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"I was done with accepting the default position of ‘busy mum’. So I made a new system."

Now more than ever, many of us are suffering from an acute case of mental overload.

The ‘mental load’ is a term coined by French cartoonist Emma, who pinpointed the burden that sits on the shoulders of many women, particularly mothers.

The load reflects the default position that primary carers face in being responsible for managing household duties and logistics that are ‘unpaid’.

What’s the sexiest thing in the world? Sharing the mental load, of course. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

You probably know how it feels to be frantically coordinating the lives of the people you adore more than anything in the world. Buying food, cooking meals, cleaning, washing, paying bills on time, drop-offs, pickups – it never ends.

The physical act of carrying out ‘the list’ is one aspect of the struggle, but the true burden lies in the perpetual emotional weight of always having to think about it.

When I first discovered a name for all this, I felt vindicated. But nothing changed until I took action. So because I’m a facilitator, this is what I did.

First, I brain dumped my mental load list into four key areas:

  1. Food sourcing and preparation
  2. Washing and cleaning
  3. Home administration
  4. Transport and logistics

Next, I classified each mental load item as ‘non-negotiable’ or ‘nice-to-have’. This was really important as I could clearly see where I was pushing myself when this wasn’t necessary.

For example, did I need to bake the fresh banana bread for the school lunchboxes? Um, no, the children can have a banana from the fruit bowl or cook it themselves.

With this new perspective I was able to make one of three choices for each item, starting first with the non-negotiables and then the nice-to-haves:

  1. Redistribute – give it to someone else.
  2. Re-frame – change the standards.
  3. Drop it – stop doing it all together.

The process was so empowering and allowed me to have ‘the conversation’ with my husband to create awareness, instead of me unloading my usual whinge-fest.

It enabled a healthy discussion where we were able to redistribute, re-frame and drop many of the unnecessary things in our life. For example, one of the non-negotiable and most stressful items on my list was cooking dinner.

It wasn’t the act of cooking that I found hard, rather deciding what to cook, sourcing ingredients and finding the time to cook whilst meeting work deadlines and driving the children to after-school activities.

family
Andrea and her family. Image: Supplied.
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Now, I have successfully re-distributed some of this to my husband who on a Sunday prepares at least one bulk meal that will last anywhere from two to three nights.

He doesn’t even ask me what he should cook as he now understands that the decision making is a big part of the mental load. It's been a game-changer.

This process has been the catalyst for a simplification of our overall lives, where we are consciously trying to remove the stress points. It's a constant work-in-progress, but it feels like there has been a shift and the sense of hopelessness and exhaustion that I carried for so many years is easing.

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, Mamamia's podcast with what women are talking about this week. Post continues below.

If I could write a letter to my younger self, it would be to not default to the stereotypical role that society conditioned me for. As a woman and primary carer, I defaulted to “the juggle” without even realising what I was setting myself up for.

My husband became the traditional breadwinner and I assumed control of everything else in our lives, even though I was also working. In reality, we should have been sharing this from the start.

Am I still juggling? Do I drop the balls some days? Yes, on both counts. But I’m not doing it alone anymore, and somehow that makes all the difference.

Andrea is co-founder of ZIPWIRE, an innovative business focused on fast-tracking gender balance in Australian workplaces. She has over 20 years’ experience in education, facilitation and writing. She is Mum to a tween, a teen and a rambunctious fur-baby called Banjo.

Feature image: Supplied.

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