Like most mothers, I cycle through feelings of guilt, pressure, and exhaustion on a daily basis. The guilt starts as I look around and feel like I don’t do enough. The house is a wreck, the twins’ birthday party that’s in two weeks is still not planned, and I haven’t cooked a decent meal since the school year started. The pressure begins when I decide that I need to do all of these things regardless of how it might affect my well-being. So, I straighten up the house even though no one cares but me. Then, I go back and forth with a bounce house place, track down email addresses, create a last-minute evite, and make lists to work out all the logistics for the birthday party. Finally, I research meals, make a grocery list, search for coupons, shop for food, and dread having to actually use the food to make dinner. Then, I feel guilty when I decide that I’m too tired to cook, and the cycle begins again. This, my friends, is the invisible workload of mothers.
I remember when I saw the idea put into words. I felt seen for the first time since becoming a mother. It finally made sense. This is why I am so tired yet have nothing to show for it. I make tiny decisions 24/7, all while coordinating schedules, planning meals, and organizing clutter for five people. But just as no one cares what the engine of a car is doing until it doesn’t work, a mother’s invisible workload only becomes visible when it’s not being done. In fact, sometimes I don’t even see it until I stop to go out of town or, heaven forbid, get to hide in my room for a day and be sick.
Here’s the deal, though. I have a husband that does a lot around the house, willingly even. (Gasp!) We’ve always been conscious of what needs to be done, and we do it. We split the chores without much deliberation. We offer to help the other out if they seem busy. We just do it. So when we became parents, we kept up the same flow of taking care of business. The problem was that this new mom workload that I had inherited was invisible, even to myself. I couldn’t quite figure it out. We were each doing our fair share of the work, but I was exhausted, anxious, and overwhelmed. I just assumed it was from being a new mother. But each time I would put something on the calendar or research doctors, daycares and developmental milestones or remind my husband to do something only to be told to remind him closer to the event, I realized that this overwhelming feeling was here to stay and only getting worse.
At first, I wore this invisible workload like a badge of honor. I am a mother. Watch me coupon, coordinate everyone’s day, read every article about raising children, and shop for all the clothes, toys and food (but not that food, it’s a known carcinogen!). Recently, though, I had a moment of clarity and realized that this badge of honor is not worth the accolades (because there aren’t any). I wanted to rest. I wanted to not feel like I was drowning.
I wanted to claim this invisible workload as REAL WORK!
And I wasn’t yelling at my husband. I was yelling at myself. I was the only person who could fix this. So from then on, when I subconsciously compared my chore list to my husband’s to determine what I should be responsible for, I counted all of the sorting, planning, and researching as part of my list. Supreme Master of the Family Calendar should be worth at least one toilet cleaning per week, and Cartwheel Deal Finder should take care of the other one.
Can you guess what happened? Nothing. Nothing happened. My husband picked up the slack, and the world kept turning with clean toilets and washed laundry that I had nothing to do with. I’m not saying this will work for every mom carrying an invisible workload, but something tells me it’s not the only thing women accept as the norm when they don’t have to. Just try it. You might be surprised at how easily your husband falls in line with the new routine. I mean, we all know that most of them are just waiting for us to tell them what to do anyway.