How many times were you told “your life is going to change so much” prior to having kids? We all knew it was going to be hard. One of the most challenging aspects though, that is often rarely mentioned, is the mental load of motherhood.
The mental load is the invisible labor that goes into managing a household, your relationships, career, etc. It’s the never-ending little details you must remember to keep your family functioning, with the majority of responsibility falling on us moms.
So how does the mental load of motherhood affect our mental health? Well, it usually leads to feelings of anxiety. It often feels like you’re constantly trying to keep your head above water. It leads to mom guilt, or not feeling like you’re doing enough even though the expectations are impossible to reach.
I spoke with two social workers to understand what can be done to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety, along with some personal recommendations. Let’s discuss.
Understanding the Mental Load oF Motherhood
The mental load is heavy. It might seem like a bunch of little things, but these little things add up!
The mental load is an invisible and unacknowledged aspect of motherhood, which might be hard for some people (ahem, your husband) to understand.
On top of taking care of yourself and little ones, you have to be in charge of remembering and managing an entire household. You’re essentially a “house manager”.
Ran out of soap? Have to remember to get more. There’s the grocery list, the gifts for kids’ birthday parties, and doctors appointments.
If you live in a colder climate, it’s ensuring your kids have winter coats, boots, snow pants, and hats. Bathing suits for summer. A fully-packed diaper bag. It’s a never-ending list of responsibilities!
How Does the Mental Load Affect Mental Health?
When there are so many areas of your life to juggle, it’s hard to be good at any of them. The mental load knows no boundaries and can be brought everywhere.
The sheer volume of responsibilities can be overwhelming and incredibly stressful. When something inevitably slips through the cracks, mothers might feel guilt for not being able to keep up.
This increased stress leads to fluctuating hormones, which affects our appetite, blood sugar, memory, and sleep. It may lead to a lack of prioritizing yourself and your self-care.
What is Mom Guilt?
Mom guilt seems to be the standard – largely due to the structural issues of America, like the lack of paid maternity leave and affordable childcare. The absence of these support systems make it challenging to balance work and family responsibilities, whether you’re a working mom or stay-at-home mom.
Mom guilt stems from the unrealistic expectations of mothers, set by society. The expectations and pressures placed on mothers contribute to a sense of guilt when they perceive themselves falling short of the idealized standards of motherhood.
Why Are the Expectations So High?
Women feel like they have to do it all: work, family, meals, errands, just to name a few.
Further, with social media comes unrealistic expectations. Cutely cut sandwiches, decorated backpacks, perfect outfits… this all adds up to tired parents that can’t possibly measure up.
According to Diane Yanke-Webster, LMSW, guilt is a manifestation of unmet needs, not being satisfied, low confidence and self-esteem. It is a product of unrealistic expectations – believing you’ll protect your kids and self from pain at all costs.
Strategies to Managing the Mental Load and Mom Guilt
Normalize Boundaries and Breaks
Understand your limits, and be comfortable saying no when necessary. It should be NORMAL to say “you know what, I need a break.” Recognizing when you need one – and that it’s okay – can relieve a lot of unwanted stress.
Set boundaries to prevent feeling too overwhelmed. Ask your husband to take on more of the mental tasks.
Embrace the Moderately Messy
Being moderately messy acknowledges that perfection is an unrealistic standard. It doesn’t mean neglecting responsibilities, but rather finding a more balanced and sustainable approach to motherhood.
Embrace the imperfections, and realize that it’s okay if everything on your to-do list isn’t completed. Recognize that every mom’s journey is different. Set achievable goals for yourself and your family, considering limitations of time and energy.
Our children fare better when we are happy, and take time to manage our stress. Make self-care a non-negotiable part of your routine.
Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is not a luxury but a necessity. A well-rested and happy mom is better equipped to handle the challenges of parenthood.
Work on Self-Esteem and TRUSTING Yourself
Diane Yanke-Webster states that in order to decrease the feelings of guilt, not caring what anyone else thinks is key. Having self-confidence leads to less guilt: we know we are doing okay, and our kids are doing well. We don’t succumb to the outside pressures – we trust ourselves!
In the words of Diane, with one of my favorite quotes, “perhaps, if moms made their own rules and trusted their love and efforts – there would be little guilt to feel”. Make your own rules, follow your own guidelines.
Take a Social Media Break
There’s too much pressure put on moms when it comes to social media. Not only to show your “perfect” life, but to live up to the expectations of others’ lives.
The staged photos, gender reveals, and lavish birthdays. Have you ever seen a child’s birthday party on social media and thought “wow, I really need to step up my game?” Ask yourself- do you really though? Recognizing that social media doesn’t have to be the standard, or finding like-minded mothers may help.
When you feel like others are judging or doing a better job than you, recognize it’s likely you who is judging yourself. Take some time off from social media if you feel like you’re having unhealthy thoughts that are affecting your day to day.
Make Lists, Then Make More Lists
Writing things down, keeping a daily planner or journal can help immensely with the mental load. Making a list divided into manageable chunks can prevent feelings of overwhelm.
By organizing lists in order of priority or importance, you can focus on what needs immediate attention. I find that once I check a few items off my list, making a new list without those tasks on it helps me stay organized while also giving a sense of accomplishment.
Accept Your Feelings
One of the reasons we suffer so much is that we are ashamed of our feelings when it comes to the mental load of motherhood and feelings of mom guilt. We are tired – our kids get sick often, our marriage has changed, the endless housework is exhausting.
Moms feel guilty for their feelings, instead of just accepting these feelings as normal. We are allowed to FEEL negatively sometimes.
Realize You’re Only Responsible For So Much
We feel so much responsibility for our children’s moods, feelings and behaviors. Maybe Sarah is just Sarah, period. End of story. It might not have anything to do with how you raised her.
Our job is to love them, and be there through their pain.
It is not, however, our job to make life perfect for them. Preparing them for life and their failures is a much better alternative.
Connect With Other Moms
Knowing that you’re not along in the feeling the weight of the mental load can provide a sense of camaraderie and understanding. Share your experiences and challenges with other moms!
The mental load of motherhood, as well as mom guilt, are complex subjects that need to be discussed more often!
I write these strategies down to help other moms, but the whole time I’m thinking – this is much easier said than done. If it were that easy – wouldn’t we all be faring much better?
It’s a constant work in progress – a state-of-mind that we all must try to remember. Hopefully, in the future – some of these standards will change or more resources for moms will be available.