woman in bath
Kid wrangling, Parenting

Mums: Our superwoman role and the mental workload

Job description

Fixed term management role available for a highly functioning person able to quickly fill the shoes of… well, superwoman. Your hours will vary without notice. But on average you will work 80 hours per week. The job entails many tasks, with lots of variation to keep things interesting. Cooking and cleaning tasks are non-negotiable as is the art of dropping any one of these important tasks at any moment to deal (oh so graciously) with the demands of whichever child is losing their shit.

You will also be required to attend to each child’s ‘happiness’. Provide the right food, not too hot, not too cold, not too spicy, not too bland. The right amount of television time. Enough to entertain them but not enough to turn them into a zombie. The right amount of outside time. Enough to let their inner ‘wild child’ free and make sure your instagram wall looks good, but not enough so your washing duties are elevated any further.

Your duties and tasks must be completed on time. Tardiness will not be accepted, especially by hungry pre-schoolers who expect breakfast five minutes after they wake, morning tea at 8.30am, 11’sies at 10am, lunch at 11.30, and a buffet of whatever the hell they fancy between 12-5pm. Thick skin is compulsory. For example, after cooking a nutritious and yummy dinner, they will at best turn you down, and at worst, your nutritious yummy food will end up on the floor.

Any takers?

I hear that silence. This job is not for everyone.

I know it’s not always like this and there are many beautiful wonderful times with our children where it seems angels have possessed them – BUT, these times are too few and too long in between for some of us. Especially those of us with pre-schoolers.

My working week

I just read an article on some Australian research that showed that women often work an average of 2.5 times the average paid work week. So today, Sunday, after a looooong day on my feet, feeling exhausted after being ‘on’ all day, i decided to add up my weekly hours.

Hours in every week = 168

Hours I usually spend sleeping per week = 54

Hours I get between the last child going to bed and tucking myself in per week = 7

Hours my youngest goes to daycare per week = 26

So, 168 minus 54 minus 26 minus 7 = 81 hours.

There are 81 hours in every week that I’m in the mum role.

I’m ‘switched on’ the whole time. Not only am I responsible for their wellbeing and safety, I also need to be available for them at the drop of a hat during this time. I have literally had to run out of the shower or off the toilet because I thought the small one was killing herself.

Maybe if I had a more laid back temperament I wouldn’t find these long working hours so hard. Maybe. But being a mum is fricken hard. The 25 mins ‘downtime’ I had this morning consisted of running the dog. Which is still actually a household chore that needed doing. She’s high needs and I’m desperately trying to reduce the number of holes she’s digging in her yard. So I ran, and while I enjoyed being out in the fresh air, by myself, I was still ‘switched on’. I spent the entire run going through the things that were happening for the rest of the day… and figuring out all the things that needed to happen for the coming week. I made mental notes and sort of wished i’d taken pen and paper. So no, it wasn’t really ‘downtime’.

The mental workload

The mental workload of mums has also been talked about in social media recently. It’s real. And it’s a huge energy sucker. And here’s the thing. Woman are predominantly responsible for this mental workload. If you find this concept hard to get (ie. if you are a male reading this) then please take 2 minutes to familiarize yourself with Jami’s post on the mental workload.

Before i go any further I’d like to say that I have a very supportive, involved and helpful husband. And beyond the help he provides with the kids and home, he also works full time and has managed to fit in renovating our home. So he does physically as much for our home as I do.

But… and yes, there is a but….

The mental work – the household management is largely up to me. I’m the ‘go-to’ for everything that is going on with the 6 people in our house. I’m constantly switched on while the children are awake. In this pre-school stage, it’s the norm for me to be hyper-vigilent most of the time. And in my ‘down-time’, my precious, blessed 26 hours a week I have ‘free’ – I spend a good portion of it cleaning and cooking so that I can try and be more present for the kids when they finish school. I spend another large chunk chasing my dreams of being a writer. And I try my hardest to spent a chunk doing self-care stuff. For example going for a run, without planning the menu for the week.

I’m not sure how to change this. I’m not even sure I really want to share the household management and ‘mental workload’. Trying to share this role sometimes complicates things even more (unless you have perfect communication with your partner). I think I’d rather advocate for recognition of this invisible role. I enjoy being the project manager of our household. But I don’t enjoy being exhausted at the end of my day and not being understood. When my brain can’t get out the right name for the right child I want to be applauded for keeping them alive and putting food on the table. I deserve respect for this crucial role. Some recognition that I am essentially a fricken superwoman. Even when I don’t want to be, even when my inner feminist tells me to stop donning my cape. I do it anyway.

I am a queen and so are you! Be strong, be brave and know who you are.

Have a beautiful week and try and find some you-time.