It’s called emotional labor. And mothers have a lot of it.
I came across this quote recently, “A mother is the bank where her family deposits all their fears and worries.” It stuck with me. I jotted it down and moved on, but I’ve come back to it a couple of times since.
I’ve come back to it when I was up all night when my 4-year-old had a 104.5 degree fever and I was so worried I couldn’t sleep.
I’ve come back to it when I reminded my husband we can’t leave medicine on the counter—even if it’s closed. That’s too nerve wracking. (And unsafe.)
I’ve come back to it when I was faced with a parenting roadblock that wasn’t going to be an easy one to deal with or solve. When the real seriousness of being a parent sunk in and felt heavy.
The weight of these worries of motherhood feel like a boulder on my heart sometimes.
I remember the first night we brought our daughter home from the hospital. I just stared at her in her bassinet. I was making sure her little belly was going up and down, up and down. I wanted to be sure she was breathing correctly before I let myself fall asleep.
I think I thought that by doing this, I was somehow protecting her from the bad and scary.
I still do that to this day. And I’m four years, three children into motherhood. I check on each of my kids every night before I go to bed, and I place my hand on their little bellies to make sure they’re moving up and down, up and down. It makes me feel better. It makes me feel like everything will be okay.
But what I’m learning is that—I can’t be in control of everything in my life or my children’s lives. Because life is unpredictable and, well...hard.
This realization is scary.
The curve balls aren’t going to just stop because I want them to. I have to keep honing my catching skills because they seem to be coming faster and faster these days.
The mental load of motherhood is heavy enough. Remembering everything. The paper to-do list plus the iPhone notes app to-do list plus the running list in my head and the random to-do’s that pop up as I just so happen to remember them.
I am the one who notices that size 5 pants are getting to be too short on my oldest daughter and I am the one who remembers to update our subscribe and save on Amazon Prime as our baby grows out of each diaper size. I remember cards for birthdays, school registration checks, to make doctor’s appointments, to get to said doctor’s appointments.
But it’s not all mental labor. I do a lot of the emotional heavy lifting, too.
Because, as it turns out, there’s quite a bit of emotions involved in motherhood. Worrying, for me, especially.
My husband often leaves his belts out. He doesn’t mean to put the children in any sense of danger or anything. But I look at those things like weapons—weapons they could hurt themselves with. So, I am the one who puts belts away where the kids can’t reach them.
I am the one who religiously checks the doors to make sure they are locked and puts the alarm on every night before bed.
I am the one who takes the hair ties out of our kid’s hair when they’re down for a nap because I fear they’ll take them out of their hair when they wake up and try to eat them.
I am the one who makes sure the medicine goes back in the cabinet once it’s taken or distributed.
I am the one who orders special safety locks for the doors or cabinets we don’t want them getting into.
I comfort. I soothe. I fix bad moods. I am the security blanket.
I worry about my husband’s happiness. I want him to be happy. When he’s in one, I want to magically fix his bad mood. I want to lift the weight off his shoulders. When something’s bothering him, it’s bothering me, too. I tend to take on his emotions, even though I know I should try not to do that.
I worry about my children’s happiness. Am I doing enough on a daily basis to make sure they feel excited, happy and loved? Are they having fun? Are they learning? Are they getting what they need?
I worry about the health and safety of my husband. What if something happened? I couldn’t do this without him. I wouldn’t want to. I could send myself into a tizzy even thinking of being without him.
I worry about the health and safety of my children. Are they eating well enough? Getting enough exercise? What if they run out into the street when they’re not listening? What if I turn my back for one second…
I stay up at night worrying. Thinking of the worst-case-possible scenarios. Not being able to fall asleep. Literally jolting myself awake at times wondering if something is wrong. It’s exhausting and emotionally draining.
And I don’t think it’ll ever go away. I am a mother now. Worrying, it seems, is now part of my DNA.
My husband doesn’t worry the same as me. He worries, but he worries a lot less. I hear things like, “They’re happy, smart kids. They’re doing fine. Stop worrying so much.”
I’ve sort of come to the realization that we’re just not wired this same way. I am always going to worry more. One thing he does seem to worry about is my worrying. So when he tells me to stop he’s not just dismissing me—he actually wants me to stop torturing myself because he feels bad. He hates watching me do this to myself.
I think it’s okay that he doesn’t worry as much as me. Because he is who I turn to to calm me, to ground me. He makes me feel safe and loved and like we’re doing this right. If he worried just as much as me, I fear that we’d constantly be balls of anxiety.
So what have I done to help manage these big feelings of motherhood? These worries and fears that can weigh me down and exhaust me at times?
I’ve let my husband in. I don’t just push it all down as far as I can like I used to. He asks, I let it out. He doesn’t ask, I also let it out. We’re in this together.
I’ve started looking for a therapist to talk to. Someone I can feel comfortable with and just get an outside perspective from. I’ve put this off for so long but finally realize that there’s no time like the now.
I’ve leaned on my faith recently after, let’s call it a bit of a hiatus. I’m feeling like, with this important work I’m doing everyday as a parent, I need to be able to believe in—and utilize—the power of prayer (for me.)
And most of all, I’ve reminded myself to practice gratitude and to look at the bigger picture. Life isn’t perfect and never will be. But I have three amazing children. I have a partner who loves me, who is so in this with me. I am a good mother. I have some tools in my toolkit now. I’ve got this. And so do you.