Heavy is the burden of the mental load

Alex Molton feels weighed down by the mental load of family life as she considers whether we should just let the family sort themselves out.

Women with sticky notes all over her head with different tasks written on them.


With Easter now done, here we suddenly are halfway through the school year. Whilst there are lots of school events to look forward to in this last big term and the improved weather means more social plans, it’s all turning out to be the cause of a severe case of mental overload.

Son#1 is on countdown to his RE GCSE, which takes place in a couple of weeks. He did revise a bit over the Easter holidays and has been assiduously attending after-school revision sessions so, to his credit, he is being pretty organised and self-motivated. He’s still a bit grumpy about having to take exams in a subject he’s got no interest in, but accepts that, as he has to do it, he might as well try and get the best grade he can.

However, the deadline is also looming for confirming his plan for work experience, which he wants to try and do this term too. Despite my own questionable experience (I ‘worked’ at a marketing company for a week, but spent my time buying lunches, photocopying and, for some reason, getting keys cut) I do think it’s a good idea and can give young people some idea of what it is actually like going to work every day. But it seems it is frustratingly hard to find somewhere to go for only one week, in a sector you are even vaguely interested in, even if you are a smart, personable, perfectly charming young person. A friend’s son has contacted several local companies in our small town and none have even bothered to write back. That’s a depressing insight into the world of work.


Added to this, May and June are the birthday months for us, with both boys and several of their friends celebrating birthdays within a few weeks. As the kids are getting older, it is increasingly tricky to find a gift that they actually want, which they will actually use and which isn’t the price of a mortgage payment. Son#2 recently said he wants to learn the electric guitar and join his friend’s band, so whilst my daughter was at football training this week I dashed across town (as much as you can in rush-hour traffic) to collect a second hand (but perfect) 3/4 size guitar. We already have an amp, so that’s one thing off the list. He wants to host a dungeons and dragons session with his mates on his birthday so hopefully that’s pretty straightforward.

Son#2 can’t seem to make his mind up about how to celebrate his birthday: maybe go camping with mates; maybe have a sleepover at home; maybe get the bus to our local city and ‘hang around’ the shopping centre. He seems to want to start collecting Warhammer figures (yes, it’s still a thing, apparently!) so I guess we will get something like that for him. I’m not convinced he will stick with it long term, but at least it’s time away from a screen, so that can only be a good thing.

Son#2’s parents evening is coming up next week, plus my daughter’s class assembly, and I’ve been organising a collection for a friend’s birthday gift, which also falls next week. And, of course, floors need hoovering, toilets need a scrub and football kits need washing; housework is the ultimate relentless task.


Then we have our holiday in Europe planned for the May half-term break. Mostly, it’s organised but we still need to get the car checked, make sure the dog is all set for his own holiday at the MiL’s and make sure we have the required clothes/suncream/entertainment for the long drive. I have a feeling I might be picking up that job too.

As with many of my friends’ partners, OH seems to be completely oblivious to the mad swimming going on under the surface, as we glide through the weeks, seamlessly booking appointments, buying presents, planning birthdays and attending school events. ‘I’ve given up trying to keep up with it all,’ OH said to me guilelessly yesterday. Yep, I get that. However, at least one adult needs to have some idea of what’s going on.

The mental load

Looking at friends and their families, the mental load for the family almost always seems to be carried by the mum. A few friends even joke about how little their partners are involved with planning any family events and have no idea what’s coming up (I put everything into a shared family calendar so no-one can complain they didn’t know what’s going on).

But is it fair that we are tasked with remembering everyone’s deadlines, appointments, friends’ birthdays and plans, on top of our own stuff and our actual jobs? Not at all, but I think many of us find it hard to relinquish responsibility for fear that others might forget something important or a deadline isn’t met. And society expects us to manage it, in addition to performing in the workplace and being an active citizen in our communities. Perhaps we need to learn to let go a bit more and let the rest of the family step up to take a share of the pie, even if it means that something falls off the list. What’s the worst that can happen? And, realistically, one day they will have to sort themselves out; they might as well get started!

Comments [1]

  • Jane says:

    If you start making a big deal of birthdays you are setting yourself up for a life time of pain. A cake with the family and a gift, that’s all. And by the time the children are in their teens they’ve instinctively learned the monetary ceiling for any gift and make their request accordingly.
    If you feel overloaded then definitely just ask for help. But getting people to a few exams and packing for a holiday will likely not take up too much brain space.
    In a family of five, the cake should be divided five ways and nobody needs feel bad about taking their own 1/5th, including mum. I was fortunate because my natural laziness always stopped me taking on too much. You’ll be surprised at how little your family cares about the things you say that nebulous entity Society expects. Just give each child your full attention whenever they talk to you, offer your opinion, listen to theirs and then leave the actioning up to them. That’s my advice for today!

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