Parents, particularly mothers, and especially during the pandemic, are under extreme psychological pressure. Adriana Lozada gives you a host of helpful tips to protect your mental health and ensure more fair work balance among parenting partners.
What are some ways in which you and your partner share the mental load? Join the conversation on Instagram @birthfulpodcast.
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How You Can Balance the Mental Load
Adriana Lozada: I’m Adriana Lozada and you’re listening to Birthful, and today, just like every other week, I’m on my own, taking about 10 minutes to talk about a topic that I want to dive deeper into, and this week it’s the mental load, which is an important concept anytime, but right now during the pandemic it’s even gotten heavier. So, the New York Times Parenting recently did an interactive series titled The Primal Scream, which examines the pandemic’s effect on working mothers in America. And it’s composed of several articles, but it also shares voice recordings from their Primal Scream line, where parents, primarily mothers, could call to yell, laugh, cry, or vent for a solid minute, and the messages are really vulnerable and often heart wrenching.
And the point that was immensely clear is that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on parents in general and working mothers in particular. One of the articles by a psychiatrist shares how every mother they have treated during the pandemic is experiencing decision fatigue, rage, and feelings of powerlessness every day. This is more than burnout.
The series is filled with injustices that frankly, we already knew about and tolerated, but have become glaringly obvious during these times. The bottom line is society does not really value mothers, or it doesn’t seem like it does. Systemically and culturally, we’re expecting primary caregivers to pick up the slack while providing them with very little support. Universal pre-K is not universal. Childcare costs are astronomical and now practically non-existent, and by non-existent, I mean that about 40% of the childcare centers in the U.S. say they will be forced to shut down if they don’t receive additional public assistance as reported by a Forbes article.
The U.S. still lags light years behind other similar income countries in terms of providing paid family leave, and that kyriarchy, and I’m not saying hierarchy, I’m saying kyriarchy, which is the social system of domination that keeps all intersecting oppression systems, such as racism, ableism, classism, sexism, colorism, heterosexism, ageism, and all of the other dominant hierarchies in place. This kyriarchy is a term coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992. This social system, the kyriarchy, is deeply entrenched, and it all reminds me of this meme that had been going around a few years back that said, “We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work.” While changing those systems may feel impossible, especially as you may be feeling the burnout deep in your bones and your mental health right now, I do want you to remember the concept of the mental load, which is why we’re talking about this this week.
So, if you do not know what I’m talking about, the mental load is that invisible and rarely accounted for mental burden of making sure your household and family affairs runs smoothly. And this is not about taking the responsibility of making dinner, and doing the laundry, or cleaning the bathroom, but all the peripherals that are required and need to be remembered so those things can happen. So, for example, it’s the menu planning, and the food purchasing, and knowing how much of each cleaning product is left in the house, and when you need to buy new ones, and then if you have kids that mental load grows exponentially because someone has to be on top of all the things relating to their needs, so then now the mental loads including finding a pediatrician, and understanding what well child health checks your baby needs when, and scheduling all the appointments for these visits, and organizing your days so you can make it to said appointments while not forgetting to make sure that there are enough diapers, both in the house and in the diaper bag that you’re gonna carry to the doctor’s appointment, along with a change of clothes in the appropriate size for your child because you’ve been making sure to get or borrow new clothes and shoes as they grow out of the old ones, and so on, and so on, and so on. Just saying that made me tired.
Keeping track of and staying on top of all of those innumerable little details is what’s called the mental load. And in itself, it is a full-time job. If we were to consider your household and baby as projects, then the mental load would be the full-time job of a project manager, and if you have school-age children, right now you’ve probably also become their teacher. If we add to that the actual tasks of parenting and keeping a household, why is it a surprise that you’re overstretched and have no time to fill your cup? If you have a partner and the mental load is solely or mostly your responsibility, what I’m saying is that it is time to change that for good.
You should both recognize that the mental load is a time consuming task that also needs to be shared or balanced in some way. Sharing the mental load has lots of benefits for your relationship and your parenting, as well. For one, you’ll feel like you’re working as a real team instead of like a manager and an underling. You’ll both have more realistic expectations as to what really is required to take care of your house, and children, and you can take that extra burden into account when realizing what each of you is doing.
Another benefit is that you’ll lessen feelings of frustration and resentment from the person currently in charge of the mental load, and you’ll also lessen feelings of inadequacy and disconnect in the person currently not bearing the mental load as they will now learn to do these things and increase their understanding of how the household runs. By balancing the mental load, you’ll also be better equipped to include your children in the doing of chores and sharing of said mental load once they’re able to, so then you’ll be modeling a more just future for them. And as a bonus, you and your partner will both be comfortable in taking up the mental load in case, say the other person is away, or unable to do their part for a short period of time. You’ll both feel capable and confident.
Balancing this mental load can also help you take back some of your time and energy, which you can then use to actively help lessen your burnout and improve your mental health. Basically, fill your cup. Do things that are going to help you be you. And while we’re on this topic of shifting expectations, please realize that by sharing the mental load, and your household and parenting chores, you are not failing as a mom. Quite the contrary. What’s been failing you is the societal expectation that you should be doing it all.
Please give yourself lots and lots of compassion and flexibility, because perfection is not only not the goal, it doesn’t even exist. Being a super mom or a super parent is a trap that is letting us down, so take care of yourself, share the mental load, and do it without guilt or shame. And for all of you doing your absolute best and feeling like you’re failing at everything right now, even while you are keeping your household going without often a thank you, we see you and we acknowledge you.
Lozada: Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and is a production of Lantigua Williams & Co. The show’s senior producer is Paulina Velasco. Jen Chien is executive director. Cedric Wilson is our lead producer. Kojin Tashiro mixed this episode. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen, and come back next week for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “How You Can Balance the Mental Load.” Birthful, Lantigua Williams & Co., March 10, 2021. Birthful.com.
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