The Invisible Weight of Motherhood – aka the “Motherload”
Written by Ashley Klein
I almost lost my mind over a fingernail last week. To be fair, it was all the fingernails, not just one. It had been one of those days where it felt like no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get ahead of the demands of my house or my children. We were finally rounding out the end of the night. The dreaded 4-7 pm time slot was passing, teeth had been brushed, books had been read, jammies were being zipped, and I noticed my daughter’s fingernails really needed to be trimmed. I had to work super early the next day, so doing it in the morning wasn’t an option. In my mind, it had to be done then and there.
In that moment, every inch of progress from the day felt like 10 steps backwards. “What else?!” I thought. What else am I forgetting that I am constantly keeping track of? Per usual, I was instantly mad at my husband for this fingernail situation he knew nothing about. And per usual, as I started telling him all of the ways I was about to enter a mental breakdown over seemingly nothing, he looked at me with confusion and much deserved annoyance.
Obviously, all of my built-up irritation wasn’t just about fingernails. But I realized recently that there is this massive, undefinable, and invisible load that mothers carry day in and day out. This isn’t just the obvious tasks we do for our children like feeding them, cleaning their laundry, and giving them baths. It is everything in between that truly makes motherhood feel like a rollercoaster some days. I call the everything in between the Motherload.
On any given day, moms have a hundred tabs open in their heads. This list is never ending, and if you don’t keep on top of it, you’ll have a full-blown fingernail situation. Just for fun, I jotted down the list in my head from today. It is as follows:
- End of year gifts for both teachers
- Birthday party shirt for youngest daughter
- Plan and host daughter’s birthday party, delegate tasks to husband as needed
- Organize the winter clothes and assess what is needed for vacation and summer (aka, does anyone have an appropriately fitted sandal for our beach vacation? probs not)
- Remember to make play date with that mom you actually really like
- Sign up for the rest of summer camps/programs
- Remember oldest daughter wants to wear her one specific pink shirt to school tomorrow but it is dirty so don’t forget to wash it
- Go through old kids’ clothes for donation
- Order swim diapers for swim class
- Sign youngest daughter up for toddler gymnastics class
- Don’t forget to baby proof that one door in the kitchen that just broke because there are chemicals in that cabinet
- Check car seats in both cars since you watched an Instagram video about ill-fitted car seats and now you’re freaking out for no reason
- Replace kids’ toothbrushes
- Find babysitter for upcoming wedding and date night
- Make doctor and dentist appointments for both girls
- Remember to give nanny summer schedule
- etc., etc., etc.
You get the point. This is not my monthly list. This is the list in my head as of today. And I guarantee I am stopping not because the list has concluded, but because I didn’t want to bore you. This list or thought process is different yet the same for all of us. It goes from ordering diapers and making appointments for ear infections to attending sporting events and fulfilling classroom responsibilities as our kids age. Let me remind you that this doesn’t even begin to include other running tasks for ourselves, our jobs, our husbands/partners, our homes, or any other personal responsibilities we are in charge of.
The point is, this Motherload can be overwhelming and at times it feels downright impossible. I can’t tell you how many days I have almost been brought to tears or panic from the sheer thought and weight of it all. This is all coming from someone who feels whole-heartedly that her husband is her co-parent. He truly is the most amazing husband and father to our family. We skate through toddler and kid world quite seamlessly most days. He takes on more tasks for certain things, and I take on others. I could give him a to-do list that was five pages long and there is no doubt in my mind he could knock it out in one day. And even with all of that said, I still feel the weight of the Motherload, while I know he does not. Has he ever woken up on a Tuesday morning thinking about how he needs to order our daughter a special birthday shirt or check the car seat placement because he is nervous? Hard no.
So, I constantly wonder, is the Motherload a new concept? Have women always taken this on, just more quietly and gracefully in the years past? Or is society just more demanding now? Are we all too busy for our own good? I ask myself these and many other questions quite often when I am overwhelmed with motherhood. To be clear, I have also seen every version of my mom friends going through the same things. This is not a foreign feeling to any of us. Whether a friend is a full-time stay at home mom, a working mom, a mom with little or no help from their partner, or one with all the support from everyone, the weight is still there. And some days it is extremely heavy.
So, what? We will simply have a ton on our plates and minds for eternity, and we should just get over it and be grateful for our little munchkins? I believe the answer is both yes and no. I have personally been working a lot on stress management and learning how to deal with these feelings. If you’re someone like myself who tends to take on too much, tries to make everything perfect, and burns the candle at both ends, it may be time to be realistic with yourself. The first thing I had to come to terms with was that having growing children means the “lists” or “to-dos” are going to be a constant factor forever. This is a hard concept for someone who gets true satisfaction in crossing something off her lists. Remember that a constant list of tasks means a constant blessing of having these babies. I know it is cheesy, but it’s true.
Other things to help with your Motherload are delegating tasks if you have the ability to do so and losing the idea of perfection. Just because moms can do it all doesn’t mean we should drive ourselves insane trying. Your kids won’t remember if everything was perfect. One day, I made a very long list similar to the one above. I handed it to my husband, and I was honest and raw with him about it. I told him that lists like this were consistently cluttering my mind and I explained how scary and overwhelming it felt. This is why things like the fingernail situation happen and it seems like I am overreacting. My husband and I went through the list together and took out tasks he could help with that moment and moving forward. For example, among many other things, my husband is now fully in charge of ordering diapers and wipes. This is a small thing, but it is completely off my to-do list and the extra space in my brain that keeps track of that is now freed up.
For tasks you have to tackle yourself, I recommend time-blocking and prioritizing your tasks when possible. Unfortunately, I was finding myself spiraling on certain days of the week when I had the most open time because that time was also my time with my kids. I was not being present at all, and I felt my open time should be spent getting as much done as I could. Trying to do that made things much worse. I made a master “to-do” list and prioritized it by things that needed to get done asap and things that could wait. I did what needed to be done and left my other to-dos alone when I was with my kids. I immediately found my oldest daughter talking about how much fun she had with me those days and could tell my youngest was happier as well.
There is no perfect answer for any of us and all of this is easier said than done. In a perfect world, we would delegate tasks, be ever-present with our kids, magically have 60 hours in a day, and accomplish everything on our to-do lists with ease. Laughable. The reality is that most of us don’t have it figured out. As motherhood goes, we can just keep doing our best. The weight of the Motherload is invisible at times, but the ways our children witness us constantly showing up for them is not unseen. My daughter would have never known if she left the house with untrimmed fingernails for one day, but she will probably remember how stressed I was about it that night. For now, my main goal is to make my girls remember the laughs and snuggles instead of the stresses and fingernail situations that come with the privilege of being their mama.
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