I’ve been navigating the world of parenting and business now for about 5 years, with two young daughters and a number of different work and passion projects under my belt. It has been a glorious ride so far, however I have struggled to manage the tug-o-war between wanting to be with my girls as much as possible whilst still feeling the need to stay on the career path, and keep my mind stimulated by work and study. On top of it all of course is the daily demands that project managing a family requires. I have to admit that at times I have felt that I am failing on all fronts. Not dedicating enough time to my fledgling business, not always ensuring that my husband and children have clean undies in their drawers, rushing off to Woolies at 10pm for milk and pre-school lunch supplies and coming home to remember that it’s so-and-so’s birthday tomorrow, forgetting to pay bills on time … and oh, have I spent enough quality time with each child and my poor, neglected husband this week?
As a proud feminist I hate to admit it but the idea of being able to do and have it all was starting to lose its sheen. (To make it worse I have haven’t even had time to finish ‘The Handmaid’s Tale!)
I know many other women who feel the same way, but until recently I didn’t realise that this was a ‘thing’ … that it actually has a name. It’s called The Mental Load, a term to describe all the organising, list-making and planning women do to manage our own lives and the lives of those who are dependent on us.
It’s the continual and unrelenting thoughts going through our heads about plumbers and kids parties and planning dinner and ‘OH! The washing machine has broken and I live in the mountains – how long until I can get a new one’ and ‘I wonder if I have time to get to the post office before picking up the kids’ … all while checking our work emails when we open our laptops … and it’s only 9am!
Annnnnd … breathe …
The idea of the Mental Load came into the public consciousness earlier this year when a French artist by the name of Emma transformed the idea into a cartoon called ‘You Should Have Asked’. What an ‘A-HA’ moment! Of course it’s overwhelming to be not only managing multiple projects simultaneously, but also having to execute them! (Or at the very least delegate tasks with the precision of a master surgeon.)
[A fabulous new ABC podcast called ‘Ladies, We Need To Talk’ has also discussed the issue of the mental load and is well worth the listen.]
Now, of course all households look different: not all women have children, not all women work, not all households are managed by women etc etc. However, in the 2016 census it was clear that overall, women are still taking on the main share of domestic work (on average, 5-14 hours per week as compared to under 5 for men). Not all households can afford (or want) to outsource domestic tasks to lighten the load. Therefore a situation where women are solely responsible for domestic tasks, childcare tasks AND work outside the home (often on a part-time basis) – is not sustainable and will likely have long-term health and economic consequences for women.
So, something has to change, am I right?
According to ABC Health and Wellbeing some ways to change the status quo are to:
- Take A Break – I don’t think they mean jump on a plane to Fiji (sounds nice though) … but at least stop to acknowledge the current situation and take some time to decide how you are going to redistribute commitments and responsibilities.
- Reduce Your Expectations – does it really matter if our home is not perfectly clean? Or if our partners don’t make the children’s meals as well as you do?
- Delegate – this is the hard part. Once we have admitted that perfection is not attainable then we need to pass on FULL responsibility of some tasks to our partners and children. Eek! Once delegated – do not micro-manage!
- Stop judging – be more accepting of others and ourselves. Let’s lower the domestic bar! For the sake of women everywhere!
(There are more details on this in the article.)
I also suggest the Wunderlist App for iPhone or Android, it’s a great tool for managing work and personal projects. It allows you to assign tasks to a list, set due dates, reminders and to share these with others. A shared online family calendar also works wonders.
My other suggestion is to make sure you take time out to connect with other women and community outside the home. The old adage ‘it takes a village’ is undeniably true and I have personally found that the more women I surround myself with in work circles, parenting circles and personal circles – the more supported I feel both practically and emotionally. It is for this reason that I adore Women With Altitude as a supportive and uncompetitive business network.
It is also the reason that I have recently started Katoomba Red Tent in conjunction with Red Tent Australia, a beautiful sisterhood of women who meet every month to listen to each others stories and to share skills and knowledge in a non-judgmental environment. Lisa Gorman from Life Learning Co also runs a beautiful women’s circle in Woodford each month that I love attending. A women’s circle is a place to be heard, supported, to practice non-judgment and to learn from women of all ages. It’s priceless.
I’m not sure I have found all the answers to managing the Mental Load but just realising its existence and lowering my expectations has definitely helped to alleviate the ‘Mental Guilt’.
If the Mental Load is something you struggle with, I encourage you to read the resources linked above and to try the tips. Let me know how you get on!
Kirsten Barnett-Brown is the owner of KIDsize Living Blue Mountains to Penrith – an online hub for families in the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Penrith region. She also runs Katoomba Red Tent and is a community coach with Max Potential.