Moms, Lighten Your Mental Load

Mom helping her family

You’re peacefully asleep when at 3 a.m. you bolt upright, awakened by a thought about something that you absolutely, positively must remember: you need to buy toilet paper. 

There’s a name for that: it’s called the “mental load.” And it’s the job (primarily among women) of being the keeper of all things: where the family is, where they’re supposed to be, where they put stuff, what they need. Think of the last time you rattled off a series of dentist appointments; or the time a child or spouse appeared looking for an item that Cannot Be Found that you were then able to produce by reaching backward and blindfolded into a hall closet. It’s bad enough that it haunts women during the day; for many moms, it’s also invading jobs…and sleep. But what’s a mother to do? 

In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8th for those keeping score), here are five suggestions for lightening the load. 

Try Delegating

    The more you can give away, the less you’ll have to remember. Start small: charge someone else with toilet paper. And be specific: tell them to check and replace it every week. If your children are old enough, get them involved in doing chores, too! That’s one less thing to think about.  

Let Stuff Go 

    Not sure what you feel like you can really let go of and delegate? Do a trial run. Give up doing the laundry, making breakfast, or carpooling…and see how it feels to “edit your life.” You might be surprised at the freedom. If it makes you crazy, take it back. 

Beware of Maternal "Gatekeeping"

    The hardest part of delegating is accepting the results. But partners or other family members may well opt out of tasks if the default setting is always that they’re doing it wrong. Toilet paper not the brand you would buy? Try to grin and bear it. It’s toilet paper, and it’s in the bathroom. Life is good.  

Say "I don't know"

    Women are constantly expected to remember things because they remember everything. Unless it’s an emergency, try to let the family sort it out and bear a small portion of their own loads.  

Use "parenting hacks"

    The quest for perfection is more than self-defeating; it’s exhausting. School lunch only has to be food and can even be pre-packaged when needed. Lunch does not have to be heart-shaped sandwiches and vegetable animals in a Bento box. Shortcuts can be helpful! 

All of the above is perfect-world advice, but the load isn’t deconstructed in a day, and there’s no such thing as perfect parenting. Early on, you may have the occasional worry about something that needs to get done, but you can start small and work your way up to a lighter load…and fewer middle-of-the-night toilet paper panics.  

Episode 15: The Work-Life Equation Podcast

Are you the manager of everything your family does? That's called "mental load." Listen to this episode of our working parent podcast to learn techniques to help you lighten your load, even just a little.

Subscribe to “The Work-Life Equation” podcast to receive notifications when new episodes are available: Apple PodcastsStitcher, and SoundCloud.

Resources: Moms and the Mental Load

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About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
Mom helping her family