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3 tips for tackling the Mental Load of Motherhood, that don’t require any more thinking!

If you’re about to return to work after having a child, now, more than ever, you might be feeling the weight of the mental load. If you’re this person’s partner or line manager this short article will be useful for you to understand what’s happening and provide some support.

What is the Mental Load?

As described in an article published by BetterUp, (What is mental load? Recognize the burden of invisible labor, by Erin Eatough, PhD) mental load is “the cognitive effort involved in managing your work, relationships, a family, and a household. Mental load is the whole bundle of details you manage throughout the day. It has to do with your responsibilities, formal or not, as well as the decisions you have to make.”

Another study published in the Americal Sociological Review (The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor, by Allison Daminger) describes the mental load as ‘anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions and monitoring progress.

”It’s not just the actual task that need to be done, it’s the thinking and planning that go around it. For example, making dinner isn’t only about the time when the cooking and eating is being done. It’s the thinking, considering what others will want to (or will only!) eat, budgeting, planning, buying, fetching, storing, preparing etc…all to be done again tomorrow! So even when then job is done, the thinking continues.

Emotional Labour is often invisible, but that doesn’t make it any less exhausting.

Impact of the invisible workload Sounds a lot doesn’t it? And apply this to all areas including work, household, childcare, social life, health and wellbeing and finances. It’s no wonder that the mental load can leave mothers feeling overwhelmed and resentful. In a recent Linked In poll we carried out, a respondent commented that their biggest challenge as a working parent was a feeling of having no space in their brain. Outcomes of an increase in mental load:

  1. Building feelings of resentment towards others who are unaware of the work being undertaken resulting in the breakdown of relationships. Even having to explain it to someone else can feel like another job on the to do list.

  2. Feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control. One consequence of overwhelm can be the urge to multi-task, but neuroscientists have shown that multi-tasking is a myth and we are actually switching our attention between tasks and with each switch, our brain slows down a little. Research shows that when we try to multi-task we are less effective and on top of that trying to process more than one thing at a time causes stress, a decrease in concentration and our memory suffers too.

  3. Lack of sleep due to racing thoughts and never being able to switch off, even though you’re exhausted. This in turn can lead to a decrease in levels of attention, lack of motivation and poor decision making.

How to tackle it?

As always, in our blogs, we like to share some light touch suggestions that are easy for you to introduce and experiment with by yourself.

  1. See your household as a team. I realise that time or rather, lack of it, can be a huge contributor to this issue. However, setting aside a regular 30 to 60 minute slot with your partner to discuss who’s taking responsibility for what can be a gamechanger. It’s also a great way to raise awareness in your partner of all the silent work you’re doing. If you’d like to do this but you’re not sure where to start, the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky is great resource, there’s also a card game you can introduce to inject some fun into the process.

  2. Monotask using the 80/20 rule. Identify the 20% of tasks that will have the biggest impact and block out time to focus on only those. If you do the most important things first, the feel good neurotransmitters you produce, such as dopamine, will give you a sense of achievement and help you to do more.

  3. Bedtime routines aren’t just for the kids. Try to introduce a routine for yourself before you head for some sleep. Think of some activities that help you relax, some ideas include a bath, some quiet reading, lowering the lights, a notebook to write down your thoughts and investing in an alarm clock, so you can leave your phone outside of your bedroom.

If you’d like to explore the topic of mental load further, coaching can be useful to uncover patterns such as pleasing others, a drive for perfection or challenging social norms and support with uncomfortable conversations. Please feel free to contact us if you’d like more information about our coaching programmes.

My colleague Sarah Turner and I have been busy creating content highlighting the importance of organisations providing support for working parents. As part of this, we created this video series exploring the entire journey of maternity leave, from before the leave starts, through to preparing to return and then the first few months back at work. If you or your organisation would like to understand more about how to support your employees as they take parental leave, please get in touch.

This blog post is a collaboration between Maternity Coaches Laura Duggal and Sarah Turner. They are working together, sharing their experiences and bringing the best of their joint advice and knowledge to you.

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