If you are anything like me, and many women I know, you give generously of yourself. You are attuned to the needs of others-your babies, your partner, your family, and community. You are conscientious of the many facets of families life-you make doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, grocery shop, clean the home and work. You tend to the emotional landscapes of those that you love. This ‘mental load’ is carried mostly by women, it goes unnoticed, and it is exhausting.
I don’t know what the solution is to the ‘mental load.’ The problem is more than the dynamics of a relationship- it is our roles, expectations, history, family culture, the patriarchy, policies, and so much more.
There isn’t an easy fix. Personally, I don’t foresee an immediate future where I completely rid myself of the mental and emotional load of motherhood. Still, there are things that we can tangibly do, such as building our village but, we live in a society that has a long way to go. Even so, I am finding little moments of peace in the overwhelm but it hasn’t always been that way.
I remember when our little one was even younger and I was desperate to have a few precious moments alone. Any moment, be it in the bathroom or at the grocery store, that I didn’t have a baby needing me, was glorious. I didn’t so much savor those moments, as devour them. I desperately needed to check-out. Like scroll through social media, kind of check-out or eat a big piece of cake, check-out. You know, the kind that you do when you are depleted, emotionally and physically.
Like most moms, I was exhausted. We bring our full, imperfect selves to parenting and due to my own history and ideals of motherhood, I became the parent that I always wanted as a child. I gave myself completely over to my role as mother and wife. I love being a mom and it fulfilled me and filled me with intense love. That love and the responsibility of parenting was almost too much and tipped into postpartum anxiety. I was hyper-alter and vigilant and nervous to leave my baby with anyone, even my husband. I would watch my husband like a hawk every time he would bounce the baby or lift him in the air, ‘be careful’ I would say as I would fight back the urge to grab the baby and run out of the room.
It is so hard to be a new mom and we don’t have many models for how to do this. The emotions that come with motherhood are like ribbons that hold us, they extend and stretch into our history and pick up pieces of our past. We bring all of the longing, hope, fears, and expectations into our homes as we are doing the work of life, and for me, then, those emotions were like a heap of laundry at my feet. I didn’t know what was what and I didn’t have the brain space to even begin to hold motherhood in this larger context.
Motherhood is hard and there may not be an easy solution to the ‘mental load’ because, well, it is always there. But we can deepen our skills in listening and communicating, just as we are attuned to the subtle needs of everyone around us, we can turn that attention in towards ourselves.
This is deep work of the heart and a meditation that has helped me is called RAIN-Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. I like this version by Tara Brach.
be kind to yourself.