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The mental load of motherhood can be lighter—really

Yes, the experts say it really is that simple. Here’s where to start...

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.

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

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Products that solve your biggest breastfeeding challenges

Including a battle plan for clogged ducts!

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

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I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

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