Managing the ‘Mental Load’ as a Mother
May was mental health awareness month, which is a good time to raise awareness about how any mother or mother-to-be can suffer from anxiety, mood disorders and depression. There is also the general stress and worry that comes with being a mother: is my child sick, does he/she have friends, is he/she eating enough, is he/she happy, is he/she doing well in school, etc.
I participated in an Instagram Live with Baptist Health South Florida along with Amy Exum, psychotherapist for community health and wellness at Baptist Health. We dove into a discussion about ‘the mental load’ also called ‘cognitive labor’, which refers to the invisible, non-tangible tasks involved in running a household.
After a full day of work, moms have to find time for chores, exercise, meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, social activities, scheduling doctor’s appointments… and the list goes on! You can listen to my discussion with Baptist Health South Florida on how to manage the ‘mental mother load’ by clicking here, but I also went into detail below on what we discussed (and more):
- Mom, also known as ‘CEO of the household’, is a very important title, and is a role that comes stress and anxiety. It’s important for moms to stay on top of their mental health. What has personally worked for me is taking an hour to myself each morning before my kids wake up to make time for myself. I know waking up early isn’t ideal for many people, but to me it’s SO worth it to get a full hour of uninterrupted time to myself. I make this a priority, and part of making it a priority is committing to going to sleep early so I’m able to wake up early feeling good. Most mornings I begin my day with a workout, which makes me feel good and clear for the rest of the day. Some days my workout is a cardio-based kickboxing class and other days it’s something restorative like yoga or a long walk outside. On my ‘rest days’ I love sipping on my coffee while catching up on emails in a quiet house. I truly believe that carving out a little time for yourself is key to staying on top of your mental health. This can look different for everyone… for some moms it may be asking their partner to take the kids out for an hour on a Sunday so you can take a nap. Choose something that you think would be essential in making you feel restored and stick to it!
- Managing the ‘mental load’ is difficult because moms are usually doing too much – between kids, work, marriage, and just keeping the house clean, not to mention – laundry! What has helped me as a mother ease the ‘mental load’ is setting boundaries and delegating. I’ve learned to say ‘no’ to any social obligations that I’m not 100% into. Taking time to yourself to recharge each week is so important as well. I’ve also decided what is almost impossible for me to get to each week and delegated those tasks. For example, paying a cleaning lady to come once per week has been life-changing. I know it’s a lot of money, but to me it is money so well-spent. I would personally rather spend money on a cleaning lady than buy a new shirt if it comes down to that. You need to decide what single task is making you feel the most stressed and try to delegate it to someone else if you feel it could significantly take the burden off you.
- Becoming a new mom is supposed to be one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life, but for many new mothers, postpartum depression has been a reality. I personally experienced postpartum depression after the birth of my second child and it was completely unexpected since I did not experience it with my first child. Crucial to helping a new mom cope and recover would be to first admit that you are suffering from postpartum depression. Once you come to terms with it then you can take the steps needed to get better. The best thing I did was express to my husband how I was feeling and just him knowing made him want to help in all ways possible. Sometimes that could be taking over with the kids so I could take a nap, or other times it was dealing with the household chores so I could be with my kids without having anything else to worry about. Having a good support system is critical. If you have family to lean on then you’re really lucky! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It truly takes a village. If you don’t have family nearby it’s okay to accept the fact that you may need paid help, even if it’s just a babysitter a few hours a week.
- In the safety video on airplanes, they always say to put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child – and that can translate into real life. You can be the best and most present mom when you take care of yourself, too. There are several things I love to do for my mental well-being, which in turn, enables me to ‘show up’ as a much better mom in all ways. Some guilty pleasures that have helped me feel good about myself and be the best mom to my kids are:
- a spa day: blissing out in a steam room followed by an hour-long massage is personally my favorite indulgence that makes me feel so restored both mentally and physically.
- girls night (just one per month – more than that would actually stress me out). I love catching up with my girlfriends over a nice meal. If you don’t love being out at night you can plan a girls brunch or lunch, or even schedule a walk with a friend. Setting aside time for my friends makes me feel really balanced in life because it proves I can work, have kids, and still maintain my friendships. I never feel obligated to commit to more than one social outing per month.
- weekend away with my husband: once per year Josh and I plan a weekend getaway and our parents are happy to watch our kids for the weekend. Sometimes we check into a hotel in Miami or Palm Beach (both very close to us), but we still feel like we’re far away on vacation just being at a beach without our children.
- a date night with my husband: we definitely try to schedule a few Saturday night dinners to reconnect with one another.
- exercising: I exercise almost every morning and I promise it’s the single most important thing for my mental wellbeing. My mind and body function so much better throughout the day when I exercise.
- taking a nap: I love a good nap and try to squeeze one in when time allows on a Sunday. My advice is to carve this time out in advance with your partner. I have my husband play with the kids or take them somewhere so I can nap, and then I will take the kids so he can have some time to himself as well. This way we both feel like we’re given time to restore.
- ‘Mom brain’ is a real condition. At least to moms it is. Even though mothers may have a very hands-on partner, their wheels are always in motion. Whether it’s about the next doctor’s appointment, the dirty soccer uniform that needs washing, a birthday gift, the outfits for the next family picture – and the list goes on. I genuinely believe that part of the problem is that moms don’t ask for enough help. If you have a partner, I suggest sitting down with them and making a list of everything that needs to get done and divide it in half, each choosing which task they would be better at. Something else that is SO helpful is keeping a running ‘to-do’ list on my phone in my notepad. My phone is always readily available to me, so any time I have a thought I write it down. This way I can ‘let it go’ out of my mind and worry about it later – when I have time to check things off my ‘to-do’ list. This helps keep my mind clear and not cluttered with thoughts and worries. It also improves my sleep because I’m not up all night worrying I will forgot to do something important.
- Communication with your partner is a helpful tool in expressing how overwhelmed you are feeling. What has helped me have open conversations about where I need more support is to have the conversation when we are alone in a calm and happy environment. If I scream at my husband in the middle of my two kids having a meltdown that will never help any of us. Crying or screaming is not the best way to ask for help. I have all important and meaningful conversations with my husband after we put the kids to bed. I then have a serious conversation about how I’m feeling overwhelmed and we check in with one another about what can be done to help ‘lessen the load’ on me. Sometimes it’s me asking for help with the kids (for example, saying I need one hour to myself every morning to exercise), or it may be asking him to do the grocery shopping that week. Don’t be afraid to communicate that you’re feeling overwhelmed and having it lead to a productive conversation about what you both can do to make life easier on each other. The best thing my husband and I do for one another is give each other the opportunity to have time to ourselves. My husband loves to golf with his friends and I never stop him from doing that. I love to go to kickboxing or yoga, so he wakes up with the kids so I can squeeze in a workout early in the morning. Ultimately we both feel balanced, fulfilled and happy. It goes a long way towards restoring somewhat of a balance.
If you want to connect with me about this topic feel free to leave a comment in this post below. I’d love to know tips on how you manage everything that comes with being a mother. You can also connect with Baptist Health South Florida on their social media channels as well as visiting baptisthealth.net/news for the latest news.