●Schedule flu shots.
●Decorate the house for Halloween.
●Volunteer for the class party at school.
●RSVP to the charity event.
●Call the orthodontist.
●Buy birthday presents.
●Text your friend about carpooling.
●Find someone to paint the dining room.
●Choose a paint color for the dining room.
●Send a birthday card to your mother-in-law.
●File health insurance claims.
●Bring snacks to the soccer game.
●Make arrangements for your neighbor to take care of the dog.
●Order school pictures.
●Buy laundry detergent.
●Find someone to fix the leaky sink ASAP.
●Buy toner cartridges.
●Pick up the dry cleaning.
●Send in the permission slip for the field trip.
Tired yet? The many — and extremely varied — tasks that are involved in managing a household have become known as the “mental load.” And although this topic has gone viral in recent months, mental overload (as I’ve always called it) is something I’ve been discussing with clients in my organizing business for more than a decade. Staying organized is difficult when you’re constantly jumping from one thing to another and have only a few minutes to spend on any one task.
There’s no doubt that gender roles pertaining to parenting and housework have evolved over the past 75 years and in some ways are more equal today. But in many relationships, women are still disproportionately responsible for managing their children’s lives and running the household, and the amount of work involved in doing those two things has increased exponentially. Kids start to have homework at younger ages than in the past, parents are expected to be at their children’s schools more often, and kids are involved in many more extracurricular activities than they were 50 years ago.
The constant stress of trying to stay organized — and to remember to execute so many tasks every single day — is affecting women’s relationships with their spouses, children, friends and colleagues. They are experiencing mental, emotional and physical fatigue trying to stay on top of it all.
There are no easy solutions, but these are a few things I’ve learned that can help create more balance for couples struggling with hectic personal, professional and social commitments.
You may feel like you’ve had the same conversation with your significant other a million times, and yet nothing ever changes. But if you are constantly stressed, tired and overwhelmed, and resenting your partner, you have to keep communicating until you reach some understanding. Many people assume their partner will realize they’re exhausted and step in to help, but I promise that’s never going to happen. If those are your expectations, you’re going to be continually disappointed. And sometimes your spouse genuinely doesn’t know how to be helpful. Be clear about your needs and ask your partner to take full responsibility for one or two specific tasks. Take 10 minutes at the beginning of your weekend to talk about the calendar. Look at ways you can divide and conquer tasks or pair an errand with a kid’s activity nearby.
This is hard, especially if your significant other hasn’t consistently been responsible for any one thing for your family. You know how to do something, so it’s easier for you to just do it. And it would take more time to explain to your spouse what needs to be done and how to do it than it would to do it yourself. But take the time to clearly explain what you would like to happen. Once the two of you have agreed on a division of labor, you have to let go and allow whatever happens to happen. No managing, no reminders, no helping, no excuses. You can’t ask people to do something and then try to manage how they do it. Delegate and take it off your list.
Many of us are so busy trying to just make it through each day that we never have enough time to concentrate on the one thing we really need to do: find help. It’s hard trying to figure out what kind of help you need. Finding the time to search for that person is even harder. But if you can dedicate a couple of mornings or afternoons to finding someone to help you with even one or two things, that is time well spent. If your spouse is unwilling, incapable or just unavailable, it’s not only okay to ask for help, it’s imperative for your mental health. Hire a mother’s helper, babysitter or housecleaner — even occasionally — if it’s in your budget, and outsource some of the work.
While many women (and yes, some men) are struggling to keep everything running smoothly, they’re also often simultaneously feeling resentful — and guilty that they feel resentful. They have a loving partner who may be supportive in many ways, even if that partner isn’t helpful at managing things at home. And they are aware that people all over the world are suffering in ways they can’t even imagine. But realizing you can’t do it all feels like failing. And then beating yourself up because you feel selfish makes you feel even worse. If you don’t have any time to take care of yourself, you’re unhappy with your significant other or you’re too tired to spend meaningful time with your children, then it’s a problem in need of repair. Take it seriously.
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