A mother’s brain is constantly juggling multiple things.
Mothers are consummate multitaskers. We cook dinner while listening to homework. We plan dinner while we are driving. We fold the washing while we run the bath. We attend meetings with one eye on the clock, and always know exactly how long it is until school pickup time.
We walk around with an exhaustive list of everybody else’s needs. Speech lessons? Filed away in the mental to-do list. More fish in the diet? Filed away. Someone needs a haircut. Filed. Library book tomorrow? Filed. Our brains are full. Very full. On-the-verge-of-crazy full.
A mother is like a triage nurse. Constantly assessing what needs the most attention. A role which mum doesn’t really want, and is slowly exhausting her. It means Mum runs out of time for some of the things she really wants to do. And it means she runs out of enthusiasm for things she really wants to do, but just gives up on. It means Mum gets stressed. And tired. And sometimes a bit snappy.
How many times have you forgotten to pick up the kids? Not often, I will bet. Our brains just don’t let us forget important things like that.
I don’t forget things. But I forgot the important stuff once. We had a hugely stressful month. Everything went wrong. Sickness, money, infertility were all going off track at the same time. To top it off, at the end of the month I had committed to catering Christmas for extended family of 30 people. Which we got through. Then a week later we moved house. A big job, but we got through that too. We had to stay a few nights in a hotel in between houses, and had valuables stolen from in between. Lost computers, photos, precious things. Then we moved in to the new house, unpacked in a hurry. It was summer, so we then went away for the annual beach break, so I packed and got us sorted for that too. Handled it, got us there in one piece. Collapsed, tired and relieved.
The next day, at around 5pm, my husband asked me if I was forgetting something. It was his birthday. 20 people had messaged him, and it hadn’t crossed my mind.
I felt terrible. But only for a short while. Because then I was more fascinated by the fact I had forgotten. How did my brain do that? Tired, stressed, too busy, too much, on edge. All of it. All at once. I gave myself some slack, and so did he. I made a resolution that day. Not a resolution to never forget a birthday again. But a resolution to never let myself get into that sort of state again, the state where I would forget things.
The trouble is we don’t realise it is getting too much, until its too late. It’s the proverbial frog in hot water. It is said that if you were to put a frog into boiling hot water, it would jump out immediately. If you were to put it in tepid water, which you slowly heated up, it would stay there and eventually perish. We don’t react to threats that have been building gradually.
If you did a life-swap, like on TV, and arrived in a busy mother’s life directly from a simpler one, the response would be immediate. And adamant. “No way! Not for me! this job is insane”. It happens more gradually than that, a thousand things slowly get added to the pile without you really noticing.
You only have so much mental capacity. Yet if your mind is full to the brim with detail of everybody’s life, it is hard to find space. There is simply no more room.
Some of us are wired that we don’t remember all the details. Some can’t remember when mufti day is, or that the library book is due back at school. The desire is there, but not the execution. This is a different sort of stress, a stress that comes from struggling to get on top of things. Always feeling like you are behind. We beat ourselves up, and look at other mothers thinking they have it all together, “why can’t I?”
However being organised, having task clarity, and staying on multiple tracks at the same time, are all learnable skills. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, you can learn how.
For some of you it does come naturally. You are so organised, that it is what everybody expects of you. You are the proverbial frog in boiling water, more tasks and responsibilities and expectations have been adding heat to your life, for years. In a way, you are a victim of your own aptitude. If you’re reading this blog, there is a good chance this is you.
You are probably tired from always being ‘on’. Mentally full. On the edge of overwhelm. Busy. And beating yourself up when you drop one the random juggle balls.
It is bad for you to always feel too busy. It is unhelpful to be full to the brim, and feeling like you have no more space for anything. It is bad for your health. Bad for your relationships. Bad for your sense of satisfaction with your life. It is bad for your productivity.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Can you have a full and productive life, and not feel so busy and stressed?
Can you have an organised home and not always be chained to domestic duties?
Can you lose yourself in big work projects and not have one eye on the clock?
Can you reduce your mental load, your remembering, and still have a happy, productive family?
Can you stop beating yourself up, can you drop the guilt around your parenting?
Yes, yes, yes you can.