Mom’s carry a mental load of all the details it takes to run a family. It’s what makes being the wife and mother of the house so overwhelming–even more than the dishes, laundry, and chauffeuring. I first read about this “mental load” that moms carry here. Those words were so validating as many times I’ve told my husband something similar.
But it usually comes out with descriptions about being overwhelmed with all the things and what it takes to care for a family of 5. It took me 10 years and having 3 kids to fully realize all that running a household and being a wife and mom requires of me. Although many of these responsibilities and burdens are true for women no matter the structure of the home.
While technically no one else can take away or fully relieve that load, there are some ways it can be simplified and lightened a bit for ourselves. I know this because these are the things that make my own mental load feel less burdensome. And when I’m most overwhelmed with the mental load, these are the things most often forgotten or missing.
Know what’s on your mental load.
Write it all down. What are your current responsibilities and concerns? What keeps you up at night? This might seem like focusing on the problem at first, but maybe like me you haven’t stopped to really consider why you’re stressed or overwhelmed. When you add it all up, it starts to make sense. There’s a reason I feel like I’m always behind, because my to-dos and concerns are more than any one person can or should maintain. If nothing else, that’s just validating. And seeing the problem is just the start of finding ways to resolve it. Or at least accept the parts that can’t be changed, or will be gone before you know it (dang kids growing up too fast and too slow all at the same time).
Learn from those who have gone before.
I sometimes forget that I don’t have to reinvent how to be a mom and run a household. It’s been done for many years, and even though some of the specifics have changed (good-bye cloth everything; hello Pinterest), some of the best tricks are timeless. I generally stay away from posts telling me what I’m doing wrong or what I “should” be doing, and instead go in search of ideas for problems or concerns highest on my priority list. I know we should eat better, but for now my meal idea searches are focused on dishes that don’t need recipes. Ditto on just about every other category–at this point in my life, I want to know the least I can’t get by with doing. Which brings me to my next point…
Know who you are and be that.
My desire to find the easiest solution is largely because of my part-phlegmatic personality type. Even if I wasn’t juggling the demands for my family of 5, I’d probably still want the easiest solution. I’m a picky eater, raising picky eaters, so simple customize-able meals (burritos, pasta, breakfast for dinner) are where it’s at for us. My sanity requires a simple, clean home, so I prioritize that in my day. And I value reading time, but don’t always do it with my kids. You’ve likely already done at least one personality test. Are you melancholy, choleric, phlegmatic, or sanguine? Or maybe there’s another test you’ve done or maybe you just know some things about yourself and how you tick–especially your strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths and find cheats for your weaknesses.
Let go of what doesn’t fit.
That brings me to my next point: Just because it worked or is working for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for me or my family. Whether it’s how to do the laundry–I’ve heard some recommend running a load every day (no thanks!), while I have to knock it out in one laundry day every week–how to keep up with the dishes, or how to do your meals and nighttime routines, ideas can only get you so far. A solution is only a solution if it’s one that works for you and your family. Let go of the ideas that don’t work for you guilt-free.
Set some routines for a better autopilot.
The great thing about habits, aka autpilot, is that they actually free up your mental space. You don’t have to think about what needs to be done, it just naturally happens. It’s a miracle! Making my bed hasn’t been on my to-do list since I was 10. I learned about creating habits, worked on it for less than a month, and to this day I don’t leave my room in the morning without making my bed because it’s a habit. Same with brushing my teeth, and now with taking my vitamins. I’ve been working on extending this to my family, especially with our morning, after school, and evening routines. Of course choosing these habits and helping reinforce them is initially another thing on my mental load–but eventually it will pay off in them learning good habits and me having less to tell everyone to do.
Make 1 simple meal plan and repeat it weekly.
This is the one thing that has helped me, even when I’m complaining about our meals. Years ago I set theme nights for each night of the week (mostly revolving around a main ingredient: pasta, beans, rice, eggs, soup). There was a short season that I more intentionally varied the actual dishes we had each week and looked for recipes to try. Lately, our meals are all no-recipe-needed and we repeat them week to week. The plus side is that we do have a meal plan to follow, and thus a recurring shopping list to keep us on track. I don’t love it and want to mix up our meals, but for now, this is all my mental load will allow and I’m thankful to use my brain space for something else.
Do what really matters.
On the note of freeing up my brain space for something else, it’s important to do about what really matters–for you. Maybe improving your family’s meals is a high priority for you–by all means, do it! Sometimes I flip out about dirty laundry or dishes piling up, because those are simple things that can really ruin my sanity and make me impatient. Of course, I try to remember what really matters–the people in my home. Also, I know that I’m more likely to actually enjoy my time with them when our living room is picked up 🙂
Get rid of something. Repeat.
Initially getting rid of something feels like adding something else to my to-do list. Once it’s done, it’s like removing actual weight from that mental load I carry. I dread having to declutter, but every. single. time. I do, I feel so much lighter and freer for quite a while after. This isn’t just in theory. It literally removes two heavy burdens: 1. The excess stuff is gone and 2. the space is easier to keep clean. If I were to prioritize this list, this would probably be at the top because it always leaves the biggest, longest lasting impact for me. Read more about simplifying with kids in my ebook Simplifying Home.
Husband, kids, friends, or family. Some might call this “asking for help,” but I’m not very good at that. Because A. I can do it myself, and B. I can do it better myself. (Insert nervous laughing emoji. Is that a thing? Because it should be.) So clearly that’s a problem and not the best mentality for doing life. I’m slowly learning to involve others, or “ask for help.” For now, this means trying to remember to clearly and calmly tell my husband what I need him to do instead of getting mad that he just didn’t automatically know to do it. It means working with my school-age children to do chores more independently. It means asking for someone to watch my kids if I need a break or a date night with my husband. It also means making time to see friends who “get” this whole mom’s-mental-load thing and help me not feel so alone in it.
Cope in healthier ways.
We all deal with stress in different ways. (And we understand that the “mental load” we carry as moms is stress, right?) There are ways to deal with that stress that are beneficial or at least neutral and some that are downright sabotaging. I
sometimes often need to zone a little at the end of the day, but late night binge-ing doesn’t exactly help those stressful mornings go any smoother. I like a little retail therapy during an outing by myself, but unplanned shopping sprees doesn’t exactly help those overflowing closets that are already stressing me out. You get the idea. Find ways to get a break from the stress without adding more stress. (And if when you slip, offer yourself grace. Old habits are hard to let go of.)
Take care of yourself.
If we’re not at our best, it’s hard to act our best and get done what needs to be done. Ask me how I know. (Or just see my post about self-care on my personal blog.) Slow and steady self-care over the long haul has been the theme of my life for a little while. I recently realized I kept comparing who I am as a mom now of 3 kids to who I was as a mom when I had only 1 kid. My mental load has drastically increased, along with all of my day-to-day responsibilities, and yet I still expect myself to do everything I used to do. And never really learned to care for myself along the way. So I’ve been relearning that, and it’s making a big different in my ability to peacefully carry my mental load as a wife, mom, and home manager.
Finally, instead of adding more to your to-do list, consider replacing the list. Do something that will lighten your load from the ideas above. Perhaps creating a simple meal plan or getting rid of a grocery bag of clutter? Then you might be surprised you have some free space to do some of those others things you’ve always wanted to do as a mom.
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