Updated: May 25, 2022
Let's talk about mental load in motherhood.
I call this my invisible tipping point. And the thing that many partners respond to by saying the statement “you should’ve just asked."
It wasn’t until a few arguments with my husband (okay, more like a lot) and some research that I was able to understand what this actually meant for me and my well-being as a new mom.
I personally struggled during my motherhood transition - much more than I thought I would. I was feeling extremely frustrated, under-appreciated and misunderstood. My frustration was not just stemming from the overwhelm that came from the mundane day-to-day tasks, but also from the laundry list of things I mentally had to keep track of to manage our family’s life. The things that no one else was seeing - scheduling the baby’s next checkup, ordering new pajamas, buying more diapers, taking the dog to vet, doing laundry, doing dishes, doing more laundry, ordering birthday gifts for family, researching different rashes, buying plane tickets, researching and ordering a new car seat, finding a daycare, buying a toothbrush when baby's teeth came in, RSVPing to a party, finding a new diaper cream when it stopped working, and the list goes on and on. It’s the constant planning, organizing, and always having to remember everything, that adds extra stress while already trying to navigate motherhood.
I felt this overwhelm of responsibility that fell only on my shoulders.
A sincere and heartfelt response to this is oftentimes “you should have just asked me to help." And this is where I personally struggled to fully understand why asking for help actually wasn’t the solution I needed here. For me personally, it was just the recognition that I needed.
The book “The Mental Load: A Feminist Comic” by Emma, explains this so well. It explains that when someone expects their partner to ask them to do things, they are viewing them as the manager of the household chores. So now it is up to them to know what needs to be done and when. And the problem with that is planning and organizing is already a full-time job. So, when mothers take on this task of organizing and at the same time executing a large portion of the tasks, in the end, it represents about 75% of the work. To paint the full picture, on top of organizing and planning, many mothers often take on the primary caregiver role, even while many are also working full time.
For me, this conversation was one of the most challenging issues to try to communicate. It was by no means a bash on my husband, saying he was not doing enough - because he was. Our brains just work differently and it’s about understanding this and how this additional burden of a mental load often falls on the mother and severely impacts her emotionally.
At the end of the day what I personally wanted (scratch that…NEEDED) most from my husband was recognition and empathy. I just wanted to feel seen. I wanted my invisible mental load to not be invisible to him. I needed him to just stop and recognize all these mundane, day-to-day tasks that were engulfing me.
After many fights spent trying to communicate feelings, and attempting to remove the idea that this was coming from a place of blaming one another for not doing more, I was able to communicate to him that I just really needed emotional support. Although it would be nice if I didn’t have to think about ordering the next round of diapers, that wasn’t even it. It was just being recognized for the fact that I was the one who ordered them. It seems way too simple but it worked!
Understanding what carrying a mental load in motherhood meant, I was able to give myself some grace as a mother. Most importantly, I was able to communicate to my husband what I needed from him and why I was feeling a certain way, and my husband was able to better understand what I was going through and have empathy for me.
Today, he makes an extra effort to recognize the little things I do every day. And that is a game-changer for me. It almost seems too simple. But when he literally stops and looks at me and thanks me for unloading the dishwasher or going grocery shopping, my cup feels full.
Check in with yourself and how you feel. Do you feel unappreciated? Why? Don’t let your mental load stay invisible. Recognize all that work you do planning and organizing.
To start this conversation with your partner, take this quick quiz with them. Help each other uncover and understand the day-to-day tasks that often engulfs us as mothers, adding to our mental load and overwhelm.
Remember, the goal isn’t to blame one another or get into a tit-for-tat conversation. It is about recognizing the invisible tasks each of us is doing and giving recognition and support for all of the hard work.