Bearing the (Shame of the) Mental Load

This idea that mothers bear the ‘mental load’ of the home has been floating around the Interwebs lately. (See here.) Basically, the thought is that even if the father in a household contributes a fair share of house maintenance, the mother is the one with the constant to-do lists swirling in her head. She is weighed down on a daily basis with all the stuff that needs to get done, should be done, or could get done.

Over the weekend I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this phenomenon, as the Stomach Bug of 2017 is upon us. I’ve cleaned up the vomit of three different toddlers in the span of 3 days, and as you might imagine washing that much linen gives you quite a bit of time to think.

If the CDC offered their version of a police sticker badge for kids, I’d be eligible. For three days my mind has been utterly preoccupied with the prevention and control of the spread of infections. In between cleaning up bodily fluids from both ends, my mind has been buzzing: buy grape juice and hand sanitizer, call the pediatrician to ask if toddlers can have ginger candy, swap the towels from the washer to the dryer, cancel the nanny today. I’ve been vigilant that no one shares cups or even looks at another’s plate. I’m spraying disinfectant like it’s pixie dust. I am ON IT.

So you can imagine how horrified I was to find my husband changing a particularly nasty diaper from our bare-bottomed daughter right on our comforter. And I let him know about it.

“What are you thinking!? Why didn’t you change her on our changing pad!? Do you want us to get sick, too!? Listen. I’m not mad at you, but I am saying that was a stupid decision.” (Victoria is a joy and a delight to have in class.) I quickly was ashamed at how worked up I had gotten, and we reconciled.

You guys, I promise I didn’t use to be this spastic, anxious, or tightly-wound. I think increased anxiety must be thrown in that free basket of goodies you get when you leave the hospital. And if you’re a mom, maybe your experience is the same as mine. The struggle is real.

But I think there’s another layer to this problem. Moms do bear the mental load and the shame associated with it. We cast so much pressure on mothers as the sole protectors, providers, and nurturers of the next generation. And, boy, if you get it wrong you’ll hear about it.

We’ll judge you for birthing unmedicated, birthing medicated, breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, circumcising, staying intact, co-sleeping, crib sleeping, sleep training, early solids, baby-led weaning, vaccinating, not vaccinating extended rear-facing, early forward-facing, eating organic, eating whatever, preschooling, unschooling—are you exhausted yet?????

Judgy McJudgerton in the house.

If you have examples of males shaming each other to this degree, please let me know! I’d be curious. But I can tell you that I’ve never felt more under the microscope than when I became a mother. Ben can’t believe some of the comments I’ve received from other moms. And to be honest, I can’t believe what I’ve said or thought about other moms, myself.

Babies are precious, children will inherit our present choices. The logic must go, “By taking X-action, how could you possibly screw up our future so badly!?” Why does it turn so ugly? Don’t you think a mother’s pressure to be the ONE person who has to get it right ALL of the time is a little unfounded?

Numerous voices have chimed in on how we can end the Mommy Wars, I’m not here to be one of them. But what I do want to do is offer a way moms can escape from the mental load and shame we unnecessarily bear.

Say it with me:


That’s it. You are not God. Even the most vigilant, video-monitor spying, Owlet-using mother has to close her eyes to rest at some point. And at the exact moment her eyes flutter closed, she admits that she is incapable of 100% sustaining her children 100% of the time.

As the Psalmist wrote:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
 It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.
(Psalm 127:1-2)

No matter your standard of childcare, even YOU don’t perfectly meet your own standards all of the time. It’s impossible because only God is perfectly consistent all of the time.

Pull an Elsa and let it go, people.

Do hear me out. I don’t write this post from a high horse. Nope. I’m more sitting on a donkey muddling through just like you. I’m trying to do what’s best for my family, and worship the Lord as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. I have failed to keep my own standards – or, more accurately, my ideals. I have judged others. And I am learning to confess, repent, and fling myself on to Christ as the only person who has ever kept a perfect record, and who gives that record to me.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

So, fellow moms, let’s get out from under that mental load. Let’s cast off that bag of shame. Let’s put our faith in confidence not in how we choose to raise our families, but in God who gave our families’ to us for raising. In the primary things, raise them as Scripture teaches. In the secondary things, raise them as you see best. And in all things, know that God will sum up everything in Jesus Christ.

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