Much has been written about the mental load of motherhood. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, Psyched Mommy defines it as “the unnoticed and uncompensated physical, mental, and emotional labor completed behind the scenes to keep our households happy, healthy, and running smoothly.” When I became a mother in February of 2017, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
All of a sudden I was no longer just responsible for the “maintenance” of myself and my career, but for everything related to our beautiful, miraculous, completely dependent newborn daughter. I won’t chronicle all the related responsibilities –many of you know them all too well—but suffice to say it was incredibly overwhelming on basically every possible level.
I am now the devoted and exhausted mother of three children, having welcomed twin boys into our family in 2019. The mental load has increased, as one would expect, and there are times I find myself struggling to get through the most mundane of tasks because my brain feels blank and my body devoid of any energy.
Not all of that can be blamed on the mental load, however. Mothering (heck, parenting) during this particular chapter of modern life is rife with challenges that certainly have adverse effects on one’s mental health.
So, in the spirit of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, I offer these four ideas that have helped me keep perspective and a bit of sanity in my motherhood journey. I don’t have it figured out, fyi, but these ideas certainly help me feel a bit more balanced and myself. Sometimes that’s the biggest help of all.
#1: Carve out time to connect to you
Before I was a mother, I was a person. I had interests and hobbies and things I loved to do; things that defined my sense of self. Once I had kids, it became harder to find time for those things and eventually they got pushed to the side and were forgotten in the chaos of raising three small children during a pandemic.
Someone asked me a couple months ago what my hobbies were. I drew a complete blank and could only respond with “I don’t remember”. That was eye-opening.
Now, I find time every single day to do something that reminds me of the woman I was before I became a mother. I read. I swim. I listen to music that has nothing to do with nursery rhythms. I go out with my husband and leave the kids behind. Some days this is easier than others, but it has made such a difference to my mental outlook.
I find I’m a calmer, more centered mom on the days I make this a priority.
#2: Build and foster your mom village
They say it takes a village to raise a family, and they’re not wrong. But where does the village come from? Unfortunately, they don’t just show up upon the birth of your first child. Turns out, you have to build it yourself. Takes some work, but it is oh-so-worth it.
My mom village is chock full of friends old and new, in Houston and across the world that I can rely on for emotional support, guidance, and a listening ear. They provide comic relief and a level of emotional support that only shared understanding of a particular chapter of life and circumstance can satisfy. These women are essential to my mental health.
#3 Focus on what matters most
My mother-in-law was visiting recently and upon arrival said to me “you look so calm and peaceful”. My response: “I’ve lowered my standards”.
We shared a knowing laugh but there is so much truth in what I said. In the few months since I’d last seen her, I had relaxed my attachment to certain standards that didn’t suit my family or my mental health.
I’m less concerned if the house is messy and if all the laundry is done. I don’t care as much if the kids track dirt into the house from our backyard. I don’t respond to text messages immediately and try to leave my phone elsewhere when I’m with the kids so I can focus on them.
I’ve had to relax my standards on certain things to be more invested in standards that mean more to us as a family: eating healthily, spending time outside and being present together. These are small examples, but they’ve made a major difference in my overall well-being.
#4 Give yourself some grace
Another popular tenant of modern motherhood is this expectation to be all knowing and perfect at all times. I fundamentally reject that five years into this journey. It is frankly impossible and not worth it.
So now, when I forget something or look like a mess at drop-off, I give myself some grace. I am only doing the best that I can for my family – and myself.
My daughter calls them “whoopsies” and now so do I.