How to Manage the Invisible Mental Load of Motherhood
Much has been written lately about the invisible mental load of motherhood. Like most moms, I’m no stranger to the concept. My brain is constantly in overdrive, trying to keep track of schedules, the kids’ needs, household tasks, and everything else that goes into running our lives.
“I need to remember to do my son’s school lunch order.”
“Did I write down that last milestone for the baby book?” “Speaking of the baby book, I really need to work on that…”
“Those library books need to go back before Tuesday.”
“Have I RSVP’d for that party?”
You get the idea.
Here are some of the strategies that I use to combat the mental drain, get organized, and stop feeling overwhelmed.
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1. Write it Down
My number one tip for quieting the never-ending to-do list in your head is to write things down. There’s something about writing down a task that makes it more manageable.
Perhaps it’s knowing that if it’s written down it’s that much less likely to be forgotten. It may be that the act of writing it down itself offloads some of the responsibility from my brain to the systems we have in place. Whatever the case, I find physically writing out tasks to be enormously helpful.
In our house we have a few written systems in place that help us keep track of what needs to be done.
a. Use technology to manage the invisible mental load
My husband and I use an app to coordinate our family’s schedules, and to a lesser extent our to-do list. We use Cozi, and I highly recommend it (there’s a free version!). Our Cozi calendar rules all in our house – we’re dealing with 5 schedules, so if it’s not in Cozi it doesn’t exist. I can tell you from experience that when the activities in the Cozi calendar take precedence, we both make sure that the calendar is up to date, and the important activities (like mom’s night out!) are written down.
We also use our Cozi app to keep running shopping lists. While we have a system in place for weekly meal planning and grocery shopping, it’s the odd items that are easily forgotten. We have three running lists, for Groceries, Costco, and Other. If one of us notices that, for example, we’re getting low on toothpaste, it’s added to the appropriate list right away. Next time one of us stops at the drug store, or places an Amazon order, we double check the list, so those items aren’t forgotten.
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b. Make it visible
We have a week at-a-glace whiteboard on our fridge, which is a quick and central reference point for all of our activities and meals for the week. Each weekend, I update the calendar at the same time that I do our weekly meal planning . This also gives us a chance to talk through any scheduling conflicts and who will be taking each kid to their various activities. It’s a deceivingly simple system, but has been invaluable for our family.
c. Good old-fashioned pen and paper
Although technology is wonderful, I still love pen and paper. My paper planner is largely a duplicate of our Cozi calendar, but I also use it to record my personal to-do list items which don’t necessarily have a timeframe attached. There’s something motivating for me about checking off items on a physical list, and there’s also the motivation to avoid having to carry forward items that I didn’t complete!
2. Automate What You Can
We use Amazon for an ever-growing list of items. We’ve set up a number of Subscribe and Save subscriptions, for everything from diapers, to coffee, to toothbrush heads. This means that we only need to think about these items once per month, when I receive the email from Amazon prompting me to review my monthly Subscribe & Save order.
3. Do It Now
If it’s a task that can be completed in less than two minutes, do it now. This eliminates the need to add it to your mental to-do list.
This won’t work all the time, but often it’s easier to take two minutes to complete the task now instead of wasting the mental energy trying to remember it later. So restock the baby wipes right away, RSVP to the party as soon as you check your calendar, and fill out the permission slip and put it right back in your child’s backpack – your future self will thank you!
4. Set a Reminder
Sign up for a free trial, and need to remember to cancel before it’s over? Remember after office hours that you need to schedule a dentist appointment? Need to return the library books in two weeks? Put a reminder in your calendar as soon as you think of it – and erase it from your mind.
Related article: 9 Time Management and Organization Tips for Working Moms
5. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
In many households, the mental load is borne largely by moms. In my opinion, we’re doing a disservice to everyone in the family if we don’t get all family members involved in the running of the household.
The key is not just to delegate discrete tasks, but also the mental load that goes along with it. For example, in our house, my husband is responsible for unloading the dishwasher, emptying the garbage and recycling, and handling all maintenance on both vehicles. He doesn’t need me to remind him, and I don’t need to devote mental space to making sure these tasks get done. Similarly, he doesn’t need to worry about whether the kids have clothes in the right size – he knows I’ll handle it.
We are also working on creating systems for our kids, so that everyone knows what’s expected of them in the daily routine. My boys know that when they come home they are responsible for bringing their bags upstairs, and putting their coats and shoes away in the same place every time. After a meal, they are responsible for clearing their dishes and putting them in the dishwasher. My older children are responsible for making sure they have everything they need for school each day, and emptying out their backpacks when they get home from school.
Our routines are not revolutionary, but delegating certain tasks to the kids – even at a young age – and creating simple routines helps reduce power struggles and helps instil a sense of responsibility for themselves and their belongings.
What strategies do you use to manage your mental load?