For the Moms Who Carry the Mental Load

To the moms who carry the mental load for their families: I see you. 

When I say mental load, I mean all of those seemingly menial tasks we do for our families that are the “cognitive work” that keeps our family functioning from day to day. It’s the invisible work it takes to run a household, and so often, it falls on the woman’s shoulders. We are the ones with the never ending to-do lists always running through our heads at all times. We remember what needs to be done and when. We know who those tasks need to be delegated to. And once those tasks are delegated we are the ones who make sure they get done…correctly.

We are the ones who remember the small stuff like taking the meat out of the freezer to defrost for dinner. We make sure the towels get washed before they become a stained, moldy, smelly heap of grossness. We make sure there is food in the fridge, the pantry is stocked, and then we make sure actual meals can be made out of all that food. We are the ones making sure the kids’ lunchboxes get emptied at the end of the school day. We are the people scheduling ALL of the appointments-dentists, pediatricians, hairstylists, veterinarians, chiropractors, physical therapists, and remembering that one plumber we hired that one time who did such a good job! And the list can go on and on…

And much of the time, the parent who carries the mental load is also the default parent. This is the parent that the kids come to for everything, even when there is another parent or adult who is more than happy to help. I couldn’t count how many times I have been working and/or on the phone, when one of my children come to me for something that the other, more than available parent can help with. I love being, “their person,” but for goodness’ sake, “GO ASK YOUR DAD!” 

In a dream world, I would love the gift of sleep for 24 hours straight. I want to zone out and watch Netflix all day. I want to read a whole book in one sitting without interruption. I want to eat ten pounds of Chinese food in bed. And let’s be honest; I want to be left alone when I do all of this. What I don’t want, is to be thinking about whether I moved the laundry from the washer to the dryer. I don’t want to think about whether my kids remembered to feed their pets. I don’t want to think about the last time my seven year old took a shower or whether or not her clothes matched when she walked out the door today….I don’t want to focus on anything other than the brainless tasks in front of me, even if it’s just for the weekend. 

So, why not just schedule more, “me time?” I can’t speak for everyone, but sometimes I just don’t have the energy to move or think when I’m done making sure everyone else is taking care of. And frankly, when is this “me time” supposed to happen? Our family calendar is sometimes what nightmares are made of. Sometimes, it’s all just too much, and scheduling “me time” seems like just another thing on the to-do list. If I do manage to schedule something, I will still be planning and making those to-do lists  in my head, even as the nail tech paints my toes, or the masseuse rubs my back…..

I was actually blessed with a sweet, helpful, sympathizing husband and pretty chill kids. They would be fine with all of the “me time” happening, with minimal protests. But it feels like if I let the ball drop for even one second, it won’t get done. And then, all of the unaccomplished tasks will hit ten times harder when I come back to the surface.

As much as my family tries to help pick up the slack in my absence, things get missed because it hasn’t become second nature for them. It’s never not been second nature to me. Somewhere between my husband’s longer hours and more chaotic work schedule, and my being a SAHM and/or having a more flexible work schedule through the past decade-I became the chosen one. And I know so many other parents feel like, the chosen one too. 

So, please know that if you are carrying the mental load or being the “default parent” is
a lot to handle right now, you are not alone. There are so many others like us trudging through parenthood and life with what (little) sanity we have left. Because we love those people, even when they drive us nuts! And to the single parents and those who are solo parenting, for whatever reason, I’ve been there too, friend. You are the real MVPs. 

So, here’s to us! The default parents! The ones who carry the mental load of multiple people!  

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Natalie is a native Oklahoman, born and raised! She married her husband, Cody, in 2012, and they have two human daughters and two dog sons. She is a former teacher, and now helps her husband around his counseling practice. She has a B.A.Ed. in English Ed, and a M.A. in Literature, both from UCO. When she isn't running around her two daughters to their MANY activities, she enjoys reading, writing, upcycling old furniture, vacationing, being the most obnoxious cheer mom she can be, snacking, and trying to control her sarcasm and RBF.


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