Unload Your Mental Load

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mental loadAt any given time, I could give you an inventory of what’s in our pantry, fridge, and freezer. I have already cleared summer clothes and know how much more additional sweaters and cold weather gear my eldest needs.

I can’t shut it off. This is what almost all mothers have, a “mental load,” and it’s not fair.

Granted, my husband does a lot more than most, but he’s able to shut down at night and play video games. I, however, am online shopping for toilet paper, kids’ clothes, and whatever items we are low on. It drives me mad when he just flagrantly says, “Hey, babe! We’re out of x item!”

To him, it’s just a gentle reminder to both of us. To me, it’s fighting words.

Now that I am back to work, my commute one way is 70 minutes plus. I can barely make it home in time for dinner, let alone complain about what was cooked. The luxury in that is, my kids are bathed and fed by the time I get home, but I miss all the excitement and chatter of the day in review. Now dinner time preparations are left squarely on my husband’s shoulders, and I can see his stress building up.

The sudden role reversal gives me insights on how to better treat my spouse and things we can do to make our lives easier.

Here are a couple of helpful hints to make your day-to-day a bit more efficient and unload your mental load.

Grocery Lists Online: Whether you shop in-store, pickup, or online, it’s very useful to keep an online shopping list that both of you can add and update. We use Keep Notes since we are both on an Android platform. We use it for groceries. We also have expanded it to vacation packing lists and Target shopping lists. Lists will update live as items are checked off! You can even add items as your partner is shopping.

Family Calendar: I’ve mentioned this before, but we have a digital family calendar. On top of that, we have a large physical calendar we hang in our kitchen, color-coded to show school activities, days off, work trips, and play dates. I also have a To-Do section and the weekly dinner menu planned out. Dates and times often shift, so it’s important to keep a digital backup that will notify you.

Mini-dates: Whether it be a quick coffee break in the a.m., an impromptu lunch date, or a planned-in-advanced dinner date, it’s important to schedule time with your spouse. Often we’re both running around full steam and forget to reconnect with each other. Having a quick mini-date to talk about nothing or the cute things our kids have said or done helps everyone.

Daily Check-Ins: I am a project manager by trade. I naturally find efficiencies and patterns in everything, even mundane daily chores. Quick daily check-ins to confirm who is doing what that day/week is super helpful in unloading your mental load. Also, touch base on statuses of assigned tasks and ask if your partner needs help with a task that may be larger than initially planned. Things like who is going on this month’s field trip? Who will attend Parent/Teacher conferences? We both take the train every morning, so we’ll use that time to do a quick check-in.

Once you and your partner get the real estimates of tasks and chores that are done daily, then you can realistically divide and conquer. I have posted these suggestions on a few parenting boards previously, and here are a few good questions I’ve encountered:

Q: What if your spouse doesn’t actually do assigned tasks?

A: Here’s the hard part, let your partner fail. They will see how much that failure impacts the family. It will be hard to get into the program, but ultimately they will see how much it alleviates your stress and how impactful it is to be an active participant in your family life. They will also be setting an example for your children on how a true partnership operates.

Q: What if my spouse doesn’t do their task the “right” way – aka “your” way?

A: Allow me to quote Queen Elsa, “Let it go!” Seriously, you got your spouse to sign on to this, and you’ve got them assigning themselves tasks. As a matter of how to approach said task, it’s not up to you! If let’s say your spouse sloppily packs the kids’ lunches and there’s a mess in the kitchen, and the lunch was all smushed. There are two feedback loops built right in. Your spouse will get an earful from your kids, and your cat or dog will end up on the counter. Key takeaway – it’s not up to you to fix it unless you’re called in. If your spouse decides it’s not worth it to pack lunches and gives your children lunch money, so be it. So long as your spouse is responsible for keeping the accounts funded.

Q: Does this really work in real life?

A: Yes! It’s literally my profession, managing projects, and people. There are schools for project management, certifications, and proven methodology. Every product, service, and device you use daily was managed by a project or product manager. I’ve even used Agile Methodology to manage my then fiance. Here’s an image of my “Wedding Scrum Board” divided into To Do’s, In Progress, Blocked, and Completed items. Tasks were assigned by color-coded sticky tabs: Pink = Me, Blue = Him, Green = Both.

I wish you the best in your parenting adventure and hope that these tips from a project manager will help find efficiencies in your daily life. Unload your mental load, and you’ll find that everyone will be happier.

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Van is a recent addition (3 years) to Westchester County and lives in Pelham with her husband and two daughters. She has a 2.5 year old, going on 16 and a 6 month old, the size of a 1 year old. She spent over 10 years in advertising as a Digital PM specializing in Gamification, before dedicating almost 2 years to her children as a SAHM. Always the over-achiever, she's a babywearing, cloth diapering, gluten-free cooking, bento lunch box making, p#ssy hat crocheting, and Lego building extraordinaire. In her "free" time, she's training for some half marathon, running a book club and trying to learn how to code (C++). She enjoys a nice bourbon and hashing it out with her husband on one of their old school consoles (video game).