Heart racing, I turn the key in the ignition and glance at my watch. 15 minutes to get to work. Thanks to a catastrophic poosplosion from one twin, requiring a shower and full outfit change; I am running behind schedule. I still have to drop my baby twins off at daycare and my older twins off at school before work. My husband has left for work already, dropping off our 4-year-old at kinder on the way.
“Have you got your lunches?” I ask my older twins, shortly before leaving; in between madly running around filling bottles for my babies and taking random gulps of almost cold coffee. A wakeful baby in the night and my fatigue is palpable, the coffee doesn’t even begin to touch it.
“Yeesss”, my older boys chant, walking at a sloth-like pace towards the car.
I drop the babies off at daycare at lightning speed, then race off to my older twins’ primary school.
“Mum?” One of my boys pipes up.
“Yes?” I reply warily.
“I think I forgot my lunch”.
Back home to retrieve the forgotten lunch box. I rush into work 5 minutes late. My heart is pounding and hands are shaking; exhaustion presses behind my eyes, dulling my thoughts and clouding my memory. It’s not even 9am and already I’m so drained I feel like I’ve done a full day’s work.
Just a typical workday…
This is a typical day in the life of a full time working mum. All mums have it tough, it’s a 24/7 job; but here I will look at the unique challenges that full time working mums face. Maybe you and your husband are both working full time, or maybe, like me you are the main breadwinner and your partner either works part time or is the stay at home parent. You could even be the superhero sole parent, working full time and doing all parenting. Whatever your family arrangement, you probably know a thing of two about the mental load.
What is the mental load?
The mental load is all the organisational work that goes on behind the scenes to keep a family running.
The mental load is heavy and chances are that you, mumma, carry most of it. Which child needs new school pants, the excursion note that needs to be signed, planning a birthday party for your kid, booking that medical appointment; the mental load is a LOT of work and the majority of this is still carried by mums. Even if the working mum is the main breadwinner and has a stay at home partner, mothers still bear the bulk of this mental load. This invisible work is exhausting and it’s not sustainable to carry it all and work full time.
While my husband, being the main stay at home parent, does more of the physical housework; I found myself carrying most of the mental load while working full time. We ended up sitting down and dividing up the mental load tasks to achieve a more balanced split. It’s important to work out a division of mental load that works for your family.
Working mums ‘mum guilt’:
That daycare note you forgot to sign, the casual day that you thought was next week but you realise, too late, is today. The requests to attend morning assemblies that you can’t make it to; all equate to mum guilt. All those little moments you want to be there for, but miss by being a working mum. Those days you sent your child to daycare, thinking they are ok only to receive the phone call that they have vomited on the carpet. Missing any number of ‘first’ moments; first steps, first words, first dance. These are the moments the mum guilt really takes over. When you can’t be there for your children in these moments you feel like you’ve failed them.
Feeling like you’re underperforming at work:
On the flip side, there’s the guilt of feeling like you never do enough at work. Not being able to make morning meetings because of chaotic starts to the day and school drop offs. Having to rush off at 3.30pm to pick up your school aged kids, and bring them into meetings with you. The never ending round of carer’s days you need to take to look after sick kids. Only being able to do the bare minimum, and struggling with that. The heavy fog of exhaustion, that rarely lifts, clouds your brain and dulls your performance. Knowing that you’re not achieving like you should be, but being so tired and stretched thin that you can’t seem to lift your game. Always having to say ‘no’ to overnight work trips and other after hours work because you’ve got kids to pick up and you can’t leave all that to your partner. Feeling like a mediocre employee.
You are not alone!
I see you mumma, trying to do the impossible and feeling like you’re failing at everything. Remember; you’re actually doing an amazing job holding it all together. You might think you’re failing your kids, but you’re not. You’re putting food on the table, putting a roof over their heads, providing them with opportunities. You’re showing them what a strong, hardworking mother looks like. While you may not be the world’s best employee right now, your boss can’t doubt your commitment; to keep doing your job with so many other demands, to keep showing up every day, to keep caring about your workplace and the role that you perform. One day things will ease up at home and all the amazing skills you learned as a parent will help grow your performance at work.
Look after yourself:
Don’t feel guilty about what you can’t do at home and at work, you need to set boundaries that work for you. Maybe you can’t be there for the assemblies but you can be there for Saturday sport. Maybe you can’t do after work extra tasks, but you can run a book club at lunch times. Don’t be afraid to say no, to delegate, to say you need help with the mental load.