother (me). 

This afternoon I discovered seemingly out of nowhere (but it totally wasn’t), all three of my kids had no shorts, no shoes, and no underpants that came even remotely close to fitting them. Since we’re heading to back to school soon, we needed to stock up. Mom to the rescue, of course.

After two hours of being in Target (this wasn’t a “sip-my-latte-and-roam-the-aisles visit), my kids turned into hangry savages. Turns out they all wanted to eat dinner. The gall. This behavior happens regularly. 

Like any great mom, I race them through Chick-Fil-A for some expensive, unhealthy fried chicken nuggets to calm the chaos as quickly as humanly possible. Thank goodness it was Chick-Fil-A’s pleasure, because none of this was mine, frankly. 

At home there was the teeth brushing, the non-toxic sunscreen shopping (because, environment), the feeding of dogs, the loading of laundry, the vacuuming of crumbs (because the dogs got into the trash, again), the cleaning of the shoe bin, the rescheduling of a client, the email answering, and the folding of towels that overflowed onto the kitchen table. 

The Mental Load Continues

This morning, I folded three loads of laundry, vacuumed the living room, and wiped down the counters.

I committed to going for a jog this morning but it was raining (divine intervention), so I sat to write this article for which I’m on a deadline. My phone has dinged at least 10 times because I got dragged into a group text reminding me to vote (of course, I already know this), but now everyone is debating candidates. Who even has time for this discussion right now?

Today, I’ll get the dog-sitter scheduled, counsel five clients, interview a new counselor candidate, and field various work questions from my staff. That’s all before I race home to cook a meal (heaven forbid we have fast food a second night), smile with delight at whatever my kids present, learn a Tik-Tok dance in an effort to bond with my teenagers, then snuggle with the youngest, all before falling into bed, dog tired and cross-eyed. 

It’s a wonder I don’t drink more. 

This mental load has me mentally down, Moms. I’m sure it does you, too. What do we do about it? Heck if I know. 

What I do know is this: I wouldn’t trade this crazy, chaotic life for anything, even with the mental load. Also, I feel you. I see you. I know your pain. We’re in this together. Fist bump. Solidarity.

 

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan
Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer is a mom of twins who are sweet as sugar, but just hit that tween stage so all bets are off. Her youngest is...a joy. Let's just stop there. Most days you can find her in her office seeing clients, doing laundry, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or catching up on the latest episode of Real Housewives of (Insert City Here), Walking Dead or This Is Us. She is a tree-hugging country girl from West Texas who reads, writes, and teaches about human development and families as a hobby and profession. You can read more from Jennifer at her therapy blog, ichoosechange.com

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