This is part three in a three-part series dealing with Mental Load. In part one, I supplied a checklist to determine whether you are suffering under a Mental Load. In part two, you read about the first five strategies to help lessen that load through effective and strategic delegation. In part three, I will give the second five practical strategies to unburden yourself from the Mental Load.
6. Strive for manageable and respectful distribution of effort, not fair and equal
We talk about co-parenting, equal sharing of household duties, splitting jobs evenly, all with the hope that two adult partners can fairly distribute the effort of running a household. But that was before we understand the concept of the Mental Load. As working mothers who also carry the mental load, we should strive to get way less than half of the actual tasks! You already have all the unseen, unnoticed, unsaid, unwritten, and unanticipated things to deal with. So, just ignore that part about sharing equally and instead focus on getting a manageable and respectful distribution of labor. This is also a great time to talk about subcontracting out some of the jobs, if you have the means. I recommend delegation, subcontracting or abandonment for jobs that you don’t love yourself. Did you know that you can pay a college kid by the hour to do your laundry, fold it, and put it away?
7. Learn to enjoy the doing more than the planning
You are a planner. You live by lists and you kind of like it. You are the one that admitted to me that your spice cabinet really is alphabetized, your pots and bowls are nested, and your frozen foods are probably all labeled with expiration dates. In fact, if organization and planning were addictive drugs, you’d be in rehab. But, if you want to unburden your mental load, you have to learn to like the doing part more than the planning part.
Let’s go back to my unburdened Christmas. I love to plan an elaborate, multi-course, amazing meal on Christmas Eve. This year, our usual company was not available. I’m not going to lie, I was a little sad to miss out on the fun of planning this meal (and, of course seeing our friends!) But, if I’m brutally honest, it was always really hard to enjoy that elaborate meal. It was Christmas Eve and I had so many other things to think about: the Christmas Eve church service, presents still to wrap, prepping for Christmas Day dinner. Fortunately, my husband owns the clean-up domain, so at least there was that. Enjoying the delicious meal with our friends took a back seat in my mind to planning and cooking it. This year, I still invited friends, but the meal was much less elaborate and planned just the day before. I focused a lot more on enjoying the friends and food instead. (Now, my elaborate New Year’s Eve meal was entirely out of this world…and I enjoyed every second of the planning, the cooking, and the eating!)
8. Thankless jobs do not deserve thanks
When I was in college, there was a bus that ran on a loop between two campuses (Mawrtyr friends will remember the “blue bus”). All four years I was there, the driver was this surly, mean-ish man, who would drive away even if he saw you running to the bus and only a few steps away. He drove like a maniac, careening down tiny streets and taking curves like he was driving a sports car and not a big old blue bus. When we arrived, I would stumble off the bus, teetering from being carsick and afraid for my life, and I would thank that bus driver! He would growl and drive off almost before I had time to step down from the last step.
If you feel compelled to thank your partner for taking care of their domain of cleaning up after dinner, or thank your kid for taking care of their dishwasher domain, then you haven’t actually unburdened your mental load. Because, you still feel like someone is helping you and you are still managing sustainability and accountability. Teach your family that you won’t be giving out thank you’s for meeting the minimum expectations any more. They will need to own their entire domain, including finding self-satisfaction and pride in a job done adequately or even done well.
Don’t mistake this for abandoning gratitude. Just realize that when you “thank” someone for doing something, the implication is that they are doing something for you. A better approach is to point out how their ownership contributes to the success of the home. For example, to the 9-year old dishwasher domain-owner: “Now that you own the dishwasher domain, our home run smoother. Have you noticed how you always have a clean bowl for cereal in the morning?” Reserve praise and thanks for above and beyond actions, great examples of team-work and chipping in to help in someone else’s domain. And, maybe for little kids, who are just learning to be contributing members of a household.
9. Get rid of the on-demand option
On-demand should be reserved for adult movies at cheap motels. Having an on-demand option at home reinforces the mental load. Not only are you then in charge of everything you can plan and control; now you are also in charge of the things you can’t plan, can’t control and maybe don’t even know about (quite possibly because someone “forgot” to tell you or has a brand-new whim or notion).
When someone asks for a different dinner because they don’t like what is served, the answer is “this is not a restaurant and there is no on-demand menu.” When someone says they forgot to tell you they need cupcakes for a school party tomorrow, the answer is “I do not take on-demand orders with less than twenty-four hour notice.”
Stopping the vicious cycle of rescuing, accommodating and producing on demand can lessen the mental load. I mostly like making my kids school lunches, but I don’t like to do it on demand. I hate searching for backpacks, digging around for lunch boxes, emptying trash and washing thermoses. So, if the lunch boxes aren’t empty and on the counter in the morning, the kids will likely find a pile of lunch items for them to assemble themselves before school.
10. Ensure that everyone has all knowledge and information
Every time you put your contact number down, your email on the notification list, and your name as the go-to person, you are increasing your mental load.
A number of years ago, back when I still thought I should do and know it all, I was on a work trip in London. I was walking down the street to some meeting when my cell phone rang. It was the school, telling me that my son had thrown up and needed to be picked up. I gave the nurse my husband’s number and explained that I would not be able to pick him up.
This is an extreme, and maybe even slightly dangerous example. But, it illustrates the mental load that I carried those days. I was the keeper and knower of all things. I’ve gotten smarter and technology has made it easier. Now, I list everyone’s email and cell phone on every contact form…even the kids, for their own activities. They can take some of the responsibility too, for knowing if practice was canceled or moved, or if the church choir is singing this week or next. Now, when somebody asks me what time practice starts, I say “I don’t know, look at your email. Or ask Dad, he’s in charge.”