How Parents Can Collaborate to Share the Mental Load
As COVID-19 disrupted school and work schedules, mothers in heterosexual relationships have been disproportionately affected by the increased hours that their children spend at home during the quarantine. This is in addition to the mental load mothers typically carry already.
The “mental load” refers to the tasks that mothers typically take on when managing a family and a home: keeping track of vaccinations, well-child visits and dental cleanings; planning for parent-teacher conferences and other school events; anticipating who will need new gloves and hats in time for winter. Of course, it varies by family, but these are a few examples of the many things, large and small, that mothers routinely juggle in their heads and worry over each day.
Life in quarantine has increased the mental load that primary caregivers carry, putting a strain on the paid work that they do.
Easing the Burden for Caregivers
Though the pandemic has made it difficult for us to gather with friends and family, “it’s important to be able to share the burden with other adults,” says Judy K. Eekhoff, PhD, Clinical Child Psychologist and Adult Psychoanalyst. “Have people you can count on and talk to,” says Dr. Eekhoff.
The to-do list may already look too long, but scheduling regular times for check-in phone calls with a supportive friend can help all caregivers feel understood. Single parents in particular need an outside adult to lean on.
You and Your Partner Are On the Same Team
Times of stress and imbalances in household duties between partners can create resentment where it might not have existed before. Resentment tends to divide people and lead to conflict. Solutions emerge when parents view themselves as partners rather than adversaries.
“Listen, listen, listen,” says Dr. Eekhoff. Hearing each other out can make space for greater understanding and empathy.
Tips for Primary Caregivers
- Download it. Make a list of your personal mental load and discuss it with your partner. Consider a new approach to managing that work. Divvy up chores by category rather than individual tasks. For example, cooking dinner would include not just meal preparation, but planning and grocery shopping, too. This empowers him to take more ownership. If he helps, don’t judge his efforts if he manages things differently than you.
- Enlist your children. If your kids don’t have regular, age-appropriate chores around the house, consider replacing one of their outside activities with something that helps the family. They will learn valuable skills and help reduce some of your stress in the process.
- Cut back on extra commitments When you feel overwhelmed by excess demands, find ways to eliminate commitments that aren’t necessary right now.
- Manage your expectations. Don’t expect perfection of yourself or your family right now. If dusting less frequently makes your life easier, let yourself off the hook. Only your family will see it anyway.
Tips for Partners
- Pay attention. Much of the care work that moms do is invisible to their partners. If you’re home together more often, pay attention to the things she does which you haven’t noticed before. Acknowledging all that she has on her plate will help her feel supported.
- Be proactive. If your partner seems overwhelmed, don’t wait to be asked for help. Offer your assistance, or take the lead with some household projects that need attention.
- Find new ways to connect with your kids. Daily life may feel more stressful with kids at home attending school online. In the grand scheme of things, though, it may be just a short period of time in their childhood. Make the most of it. Play. Learn something new together.
- Manage your expectations. If your partner is working a lot more than usual during the pandemic, try to be more tolerant. Resist making additional demands on her time.
Tips for Both Parents
- Make time for each other. Even if you’re tired and time alone is limited, a few minutes to talk about something other than your kids will go a long way to maintaining the health of your relationship.
- Prioritize your health. Added responsibilities tend to crowd out other priorities. Try to make time for yourself. Moderate exercise, adequate sleep and nutritious meals protect your immune system and reduce the impacts of stress.
- Laugh. It’s the best antidote for stress!
- Seek outside help if you need it. Don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment with a behavioral healthcare specialist if you need additional support.
Image by Deepak Sethi