“I need to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home. Better get two. It’s amazing how fast the kids go through that stuff. I suppose that’s what growing kids do, though. That reminds me, they are overdue for their annual exams . . . I have to fold the mountain of laundry on the sofa tonight after dinner. Wait, no, it’s bath night, and we have to finish that science project. Do we have glue? I think we do. Maybe. Better add it to the grocery list . . . I need to start a grocery list. I can probably remember those two things—milk and glue, milk and glue, milk and glue. Maybe I better just write it on the back of this receipt. I can go to the store this weekend when the kids are visiting grandma. I still need to pack their bags. I can’t forget to send their allergy medicine. I wonder if there’s enough left to get them through the weekend? I’ll just grab another bottle while I’m at the store. I should probably get something for dinner, too. Spaghetti, maybe? It’s easy. But, I’m sick of spaghetti. I’ll just get McDonald’s on the way home? I’ll get the apple slices instead of fries—healthier, right? That will free up a little time to fold the laundry. Better toss another load in while I’m at it . . . ”
These are the thoughts that chase a mother through her day. The small voice that is ever-present in the back of her mind. It begs answers to questions, prompts reminders, and holds tidbits of information about soccer schedules and grocery lists. Some have called this the mental load, invisible to everyone, but heavy in its weight of expectation—and responsibility.
Its existence has been challenged by nay-sayers, who believe the mental load of motherhood is self-imposed. To that I say, maybe so. We are natural providers, caretakers, and protectors. It’s innate to our role. For that reason, most of us assume these responsibilities without even realizing it. One small thing here, another there, and before long our minds are filled with a million little things. Sometimes we worry, sometimes we ruminate, and sometimes we forget.
Midnight laundry, last-minute party favors, and overdue appointments with the pediatrician hold steady chatter in a mother’s mind. We place the needs of others above our own, leaving little time for ourselves, little time for our minds to rest. Evenings are spent making meals, helping with homework, and giving baths. We are always planning, and checking items off the ever-growing list in our minds.
We shoulder the weight of the little things not because we have to, but because we want to. Although this can be cumbersome, we don’t get angry or discouraged, but we are often exhausted. No one hears the whispers but us. No one feels the weight but us. This is why we are exhausted. This is why we can be fragile. We aren’t martyrs or control freaks, we just want the absolute best for the ones we love. So, we carry on long after our bodies tell us to rest, completing tasks and planning for what’s to come.
We aren’t too proud to ask for help when we need it, but the mental load isn’t something we can hand off when it becomes overwhelming. It doesn’t work like that. We will gladly share the tasks and responsibilities of parenthood, but the chatter of the mental load always remains, even if only as a whisper. Because mothers are the gatekeepers. We are the last line of assurance that everyone has what they need. We see what’s missing, even when no one else does—it’s our gift. So, we carry this load out of love, because we care deeply.
And we always will.
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