Dear Maxine,

How can I manage the mental load of motherhood? It’s one of aspects of motherhood I wasn’t prepared for: all the invisible stuff you do for your children – the planning, researching, organising. It’s exhausting. I find it hard to delegate as I don’t always trust it will be done as thoroughly as I’m the one who spends the most time with my children and know their likes and dislikes. I’m not exactly sure how to phrase it, but I’m finding it exhausting and wondered if you could help. 

Dear Follower,

Thanks for getting in touch.

There is so much more involved with having children than just having the children, isn’t there?! This is something that I’d need to know more about to be specifically helpful so I’m going to put questions for reflection out there and you can see what comes up.

I know for certain you’re not alone in this so, hopefully, the questions can prompt others to think about what’s going on for them as well.

The planning, the researching, the organising

I’m curious about what it is that you’re planning, researching and organising. What would it be like to do a bit of an audit? How much time do you spend on each thing? Is this something that you really needed to look into? What would happen if you didn’t?

Do you have caps on how much time you spend planning a specific thing or is it something that you can do infinitely?

Is there a chance you’re using this as a way of avoiding how you’re feeling or other things? This can be a difficult thing to think about. I’m curious about how planning is given a lot of time and energy, and I wonder what would be there if not this.

“I don’t always trust that it will be done thoroughly”

I keep coming back to this.

What does ‘thoroughly’ mean for you? If it isn’t done thoroughly, what happens? What would be the worst outcome? Could you bear that? Why not?

My sense, here, is that there’s something about perfection running through. That all of the planning, organising and research are to ensure that your children experience lives as close to perfect as possible?

Does that sound familiar to you? Where do you think the comes from? What do you think is helpful about aiming to be perfect? What do you think is unhelpful?

If your children experience something they dislike more than they like, what happens for you? What’s so bad about that?

I guess an example that springs to mind for me is shopping. As the person who spends most time with your children, you probably know best what food they are eating this hour and what they’re not. What they ate last week might not be tolerated this week and this changes all the time.

So let’s say your partner does the food shop. And gets something your child isn’t into. What’s so bad about that? How will your child learn to tolerate things they don’t like if they’re never exposed to them? How will our partners learn to do these things if they are never given the opportunity?

I also wonder whether there’s something about control going on

We strive to control the things around us when we are feeling out of control. It usually happens when we’re feeling overwhelmed and filled with anxiety and fear. It’s a natural response to a scary situation. How does that sound to you? Where do you think you learned that being perfect and in control was the best way to cope with things?

This can be really challenging and painful to think about so I invite you to take your time. Breathe out. Come back to it if you need.

Have you ever had the opportunity to learn to let others take some responsibility? What’s happened when you’ve tried it? How did you manage the disappointment when it didn’t turn out the way you hoped?

What would it be like to let go of some of that control? What comes up for you? How could you soothe yourself through that?

How could you communicate with your partner about what you need from them? And about how you feel if that’s not delivered, in a way that isn’t blaming or judgmental?

What will soothe you when things go wrong?

Your partner does the shopping. They buy all the wrong things. Your kids refuse to eat dinner. What comes up for you?

Blame? Guilt? Shame? Do you tell yourself that it’s all your fault? You should have just done the shopping? Do you get angry at your partner? ‘Why don’t they know better?’

What if this wasn’t anyone’s fault? If it was just a thing that happened? Is there a way of thinking about this that doesn’t make if feel like a catastrophe?

What do you need in this situation? What will help you to feel better? Some reassurance? How could you communicate how you’re feeling to your partner? And how could you ask for what you need?

What else is loading your mental space?

Are you allowing your partner to use you as Google? Rather than checking the calendar, do they just ask you? Do you remind them that it’s cold and they need a jacket? Or that it’s hot and they might want to take their jacket off?

How much do you parent your partner? Why do you think you do that? What would it be like not to do that?

Do you make all the decisions about your children? What would it be like to answer your partner with a question? ‘I don’t know, what shall we give them for dinner?’ ‘I don’t know, what could we do today?’ Not with a facetious tone, of course, just genuinely passing it back to them?

How would it be to see they’re going to make a harmless ‘mistake’ and let them learn from it?

How about your own stuff loading your mental space?

If you weren’t planning, organising and researching, would your mind be filled with fluffy thoughts of how delicious marshmallows are and dreamy ideas of how lovely it is to walk in the countryside? Or is it more like horror at the thought of eating marshmallows and anger that you don’t get to go on lovely walks very often?

How is your own personal mental load? How could that be eased? Or do you not even get a chance to notice it because it’s so full of other things?

How are you feeling now?

What do you need and how can you get it?

I would love to hear what you think about this article. Please share your thoughts in the comments and on Facebook/Instagram. And pass the article to anyone you think might benefit.

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