I don’t think any of us enter into parenthood thinking it’s going to be easy but the sheer number of tasks, events and caretaking activities is enough to make the most well-organized, productive person doubt their abilities. Though not always the case, the scenario is usually that moms are the family managers needing to keep track of everything; schedule the appointments, know who needs to be where and when, thinking about and executing sleep training and best potty-training strategies, planning meals, planning for family vacations etc etc etc. the list goes on. Parenting is tough!
When an overwhelmed mom comes into my office and I ask the question, “How did you decide on the respective roles for you and your partner?” The response is always the same. “We didn’t. It just happened”. Talk about ingrained patterns, this is a pattern that has been around since the beginning of time; moms assume a majority of the family responsibilities, many times before their partners even realize certain tasks exist. Though this pattern has been around forever that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed in your family. Here are some of my best tips for managing the mental load that comes along with having a family.
Acknowledge that what you’re doing is a lot
The ‘Mental Load’ is one of those things that grows steadily in small increments over time and many of us don’t even have a clear understanding of how much time, effort, and energy goes into a seemingly simple task. Add on top of that many ‘simple tasks’ and before we know it, we’re beating ourselves up for not being able to keep up with the demands of our family.
Communicate your overwhelm
I know, I know. Don’t they see all your doing? Are they that clueless? Do they think the soap just magically refills itself? I get it, I’ve had these thoughts, too, but if your partner has never had to worry about certain things because you always just handle it, the truth is they probably truly do not think about it. Think about it this way, in a company, the employees are assigned specific roles, you’re generally not thinking about the roles of other people, you’re focused on your job. As noted above, the difference in families is that these roles are often not talked about and just assumed over time. It’s not always that your partner doesn’t care, they are just focused on their role – and maybe it’s time for the roles to shift a bit.
Bring it up in a way to co-solve the problem
I recommend not trying to problem solve this on your own and going to your partner with a solution. Once you’ve communicated your overwhelm, ask for your partner’s help in coming up with a solution. There’s a better chance that you will find a longer-term solution that feels good for both of you and your partner will feel less defensive.
Hold a weekly meeting
Have a set day/time where you and your partner sit down and look at the week together and game plan on how to tackle all the responsibilities. It’s important for a face-to-face conversation. It’s far too easy to overlook or forget texts or calendar invites with important information. This goes back to the importance of communicating. Having these meetings helps your partner gain a fuller understanding of everything that goes into keeping family life moving as well as divvy up the responsibilities in a more effective manner.
Practice being open to different perspectives and ways of doing things
I know this is a hard one for a lot of people but we can’t expect our partners to do things exactly how we do them. I’ve learned to ask this question when I see my partner handling a situation differently than I would; “Does this actually create a problem for me?” For example, when my son was an infant, I worked really hard to establish good sleep habits that did not involve a 3-hour bedtime situation (See: First child who did not sleep through the night until they were 6).
My frustration when I would come home after missing bedtime and my son was asleep on the couch with my husband was intense. But after a few of these experiences, I realized that it actually was not a problem the majority of the time. I was able to transition him to his crib and he slept as well as he normally would. My husband and I’m sure my son enjoyed this special time together and eventually I saw it as a win for all of us.
Challenge your own set of beliefs
Many of these ideas require us to challenge beliefs that we’ve learned and habituated from a very young age so if you find that these ideas are easier said than done, you are not alone. If you find yourself feeling stuck despite knowing what you want to do, it could be helpful to reach out to a counselor to help you unpack and shift some beliefs that are no longer serving you.