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The mental load of motherhood can be lighter—really

I’ll be the first to compliment my husband on the way he enthusiastically assumes household responsibilities—often done quietly in the early morning before my groggy eyes have time to comprehend he’s already cleaning the dishes.


One reason I’m still so weary after what should have been a solid night of sleep? I restlessly spent the first hour in bed thinking about how we need more apples, the dog has to go to the vet, I’m not sure what the toddler and I will do the next day and—oh yeah—I really need to schedule that fun prenatal glucose tolerance test. (Actual peek inside my mind last night.)

That’s why when it comes to talking about mental load with your spouse, learning how to effectively communicate the demands you feel may seem like just another task on the to-do list.

But hear this: Opening up doesn’t just redistribute the weight to someone else—it is truly able to lighten both of your loads.

It seems the buzzwords “mental load” really gained popularity in the past few months. However, for many of us, especially moms, it’s an age-old problem that didn’t come with the same kind of instruction guide as other parenting tasks: How to change a diaper? ✔️ How to explain to your partner the inner-workings of your mind? Hmm...

Essentially, “mental load” is about assuming the tasks that may not be as obvious as an overflowing pile of laundry—until they go undone, such as that doctor’s appointment that doesn’t get scheduled or daycare research that gets postponed until maternity leave is over.

“I think, first of all, the pressure of being a good parent and the pressure of having a good, well-run, clean house—that pressure’s on women,” said Claire M. Kamp Dush, Ph.D., an associate professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University and co-author of the New Parents Project. “Even so when children are first born, [moms are] managing all of this workload, they’re scheduling things for the baby, they’re nursing... So even from the time of their maternity leave, when they’re on break, they’re worrying about those appointments and men aren’t.”

And with a June study from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan finding that nearly two-thirds of mothers have been judged for their parenting skills—largely by members of their own families—it’s no wonder we put so much pressure on ourselves.

It just doesn’t have to be that way.

“Many people in society become concerned about ‘what other people will think,’” psychologist Dr. Paul Coleman, author of Finding Peace When Your Heart is in Pieces, told Motherly. This results in overthinking, where suddenly any and all outcomes are on the table. “Now the person must come up with possible solutions to those possibilities, which drains that person of valuable energy.”

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As for why dads may not understand all of this: We don’t always do the best job of explaining the tasks we’re trying to keep up with and the pressure we feel to stay on top of it all. (Guilty!)

Here’s how the experts say to open up the dialogue about mental load...

Start the discussion early

The best time to address mental load is before it starts to weigh you down—which makes it an ideal conversation to have before kids enter the scene. But even for those of us already waist-deep in it, Kamp Dush said clearly dividing responsibilities is the best way to conquer.

“Have a conversation with your partner parent about ‘what are some things that you can take off my plate because I’m really overwhelmed,’ Kamp Dush said. “Let your partner actually takes these things on and then trust him to do it.”

For example, say you’ll manage all emails that come from day care while your partner stays on top of appointments with the pediatrician.

Approach it in a moment of calm

The time to talk about this isn’t when you just scheduled an appointment, wrote the shopping list and vacuumed the carpet while a child was clinging to your leg. It’s when both you and your partner are feeling relatively refreshed and willing to have an open dialogue.

“In order for a discussion to reap benefits, the speaker must explain what it is like in a manner that the listener can say with sincerity ‘now I understand,’” said Coleman. “Otherwise, the listener will not understand and often respond with, ‘Yes, but...’”

Acknowledge your partner’s unique mental load

Even when the stage is set appropriately for a productive conversation, it’s easy to get defensive or accusatory. Coleman advised giving your partner credit by pointing out an example their unique mental load—such as how your partner was in charge of all the planning before the recent camping trip. Not only will this let them know you aren’t attacking, but it’s also a good reminder to you of all the teamwork that’s already going on. Coleman said, “Any example that allows the other to empathize will help the conversation.”

Give your partner your trust

Part of alleviating mental load is by accepting that, sometimes, done is better than perfect.

“Women tend to do this thing called ‘internal gatekeeping,’ which is where they manage men’s parenting," said Kamp Dush. “You’re being critical of his parenting, for example, ‘I want you to get the baby dressed, here’s how you do it.’”

Instead, she suggests letting your partner get his hands dirty while you step back. That may mean your spouse puts the kids to bed in a totally different order or gets “the wrong brand” of milk at the store—and that’s all OK.

Also key: Don't feel guilty for not taking on all of these tasks by yourself. The benefit of having a partner is that you two, by definition, should be in it together. And when you start by opening up about the mental load you carry, it should immediately feel lighter.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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My favorite part of every weekday is when I get home from work. As soon as I walk in the door, I hear a tiny voice scream, "Mommy, you're home!" Then my 3-year-old gives me the most amazing hug. Then a kiss. Then she grabs my hand and shows me whatever project she did in school. I always say, "I missed you today."

It's so different from my childhood.

My single Korean mother didn't get home from work until after 6 pm, so by the time she walked in the door, I was either doing homework in my room or out playing. If I was home, I'd yell a "Hi Mom!" and she would go into the kitchen to cook dinner. I knew she was tired, so I never bothered her. She rarely said a word.

