Do you feel overwhelmed with motherhood? Or, are you frustrated that your partner isn’t helping you carry the mental load of caring for your children and your household?
Do you feel like you have to do everything all by yourself?
These are common worries that we face as mothers, especially if we are home all day with the kids.
If you carry the mental load of the family by yourself for too long, you can end up feeling burnt out, and resentful towards your partner and your kids.
There is a lot of social pressure in society for moms to be superwomen, and we can feel like a failure if we aren’t measuring up to this impossible standard.
You probably see ‘perfect’ moms on Instagram with their perfect hair, and perfectly groomed children who are captioning all the pictures of themselves doing arts and crafts with their kids with #blessed and feel like going up the wall.
You feel like you can’t possibly measure up to the standards that your friends and coworkers are making look so easy. To you life can feel impossible sometimes.
When you are struggling and don’t know where to turn for help, you are ashamed to ask any of your girlfriends how the do it all and make it look so easy. You don’t want to out yourself as the imperfect one in the crowd.
If you even feel ashamed to ask your partner for help in these situations, then it is time to reach out and talk to them about sharing the mental load that you feel like is crushing you.
In a relationship, your partner is meant to be your teammate and have your back in everything that you do in life. This includes raising the kids and caring for your household.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with motherhood, it is time to have a frank and honest conversation with your partner about what is bothering you.
Define what is bothering you
You know that you feel upset, tired, resentful and burnt out. But what is causing this, exactly?
This is known as the mental load of motherhood. That means, you are constantly thinking about what needs to be done, planning ahead, managing the family schedule, and making all sorts of lists of the kids activities, and managing their needs.
According to the BBC,
Experts say that this hidden work comes in three overlapping categories. There’s cognitive labour — which is thinking about all the practical elements of household responsibilities, including organising playdates, shopping and planning activities. Then there’s emotional labour, which is maintaining the family’s emotions; calming things down if the kids are acting up or worrying about how they are managing at school. Third, the mental load is the intersection of the two: preparing, organising and anticipating everything, emotional and practical, that needs to get done to make life flow.
If you know that your stress about all these things is high, make a list of everything that is bothering you. A good journal session can help you get all your feelings out on paper. This way, you can visually see everything that is on your mind.
Once you have created a list of all the tasks that you are managing, look at the list and think about how your partner would be able to help you with some of the items that you have written down.
Your partner is supposed to be your teammate in life, they are supposed to be doing an equal share of caring for the kids and the household. If they aren’t, there could be many reasons for this, like a demanding job or being in school.
However, even if this is the case, there should still be at least a few things that you can delegate to them, so that you can make your own life easier.
No one should have to walk around feeling exhausted and burnt out all the time, especially when help is right there in the next room.
Often, our partners don’t understand all of the mental work that goes into keeping a household functioning, and they are happy to help with things around the house, they just don’t understand what needs to be done.
By having an open and honest conversation with them, it can open the door to creating a more equitable relationship.
Have a conversation
In theory, having a conversation with your partner shouldn’t feel like an insurmountable task, but sometimes it does. You may feel like you are asking for too much, or bothering them.
This shouldn’t be the case. Your partner should be your biggest supporter and most helpful teammate. My partner always says to me, “Are we an effective team?” and I like to think that we are.
We share the mental load of the family pretty evenly, though at times our responsibilities will shift and one of us will be doing more around the house than the other. When this happens, it is time to rebalance the workload.
When you have made the list of things that you are mentally carrying, and would like some help with your partner, pick a quiet and relaxed time to sit down and talk with them about what is bothering you. This could be on a weekend morning when things are quiet, or after the kids have gone to bed.
Then, tell them about what is bothering you, and that you have been feeling burned out because of the mental load that you are carrying with the kids. Once you have calmly explained the situation, you can ask them for their help.
Since you have made a list of things that they may be able to help you with, show this to them, and ask them if they will be able to take some of the items off your plate.
It could be calling about credit card payments, making a trip to the grocery store, scheduling the kids’ doctor appointments, whatever is a big pain point for you.
If you have several different suggestions for them to choose from, then it should make them more receptive to helping take somethings off of your plate.
Since men especially don’t realize how much planning goes into what moms have to do, you may need to spell it out for them rather explicitly.
According to the BBC,
If we explicitly state how much planning is involved in every aspect of childcare and housework, it will become clearer just how much hidden work we do. Fortunately not all couples have unequal divisions of care: same-sex couples, for instance, have a much more equal distribution compared to heterosexual couples, as they are not beholden to expected gender roles. This shows that the load can clearly be shared when it is more openly talked about.
Since open and honest communication is important to any relationship, talking through the issues regarding your mental load is an important way to bring you and your partner closer.
The more openly and honestly you can discuss issues in your relationship, the more loving, caring and kind your relationship can become. Many issues in relationships stem from a lack of explicit conversation.
If your partner doesn’t seem receptive to having a conversation with you about the mental load of the relationship, then ask what would be a better time to discuss things.
You can follow up on the conversation later, or approach it from a different angle.
Sometimes it can help to read books on improving your communication style, so that you are more clearly getting your needs across. Some books that I have found helpful are Crucial Conversations and Non-Violent Communication.
Both of these books present ways to approach difficult conversations in a non-confrontational manner, so that you will be less likely to be shut down when you try to approach a difficult conversation with your partner.
However if your partner repeatedly shuts down all communication about this topic, it may be beneficial to talk to a therapist or life coach, so that you can explore different solutions to getting on the same page.
Follow up regularly
Once you have divided up the responsibilities on your list, be sure to have follow-up conversations regularly.
My partner and I sit down every morning to compare our to-do lists, so that we can decide what will be done when, and how much each of us has on our plate for the day. This allows each of us to tweak our schedules to accommodate the other.
You can do something similar, and just go over your to-do’s every day over coffee for a few minutes, so that you and your partner are on the same page with what needs to be done for the day.
It also helps to share a calendar, so that you will easily be able to see what appointments that each of you has, so that you don’t overlap important appointments with each other. For example, you don’t want to schedule a dentist appointment for one child the day the other has a dance recital. Things like that.
Also, it is helpful to have regular check-ins with your partner to ensure that the household is always running smoothly. This way, by having these daily conversations about who does what, you are actually sharing the mental load already.
Once you and your partner are on the same page, there will be a more equitable division of labor around the house. This may ebb and flow over time, with you or them taking on different responsibilities as needs and circumstances change.
Since much of the time we, as mothers, take on a heavy mental load of caring for children and the household, this can easily lead to burn out if we are not careful.
In order to lessen our stress and mental burden of caring for the household, it is important to first outline what needs to be done, then to have an open and honest conversation with our partners about what our needs are.
This way, we can share responsibilities as a couple, instead of one person doing things all alone. If you check in with your partner on a daily or weekly basis to compare calendars, you can make sure that the division of household labor is working for both of you on an ongoing basis.
It isn’t a one-and-done conversation, it is a consistent dialogue that lasts a lifetime. That is what it means to have a partnership, it is about sharing in each other’s lives, and being each other’s teammate and helper.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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