There’s no getting away from it: Modern parenting is demanding. Societal expectations are high, and it’s easy to feel the pressure of emulating social media influencers. Apps such as Instagram showcase the lifestyles of the rich and famous, normalizing accessorizing your home for all seasons and dressing in matchy-matchy pajamas for every holiday. All well and good for celebrities with personal assistants to create their picture-perfect world, but for most women, juggling a career alongside family and household commitments means the “mental load” – the countless, and often invisible or downplayed, jobs and lists that are necessary to run a successful home – weighs heavy.
Traditionally, women raised the children while men went to work, but industrial progress and WWI and WWII drew women into the workforce. Over the last 50 years, greater access to higher education has led to women working longer hours in demanding jobs while still taking responsibility for running the home.
Numerous studies show men believe in gender equality when it comes to childcare and housework, yet this doesn’t correlate with their behavior. In most male/female relationships where a couple have children and/or elderly parents, the role of caregiver falls to the mother … and the mental load increases.
Emails and notifications from school or kindergarten ping through at all times of day and night, requiring payment for excursions, charity donations or costumes for performances. Letters from football and music classes build up on the kitchen table; the attached permission slips waiting to be signed and returned. The wall calendar in the hallway shows a packed schedule of birthday parties, ballet recitals and playdates. Fun for your child, but exhausting for you as a parent. Not only are you tasked with ensuring they are in the right place at the right time, but there’s the added pressure of keeping on top of the life admin that accompanies each event. Every party requires a gift, every activity needs the right kit and equipment — which must be a) clean and b) the right size).
One of the buzz-phrases of 2022 was “quiet quitting,” where employees only complete their contracted hours and tasks rather than feeling pressurized into taking on extra tasks and responsibilities beyond their remit. The phenomenon caused a stir, with some people saying working to rule was perfectly acceptable, while others felt it was a selfish approach.
However, with the western world struggling to adjust to post-pandemic life and doctors and therapists overwhelmed by a global rise in mental health conditions, quiet quitting could be viewed as an act of self-care and is, for most, more realistic than leaving the workforce altogether.
But what about quiet quitting in the home? For mothers, it might not seem like an option. The fear of judgement from peers and professionals looms large, and there may also be expectations from children and spouses about how the home is run. This leads to a sense of guilt when deviating from routines — and with more than 96% of women feeling guilt at least once a day, it’s no surprise that mothers who take responsibility for household chores push to carry out these tasks to avoid that unpleasant sensation. Mothers are aware that chores such as vacuuming, dusting and laundry being carried out (or not) affects everybody in the home, and the desire to nurture and care adds to the mental load.
However, there are an increasing number of women who are simplifying their home life by refusing to bow down to expectations. We asked a handful of moms to share their best tips for lightening the load.
Cassie, a 38-year-old mom, dropped ironing from her schedule. “I realized it was a patriarchal scam and ironing school uniforms was time consuming,” she said. “I figure I can spend the time I save doing things which give me far more joy.”
Kathryn talks of quiet quitting her daughter’s swimming lessons because the heat, expense, and lack of progress her daughter made was causing stress, and Sarah made a conscious choice to let her children take ownership of who they invited to birthday parties rather than inviting people through a sense of obligation. “It saved me a fortune on parties and meant I avoided the playground disagreements I saw far too often in other parents.”
Ragi, a busy working mum, chose to donate store-bought cakes to the school fundraiser rather than adding home baking to her already-hectic schedule. Small lifestyle changes, to be sure, but all played their part in reducing the strain of the mental load for these busy mothers.
Quiet quitting in the home doesn’t mean totally checking out. Some aspects of home life can’t be pared back, which is why it’s important to step back, reassess priorities, and dial back the things we can. Which jobs on your list are a necessity and which can be dropped? Is there a partner available to take responsibility for the tasks that are bogging you down? Can you delegate a few things to your kids as household chores? Know the difference between “should” and “must” — and unapologetically cut out the “shoulds” that are causing stress.
In short, be proactive when tackling the mental load. It can have a startlingly positive impact on your home life, relationships, and mental health. Because life is too short to pair socks.
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