I love being a mom, but it's profoundly difficult for me. I had to learn it was okay to openly express affection with my daughter. I have never felt like I deserve the overwhelming love she has for me, because I wasn't raised that way.

I love that my mother showed me how to be independent and instilled in me the value of hard work. But she was so focused on being strong that I often felt neglected. I just wanted to be loved by her.

Now that I'm a mother, I often think about how I'll raise my daughter differently than my mother raised me. It's not because I think she was a bad parent. I respect her more than anyone else in the world. I just want to make sure my daughter always feels loved.

1. I want my daughter to know it's okay to say, "I love you."

I don't ever remember my mother saying, "I love you" without me saying it first. I would hear the phrase in my friends' homes in daily conversation, and I thought it was strange.

In Jody Phan's 2016 article "Different Ways Asian Parents Show Their Love," she said her Asian parents never said it to her either. Soon, it became part of who she was, and it wasn't unnatural to not hear it.

I can say the same for me.

I tell my daughter I love her every day. Maybe it's selfish of me because I'm making up for lost "I love you's" my mother never gave me, but I like to think it makes her feel special.

2. I want my daughter to know it's okay to give hugs if she wants to.

The first time I met my best friend's family, everyone gave me a hug. When I tried to let go, they squeezed harder.

I never got random hugs from my mother. We didn't show physical affection.

In Mabel Kwong's 2014 post "When to Hug Someone. And Why Asians Don't Hug," she shares why it's a cultural thing. "In Asian cultures, getting touchy-feely with each other is frowned upon." For some Asians, it's also a way of getting dirty or catching germs, while others are just super aware of personal space.

I give my daughter massive bear hugs. The feeling of her tiny arms wrapped around my neck is something I never want to give up.

3. I want my daughter to know it's okay to have a sense of humor.

When I was younger, I remember sitting on the couch, shaking my leg. My mom said, "In Korea, they say if you shake your leg, you will shake all the luck out of your body."

She laughed loudly, and she never laughed when my brother and I told funny jokes. She was always so serious. In Elena Ruchko's article "Chinese Humor vs American Humor, and How to be Sarcastic," she says it's hard for non-Chinese people to understand Chinese humor because it's deep-rooted in cultural references that can't be translated effectively.

I see how I may not have understood her joke. I'm sure American humor, since English is not her native language, is just as confusing to her.

I make sure my daughter has deep-rooted belly laughs. It's usually when I'm dancing to the Trolls soundtrack. I want her to know laughter is the best medicine.

4. I want my daughter to know it's okay to cry.

The only time I saw my mother cry was by accident. I had walked into her room and she was sitting on the floor, weeping softly into her hands. When she heard me, she sat up and pretended nothing was wrong.

I didn't know how to react, so I walked away. I never brought that moment up because I know she would either deny it or feel embarrassed.

Was refusing to cry part of Asian culture? In Tia Gao's Medium article, "Why Chinese People Don't Cry," she says that for her parents, it was important for immigrants to maintain a positive outlook because "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." And whenever she started to cry, her parents would brush it aside because they had suffered so much in the past.

I think my mother can relate. She had lived through the Korean War. She endured starvation. Both of her parents died when she was young. She married my father and moved to an unfamiliar country, only to raise two children alone.

She didn't have time to cry.

I tell my daughter it's okay to cry. Instead of bottling emotions deep inside, I let her know it takes more strength to let them out.

5. Finally, I want my daughter to know it's okay to talk about mental health.

Years ago, I had what I called my "early-life crisis." I went into a deep depression, was put on medication and started therapy.

I was terrified to tell my mother.

When I finally told her, she reacted how I expected: She refused to believe me. I needed "to get over it." And I felt as if I failed her. She had always been so strong and here I was, so weak. So, I hid my bouts of depression from everyone for years.

But I eventually learned not to be ashamed of my mental health. I also learned I'm not alone.

There's an insightful article by Ryan Tanap titled "Why Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders Don't Go to Therapy." It helped me see my mother's point of view: "There's an underlying fear among the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community that getting mental health treatment means you're 'crazy.' If you admit you need help for your mental health, parents and other family members might experience fear and shame. They may assume that your condition is a result of their poor parenting or a hereditary flaw, and that you're broken because of them."

I don't blame my mother for refusing to believe I needed help. She had always denied her own need for help. But I want my daughter to know there is nothing weak about needing help, and there is immense strength when you finally ask for it.

There is nothing more beautiful or frustrating than being a mom. As much as I say I'm not like my mother, deep down I know I am. So I will take to heart everything I learned from her and try to be a good parent.

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Trigger warning: This essay describes a woman's emotional journey with losing a baby.

I'm used to being called names. I'm used to negative comments calling me fat, ugly and every name in between. That's life as a television news anchor—not everyone is going to like you. And that's okay. While I am good at brushing off the mean comments, when someone attacks my parenting, that's NOT okay.

I received a message that was not only hurtful, it brought me to tears, as my entire body began shaking. To the woman who called me sick because I talk about my children who died, my heart hurts for you.

