That’s the go to answer of moms worldwide when confronted with the simple question, “So, how are you.” It’s the go to right after the ever popular (and usually untruthful), “Oh, fine.”
Motherhood is exhausting. Fulfilling, but exhausting.
But for me, it isn’t exhausting because of the external tasks and chores I have to accomplish each day. Frankly, I’d have to do laundry and make meals whether I had kids or not. The chores that need to be done to maintain a house aren’t specific to mothers. Everyone who lives in one and doesn’t want to come home to a pigsty everyday has to do some chores. Homemaking isn’t exhausting for me, but motherhood sure is.
I recently read an article by Jami Ingledue that discussed the “mental load” mothers experience. We aren’t just responsible for the management of the home, but the management of each person’s life inside the home. We’re responsible for the calendar, the schedule, the routines, the appointments, the likes, the dislikes, the ups, the downs, the plans, the cancellations, the good, the bad and the very, very ugly.
What is so interesting is that I knew about this mental load before I read about it, but never put a name to it. For me, it is more like a weight dragging behind me day in and day out. It's always there and no matter how long the to-do list gets, or how much I accomplish, the weight is there.
A few years ago, I made a list of all the things I happen to think about as I started my day. I was feeling particularly burdened and a little cheeky, so I wrote it all down, hell-bent on sharing it with my husband in an attempt to show him how much I actually have to think about and remember each day.
- Is it picture day?
- Is Ava's dress clean and ready to be worn?
- Does she need lunch money or is she bringing?
- Did I sign those field trip forms?
- When are the kids’ dentist appointments again?
- Should I make their annual physical appointments now, or wait another few weeks?
- It’s Tuesday, that means gym day. She has her gym clothes, right? Are they clean? I told her to take them out so I could wash them.
- Did Everett take his medicine this morning?
- Did Ava take her medicine this morning?
- Do I need to refill any medications?
- What time is Adam coming home tonight?
- I need to call the babysitter for Saturday night.
- I need to go get a present for that party on Saturday night.
- I need to plan on what the kids will be having for dinner on Saturday night.
- Did I write down those upcoming half days?
- I responded to that email from her teacher, right?
And so on, and so on....
That’s all usually before 9am.
I have calendars and reminders galore, but eventually, that reminder is going to go off and prompt me to do something and take action, usually taking me away from what I’m currently doing.
The exhausting part isn’t remembering everything for everyone all the time in our family. The exhausting part is remembering that I even have to remember everything.
As a home management expert and a modern homemaking advocate, I see what this mental weight does to moms. It makes even the most simplistic tasks seem burdensome and overwhelming. Suddenly, putting away the dishes is as complicated as solving a high-level calculus problem. The act of taking the dish from the dishwasher and placing it in the cabinets takes a pretty minimal amount of effort and about 5 seconds, but when it’s just another item in a never-ending string of things to do and remember, it can be paralyzing.
We perceive the cleaning, cooking, decluttering, organizing and laundry as the most difficult parts of motherhood. In reality, these are just the things needed to run a home. The homemaking part alone can be pretty simple. Spray some Mrs. Meyer’s cleaner on the countertop and wipe it off. Done and done. But having to move the soccer cleats off the counter to do it, because obviously that is where they belong, reminds you that you need to wash your son’s soccer uniform, and buy more detergent, and put away the towels that are in the dryer.
Motherhood is basically just living inside the book “If you give a mouse a cookie.” because that one thing we do eventually leads us to remembering that another thing needs to be done, then another, and another. This is why I’m exhausted, because the remembering never ends.
Even as I write this post, a Google calendar notification went off reminding me that my son has picture day today. Immediately, I panicked, wondering if I remembered to send in the envelope with money. I did. I did last week. Right? Of course. I’m sure I did….right?
This is probably why husbands often don’t understand why homemaking is so difficult. My husband can do dishes in record time, and line them up neatly to dry like nobody’s business. When the floor needs to be vacuumed and I am staring at it wondering if I have the energy to even move, he grabs it and goes to work. Homemaking tasks aren't the issue, the ever-pervasive tasks of motherhood are.
This isn’t a post bashing husbands. There are enough of those out there. Honestly, my husband is one of the most helpful human beings I know and would take on any burden I gave him just to help me out. He is loving and giving to the core and does everything he can to help in any way possible.
But somewhere along the way, we silently agreed that it would be my duty to take on the mental weight of running the household and raising the kids. I would be the one making doctor appointments and chaperoning field trips. I would be the one buying new socks when the old ones got holes in them. I would be the one that remembered when our daughter’s trombone lessons were each week. We didn’t sign a contract, but somehow, this is what we have agreed on. It isn’t his fault. I made the agreement, too.
To be fair, I silently agreed to never worry about the lawn being mowed, or the trash getting taken to the curb each week, or creepy crawlies being killed in the house.
I don't know what the ultimate answer is or how to cut the cord with the weight that follows me around like a toddler wanting a snack. I do know that part of lightening that weight is asking for help. I don't want to be the mommy martyr that has been glorified by our society. I don't want my children to feel that remembering to give them lunch money is a burden on my life. I went into motherhood knowing that there would be a lot of sacrifice and some servitude thrown in daily. Rather than complain, I want to lift the burden and ask my husband and children for help when I need it. I want open communication and trust that he can handle things just as well (alright, kind of as well...) as I can.
But first, I think I'll take a nap.
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