This is my public service announcement: this blog may not directly apply to some readers – but please don’t let that stop you reading. You see, this week I am talking about the mental load that mothers face when blending motherhood and work.
Now for those of you who feel that this does not apply directly to you, I plead with you to read on anyway, as I can assure you it does apply to you. I have no doubt that you have a working mother in your life in some capacity – whether she be your partner, your sister, your work colleague or your friend. Please read this and think of them. One of the hardest parts of the mental load are that often it is not shared, resulting in individuals being left with the burden of feeling like they have to deal with it themselves. However, the reality is that there are roles that so many of us can play in easing the mental load for those around us.
“We expect women to work like they have no children and raise children as though they don’t the work” – anon. It sounds ridiculous but it is a reality that many working mothers face, whether they be full time, part time, casual or running their own business.
I returned to work 7 months after giving birth to my youngest daughter. At the time my other daughters were 13 and 14 years old. I had no choice but to return to work in a full-time capacity as I was the bread winner for the family while my husband was studying to pursue a career change.
My intention was to take 12 months of maternity leave, but on my boss’s request I returned after 7 months to lead a special transformational project looking after approximately 20 people. It would be fair to say that the environment I returned to was quite hostile and the people I was working with did not want me there (so many good stories about how NOT to behave). As a result of the environment I returned to, I felt the need to work harder and outside the contracted hours. I found myself taking work home, and on many occasions I would either start early or finish late, taking calls and having work creep into my personal time – the time I was meant to be dedicating to my family. I couldn’t keep on top of all the things that needed to be done in the multiple areas of my life. I was guilty while I was at work, because I was away from my family and because I was thinking about my family while on the clock. I was guilty while I was at home because of the pressure to do work while at home during my family time. I felt like I was constantly chasing my tail and found it incredibly difficult to juggle everything.
The mental load for women/mothers is huge, the mental load of blending motherhood and work is next level!
What does the mental load look like? It is all the things that we as women/mothers take responsibility for.
It’s constantly thinking about your family and their needs; arranging logistics to make sure all the kids get to school, day-care and extra-curricular activities; ensuring that the shopping list has been written, the shopping been done, a meal plan arranged; making sure that the kid’s immunisations and doctors’ appointments are up to date and kept; keeping on top of your “paid” work and not dropping the ball; making sure the family has clean clothes to wear; paying the bills; organising the Christmas presents for the kids and extended family – the list goes on (and never ends). The list is constantly in our brain boxes and gets continually added to even when we are already at capacity.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the work I do (especially now!) and I love motherhood more than anything and I understand that it will be a bit of a juggle from time to time, but my goodness the mental load can be so draining!
Many are quick to point out that a majority of partners do their fair share of the household chores and yes, this can be true, but household chores and the mental load are two very different things.
For whatever reason, be it gender stereotyped roles, be it different genetic make-up, whatever it may be, men don’t seem to take on the mental load to the same extent/ if at all to that of women. As a result of this women often feel the task of carrying the mental load falls with them.
So, what do we do to alleviate the mental load for working mothers?
Technology has meant that people are “switched on” and “available” almost 24/7. In generations before us, once you left your workplace you were finished for the day and were able to switch your focus from work to your family. Now with smart phones and email the ability to switch off is almost impossible and instead of leaving your workplace you are often taking a portion of your work home with you. This results in your focus being taken away from your home life. It is important to set boundaries to ensure that work is not taking over your personal life.
Have difficult conversations
This one can be a tricky one, but it is important to have difficult conversations with people, particularly around boundaries. Unfortunately, there is still the expectation from organisations that working mothers work like they have no children. I have heard of women who return to work part time, contracted for 3 days per week, however due to organisational expectation they find themselves working unpaid 2 days per week to keep up with the demand of their role (so, practically full time).
Manage your expectations
No doubt the expectations you have of yourself are high. You need to manage these expectations and cut yourself some slack. You are only capable of so much and that is ok. Not everything has to be perfect. One of my favourite mottos is “done is better than perfect”. It is ok if you haven’t had a chance to do the grocery shopping and the kids are having toast and tinned spaghetti for dinner – it’s not like you didn’t feed them at all is it? And in all seriousness chances are they ate it with no fuss and enjoyed it more than a meal you could have put hours of effort into and they wouldn’t eat!
Build your tribe
The role of a mother can be isolating in itself, the role of a working mum even more so. It is almost like you don’t fit into the mum circle or the work circle, you are stuck in between the two. Reach out and build your tribe. Connect with other working mums, connect with your colleagues, connect with mums in your area and reach out to friends and family. It takes a village, so build yours.
Ask for help and take offers of help
Asking for help can be so difficult for some people. For some reason women fear the judgement from society (unfortunately mostly from other women) if it seems they are not coping. This fear of judgement needs to stop. Everyone is doing the best they can. If you need help, ask for it, and if someone is kind enough to offer you help (that is actually going to helpful) don’t be afraid to take it. A small note on this, when you take someone’s help, they will not do things EXACTLY the same way that you will (including our families!), be okay with that, be happy with the help and the outcome and don’t stress about the “how”, it’s just not worth it.
Don’t expect that people can read minds
This one is tricky. Just because you have a mental load doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner does. They may not know that you are so burdened by the mental load as it is not something that is visible (unless you have reached breaking point and are on the way to a breakdown), so you need to communicate this with them.
Outsource where you can
I know you want to, but you simply cannot do everything or be everything to everyone. If you have the capacity to outsource, do so. There are so many new businesses that offer so many amazing services that almost anything you can think of that needs doing can now be outsourced. Caroline and her team at Organise.Curate.Design offer a Life Assistant service (who doesn’t want one of those?!) and they do an amazing job of helping mums and dads to work through their priorities and clear the mental clutter at an affordable price. One of the decisions I made last year was to get some help with my wardrobe as making a decision on what to wear every morning was a killer for my brain. Nicole from Nicole Vine Personal Stylist made this process super easy for me and the best bit? I have a look book that I can open up on my phone and my outfits are styled and ready to go. This small thing has changed my life!
Be kind to yourself – you are doing the best you can. Also extend this kindness to other working mothers. Do not judge, you know yourself how tough this gig can be, so no doubt it is tough for many others.
So, to all my fellow working mummas- “I hear you, I see you, I am you”.
Thanks for reading- if you found this post helpful, please share with your connections. And of course, if you’re so inclined, please feel free to connect with me.