IMAGINE a traditional two-sided balance, with nice brass finishing, chains supporting the dishes on either side, and a selection of weights to calibrate. This balance represents our experience of motherhood – the constant desire to “get the balance right,” to feel in control and on top of things.
It’s a fine art, finding that point of equilibrium with so many moving parts, a balance that many of us feel we often fail to find.
Now imagine that one of the dishes contains the load, the load of motherhood. This is made up of all the elements we carry in daily life, related to becoming or being a mother. These are in addition to the pressures and responsibilities of daily life in and of itself, although they typically become intricately intertwined with one another.
The mother load is individual and multi-faceted in its composition, but probably includes at least some of the following examples that might resonate:
Firstly, there’s the physical toll of motherhood; the lack of sleep, the post-partum effects on the body, the lack of exercise, the lightning quick showers if you’re lucky, the meals on the go, the wear and tear from lifting little ones.
Physically, becoming a mother changes you forever (no such thing as completely “bouncing back”) and from that point on your physical needs tend to come after those of your kids when it comes to priorities.
Motherhood brings with it of course the unconditional love, the indescribable highs, the moments of joy and wonder. But it also comes with an emotional load, probably from even before you hold your baby in your arms.
This emotional load includes the overwhelm, the worry, the anxiety, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the stress, the self-doubt, the comparison.
Each of these present to varying degrees, and can be further complicated by perinatal mental health issues. We carry them through our motherhood experience, and navigate them as best we can through the fog.
The final and possibly most impactful part of the mother load is the mental load. Think of the vaccines, the check-ups, the clothes, the meals, the classes, the school runs, the play dates, the birthdays, the household upkeep.
The list is endless, constantly renewing and extending. The tasks themselves incur a load in terms of completing them, but it goes beyond that; it’s the additional load of remembering them, juggling them, delegating them. The pressure of being PA to more than just yourself. It’s the things you think of at 3am in the morning, that escape your memory when day breaks, and leave you with that uncomfortable feeling that something is being left undone or forgotten, that your child may suffer as a result of your omission.
In order to balance out the physical, emotional and mental load of motherhood, we need to look at the other side of this brass scales and what is best to increase your limit. Everything that expands what you can cope with adds to the weight on this side, and your ability to keep the load of motherhood balanced, in the air, raised up from the ground.
The biggest impact you can make to the limit side of the balance is support. Physical, emotional and mental support, provided by you to you, or by those around you. This includes physically, ensuring the basics such as nutrition, doctor appointments or exercise aren’t falling off the to do list.
Emotionally, it means reaching out to your partner or a family member or friend to discuss, normalise and process your experience. Mentally, accepting any help with motherhood admin that gets offered, but verbalising and asking for additional supports in cases where others simply are not aware of what you’re currently juggling.
If you don’t say it, most likely others don’t realise.
Time is a healer and space gives a breather. Ironic, considering that when the load feels at its heaviest, they’re the two things you feel you simply cannot achieve. But finding pockets of these in your day as much as you can will see your limit increase.
You can shift your perspective of the load you’re carrying by making your day about more than just the to do list and the pressures.
Make time for what you enjoy, and create space for reflection and simply not-doing. And do so unapologetically, with that image of the balance in your head.
Think about what your load is currently as a mother. What is contributing to supporting your limit?
Has the scales currently been tipped for or against it? In an ideal world the limit side should be winning out in terms of weight. That means that there is capacity for the curveballs that might get thrown.
Having the load and limit completely balanced leaves it open to just one final straw being the difference between feeling like you’re coping, and caving to the pressures. Finding your own unique balance is a series of small actions that accumulate, and provide that capacity for the mother load.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company.
Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally.