Sometimes referred to as the invisible load, hidden load, cognitive load and most recently kinkeeping, the mental load covers the task of juggling a family, a job, and the housework and so much more. It’s the unseen pressure of not only co-ordinating the lives of small people, but all the emotional aspects of life too. We spoke to Chloe Lowe, founder of Parent List, to find out more about how to manage it.
The mental load is more than just managing the food shopping, household chores and childcare, it’s the constant worry about your child’s physical and mental health, and guilt or concern over whether you’re being the best parent you can be. Not to mention feeling like you must think of everything else in between like remembering birthdays, organising parties, Health visitor or Doctors appointments. It’s the thankless never ending daily tasks that are necessary to keep your family, home, and life all perfectly spinning, all the time. Welcome to the imperfect world of parenting – it’s exhausting!
We all know that raising children can be a full-time job. We also know that it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but one fuelled with so much joy along the way. What we are not always prepared for as parents, however, is the sheer volume of things we must do and think about every single day.
It's completely natural to feel stressed and sometimes less present than we’d like to be. When we become parents – the pressure of the mental load intensifies and ‘mum guilt’ can also come into play, which is often why we feel like we must be all things to all people. Having to ask for help only adds to the fact that you’re having to think of everything, when all you want is for someone else to do the thinking and doing for you. The problem with carrying this mental burden is that it can leave you feeling overwhelmed and mentally and physically exhausted, which can lead to parental burnout.
As a parent of two young children, balancing family life, a full time job in the creative industries and trying to maintain my own sense of purpose and identity was hard. With my firstborn, I believed I needed to be superwoman, and that not only led to burnout – but a postnatal depression diagnosis which really affected my relationship with my child, my partner and myself. Before the birth of my second child, I had started to move away from the idea that I needed to wear my superpowers as a badge of honour. I realised the need to manage the daily juggle the best I could, and to allow myself time to recharge my own batteries before giving my energy to my family, my home and my place of work.
Chloe's top tips on how to lighten the mental load of parenting
1 - Prioritise tasks
Sounds obvious, but as a parent it is easy to feel like you must do everything, on your own, all at the same time. Start by identifying your most important responsibilities and commitments and focus your time and energy on those. Learn to say no to obligations that are not essential or that you cannot realistically handle. Simplify your routines and processes whenever possible, to reduce the number of decisions. Postpone less urgent tasks and remember that if you haven’t ticked off every item on your to do list each day, you haven’t failed.
2 - Create routines and a schedule
Establishing regular schedules and routines for things like mealtimes, bedtime, and household chores can help reduce the number of decisions you have to make daily. Creating systems for managing things like food shopping, meal planning, and household organisation can also help to reduce the mental load and free up time and energy for other activities and needs. Creating a schedule or calendar to keep track of appointments, events and tasks will help things to run more smoothly and ensure that you don’t have to keep all the details in your head. It’s easier to share if it’s in a plan.
3 - Share the responsibilities
This begins with communication, so talk to your partner, friends, family, or other caregivers who can support you and your family. Divide and conquer. This can include things like sharing childcare responsibilities, cooking meals together, or arranging to share lifts for extracurricular activities, parties and so on. Work together to split tasks and lighten the load. Not only will this help you manage your workload more effectively, but it will also build stronger relationships. It doesn’t all have to be on your shoulders.. To help people do just this, we have added a function into Parent List which enables you to share lists with others.
4 - Practice self care
When was the last time you spent time on yourself? It’s easy to get lost in the daily grind, to become just a parent and to lose yourself. This is why it’s vital that you take the time to fill your own cup to enable you to fill everyone else’s. Self-care is different for everyone and is NOT selfish, it’s essential for helping to manage the mental load. This includes eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. Making time for simple activities that bring you joy and help you to relax such as reading, going for a walk, practicing mindfulness or yoga will help keep you grounded, more energised, focused, and resilient in the face of stress and overwhelm. And we know its not always easy to make the time for self care which is why we have included a series of 5-, 10- and 15-minute meditation and movement videos that are super simple to follow.
Managing the mental load can be challenging, but by taking time for yourself, managing, organising and prioritising can all help. Managing the mental load is also not a one-time task but an ongoing process, so be patient with yourself and continue to experiment with new strategies.
Parent List was created to help with the constant juggle of the mental load and overwhelm, to provide inspiration when tiredness gets in the way, and to offer helpful resources when a little help or support is required. We are here to help all parents feel confident and reassured that they’re not alone.
About the expert
Chloe Lowe is the founder of Parent List, a web based app with 100s of checklists for tasks across self-care, routines, behaviour, activities, food and so much more. At the heart of the app is the desire to give parents a little more time, a little more headspace and a lot of support. This is so that they can better manage their daily juggle, put themselves first and can be the best version of themselves for others.
As an avid list-keeper, I realised the opportunity to create an online platform where parents could not only download the lists that exist in their heads - from food plans to packing lists and so on - but could also access a range of ready-made lists (written by experts) when headspace, time and creativity is at a low.
To find our more, visit www.parent-list.com or follow us on Instagram @parentlistapp and Facebook @ Parent List App.