Motherhood is all about navigating the ins and outs of day-to-day life with babies and young children. Us mothers need to quickly develop a knack for remembering all the “things” that need to be done – from the sleep schedules to the feeding routines, to remembering to pack your child’s favourite blanky on an outing with grandma. This continual “on” mode is referred to as the ‘mental load’. If you’re wanting to give someone an insight into what this mental load looks like, this story should help you out.
The Mental Load of a Primary Caregiver
Middle of the Night Antics
It’s 3 am and I’m up feeding the baby. She will turn one in less than two weeks so I thought we would be well and truly over the night time feeds by now. She won’t take a bottle and in the past 12 months, I can probably count on two hands the number of nights I have had more than seven hours sleep.
I trudge back to bed, remembering that tomorrow I need to ring the pest controller to book us in for our annual spray – so I add that to my seemingly endless to-do list. No sooner does my head hit the pillow than I hear the footsteps of my three-year-old making her way down the hallway to our bed. She climbs in, curls into my back and immediately falls back to sleep.
The Early Start of the Day
It’s 5:30 am and my alarm goes off. I desperately want to press snooze but I know that if I do that, I will lose my chance to shower, enjoy a hot cup of tea and catch up on some work before my kids wake up. So I drag myself out of bed and make a start on the morning.
I work from home running my own business, so I pick a few big tasks that need to be done and start powering my way through them. My three-year-old wakes up while my husband is getting ready for work so I make her breakfast and turn on the TV so I can continue my morning work. When she sees my husband walk past fresh out of the shower, she excitedly yells out “DADDY!” Thankfully they don’t wake the baby.
Back to work before I tackle the task of getting the three-year-old dressed. It’s swimming lessons today, or is it ballet? What day is it? Right, swimming. We have to be out the door by 8:30 am. I get her dressed for swimming and wake the baby. If I don’t wake her now I won’t have time to feed, change and dress her before we have to leave. Oh, and I need to hang out that load of washing I did last night. I should have done that before I woke her up!
Leaving the House
It’s now 9 am and we’ve made it to swimming. I pass the baby snacks to try and keep her happy while we watch her sister in the pool. After swimming, we have to race to the post office and the supermarket and get back home in time for the baby to have her morning nap. Once I’m home, I don’t want to go out again. She falls asleep when we make it home and now the timer is on to power down my to-do list.
Playing the Games
The only thing standing in my way is my three-year-old. She wants to play “mummy and kid”. She is the mummy and I’m the kid. I resist initially, thinking ‘Doesn’t she know how much I have to do?’ I realise that resistance isn’t getting me anywhere, so I play along.
“Ok mummy, how about we hang out the washing?” I hopefully suggest.
“That’s a great idea darling,” she replies.
We make our way through the rest of the morning with me suggesting tasks that we should do so I can help “mummy”.
Clothes on the line.
Washing from yesterday folded.
Pest control booked in.
Meat out of the freezer for dinner.
Playroom tidied (for now).
Council rates paid.
A few work emails returned. The other 1500 will have to wait.
The three-year-old has had enough of the mummy game and is now begging me to make cupcakes or draw with her. She needs some more of me and so that’s what I’ll give her. We play for a bit and just as I hear the baby wake up I remember that I didn’t unpack the dishwasher while she was sleeping. That will have to wait until she goes back down again this afternoon. Since she started climbing into the dishwasher anytime it is open it has made life a little more challenging.
It’s Only Lunchtime?!
I make us all lunch and we sit out on the back deck to eat. The girls chase each other around the deck while I sip on a cup of tea. I step in occasionally to break up fights because “she’s not sharing with me, mummy!” The fact that she is a baby and doesn’t understand taking turns is not a sufficient excuse for the three-year-old who just wants to play with whatever her sister picks up.
When the baby attempts to climb through the wires in the deck it’s time to go back inside. I attempt to sort another load of washing but just as quickly as I place the clothes in piles my littlest one is “re-sorting” them for me.
I realise we are out of laundry detergent so grab my phone to pop it on the shopping list. I notice a text message from my husband asking if we are free on Saturday night for his brother to come for dinner. I reply then check the freezer for what I can cook. The laundry detergent never actually makes it on to the shopping list.
When the Baby won’t Sleep
It’s afternoon naptime. For the baby at least. Finally time to unpack the dishwasher and get a start on dinner. The baby has other plans. She stays in the cot for an hour, and I watch on the monitor as she rolls around, staring at her hands, occasionally standing up to jump up and down. At least I can do what I need to do but I know that the rest of the afternoon is going to be hellish as she battles her tiredness.
Thankfully my three-year-old is happy playing on the deck with the dogs so I can keep an eye on her while I start on dinner. But first I’ll clear the pile of paperwork and stuff that seems to accumulate daily on the kitchen bench. Damn, I found another bill under the pile that was due last week. How did I miss that one?
When the baby starts to get cranky I get her out of bed and mentally prepare myself for what is the absolute worst part of my day. The 2-3 hours before bedtime where we are all tired, I have to feed the kids, bath them and attempt to settle them before bed. My husband messages me at 6pm – train delays and he will be home later. I know there is nothing he can do about it and he is probably just as frustrated himself but I do somewhat resent that he is getting an extra 20 minutes of time to watch his shows on Netflix or listen to music or just not have anyone whinging at him.
He walks in the door. The girls race to him excited to see him home and I breathe a sigh of relief. Help is here. He spends time with them while I serve up our dinner. I put the baby to bed in her cot just before we sit down to eat. The three-year-old wants something else to eat because she is hungry again. So I cut her up some strawberries while my dinner starts to go cold.
My husband takes the three-year-old to bed while I clean up after dinner. The couch is calling me but I have to get our bags ready for tomorrow. We have an early start and will be out all day so I need to pack bags and lunchboxes. I really need to wash my hair but I won’t have time to dry it so in the morning I’ll just pop some dry shampoo on. Again.
Time to Relax? NOT!
Bedtime is done, the dinner is packed away and I’m ready for tomorrow. It’s 9pm and my husband and I finally have time to sit on the couch and watch some TV. Do I stick to my 9:30pm bedtime so I can do it all again tomorrow or do I spend some time with him and watch a bit of TV, likely regretting it when my alarm goes off at 5:30am? Tonight I choose bed.
I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. I am exhausted from the activities of the day but also the mental load of motherhood. From everything I need to remember in amongst caring for the kids. The baby will need her 12-month immunisations soon, not long followed by her sister getting her 4-year-old immunisations. I need to follow up daycare about enrolments for next year so that I can start to plan for the baby starting in care. I need to remember birthdays, work tasks and all that comes with running a household.
What the Mental Load Feels Like
I always seem to be treading water, sometimes dipping under, never able to keep up with everything that mum life throws at me. At any one time I have multiple things that all need my attention, none less important than the other, but I have to somehow prioritise how I will attend to them. I am always letting someone down and so often this is myself. I am always thinking, planning, remembering (forgetting?!), organising, doing and it is exhausting.
I would not give this life up for a second. My family is my life and I love my job. As exhausted as I am, I am equally full of joy and love. This is the life I have chosen. As exhausting, chaotic, crazy, loud and frustrating as it is.