As a mother who has experienced child loss, premature birth and infertility, I put my life out on full display. I write and share my family's story as a way to help others, all while getting the chance to share stories about all three of my triplets, even though two are no longer alive. Yes, the Internet can be filled with insensitivity, especially when I discuss topics that, even in 2019, are considered taboo. Most times, I can take the high road, but not today.

The woman called me "sick" for talking about my two children who passed. She told me to lay them to rest and move on, mentioning that I am dragging my husband and child through my "sick state of mind."

It's been five-and-a-half years since my triplets were born, and in all that time, never has a comment made me sick to my stomach. In the minutes after reading this message, so many emotions took over me. I wanted to yell at this woman. I wanted her to know how much words can hurt. And I wanted to know if she has ever lost a child. I tried to calm down, but that message kept coming back to me. I found myself awake throughout the night, quietly sobbing while my heart was racing and hurting at the same time.

I put my life out there on the Internet, so I have to realize that people are entitled to their opinion, even if it's negative. But here's the thing—If you've followed my family and our story for years, you would know that my life is not surrounded by grief and loss.

Social media is not an accurate view of a person's life. You only see snippets on Facebook and Instagram, and oftentimes, you only see the most glamorous, happy moments. I choose to show reality, and it's not always pretty. I share the heartbreaking moments of parenting children in both heaven and earth. Yet, I also show the wonderful moments of raising a daughter who is truly remarkable. If you've followed my story, you would know that I'm the happiest I've been in years. Yes, it's possible to find life after loss and it's possible for grief and happiness to coexist. My life doesn't revolve around grief, and no, I don't dwell over my losses every day.

My daughter is her own person, a unique individual full of joy and spunk. She will always know how special she is and we are constantly finding ways to celebrate her, along with remembering her brother and sister. Yes, my daughter is here. She's alive and present. But, I'm not going to forget that she was a triplet and I'm not going to hide the fact that I'm a mother to two angels above.

I woke up today, exhausted from a lack of sleep and worn out from the emotional toll of this cruel message I received. But, the more I think about it, the more I want to share. I have a unique platform through television and writing where I can be a voice for others. I can share the ups and downs of life and know that I am making a difference. If at least one person reads my words and feels like they are not alone, then it's worth it. For every one negative message I receive, I know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the world that can relate to my life.

Life has been difficult for my family at times, but we choose to look at the positive. The loss of two of my children is not a burden, I now choose to see it as a blessing. I would give anything to have them here today, but I've learned to find the good in our tragic situation. All three of my children have shaped who I am today. My children have taught me compassion, grace and kindness, all traits this cruel woman could learn from. It's tricky being a parent of child loss, but I'm doing the best that I can and I know all three of my children are proud of me.

Originally posted on Stacey Skrysak.

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Perinatal depression (defined as depression during pregnancy and the immediate postpartum period) happens to so many mothers, 1 in 7 of us, in fact. It can make pregnancy and early motherhood even harder than it needs to be and rob new mothers of a joyful time they were looking forward to.

And now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says there is a way to prevent perinatal depression in the moms who are most at risk. This week the USPSTF published guidelines calling on health care providers to identify at-risk women and connect them with cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.

These counseling interventions are effective in preventing perinatal depression, the USPSTF found, and, as The New York Times reports, the new guidelines mean the kinds of therapies that can prevent moms from becoming depressed with be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Therapy can change and save lives, but it's often unaffordable. Now, more mothers will have access to it when they need it most.

👏👏👏

Any mom can develop perinatal depression, but certain women are more at risk. Those with a personal or family history of depression and those dealing with stressful circumstances like poverty, divorce, young or solo motherhood are at an increased risk. Past abuse or trauma, gestational diabetes, and experiencing an unplanned or complicated pregnancy also increase a mother's risk for depression during and after pregnancy.

Untreated, perinatal depression can have terrible outcomes for women, babies and families. A proactive approach—getting at-risk moms into therapy before depression hits—could actually prevent the disease and its personal and social consequences.

"We can prevent this devastating illness and it's about time that we did," Karina Davidson, a clinical psychologist and researcher who helped write the recommendations told NPR.

But it won't be easy to do that, says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Marlene P. Freeman. In an editorial published alongside the USPSTF recommendations, Freeman points out that proactive intervention is a challenging task for the current health system. "Clinicians who provide obstetrical care may not have the expertise or time during clinical visits to perform assessments and tailor referrals to women who are identified," Freeman writes. "Availability and access to care present potential hurdles, and stigma presents another potential barrier for some women to seek and accept mental health care," she continues.

The system and our society are not currently set up to help get moms into cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, but maybe the adoption of these guidelines can change that over time.

Perinatal depression often goes untreated because mothers don't know how or when to ask for help. According to a 2017 study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, one in five new moms experiencing postpartum mood disorders doesn't disclose her symptoms to healthcare providers.

That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics released its own depression guidelines in late 2018, urging pediatricians "incorporate recognition and management of perinatal depression into pediatric practice."

If health care providers do what both the USPSTF and the AAP suggest, American mothers could have doctors looking out for their mental health at every stage of the perinatal journey.

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