From commercials for cough syrup to jokes on late night TV, buzz around the mental load moms carry has reached a fever pitch. Now, a mom has broken down what the "invisible load" of motherhood looks like for her on Reddit's Parenting subreddit, and it's poignant and relatable.
In a powerful post called "The Invisible Load of Motherhood is Killing Me Slowly," the original poster (OP), writing under the handle cmillz87, shared that in addition to facing impending seasonal affective disorder (SAD), she's been "slowly succumbing to the very real invisible load of motherhood."
"I have effectively been battling this giant for almost 12 years, and it has finally caught up with me, now I feel like it’s killing me," cmillz87 explained. "If you are a mom and don’t immediately recognize the expression 'invisible load,' I can guarantee you are more familiar with it than you believe. You know all those things that you do, the things that go unnoticed—but if you stopped doing them would immediately be felt by the entire household? All those intricacies that keep everyone comfortable, aligned, balanced and organized. The things that everyone thinks happen magically and are necessary but after you put that last kid in bed (for the third time) leaves you screaming in a pillow or sobbing uncontrollably in the closet because you are exhausted and overwhelmed."
The OP offered a laundry list of to-dos that contribute to a mom's invisible load:
- Making sure your family is social
- Planning and attending get-togethers
- Knowing your kids’ friend’s names along with the names of their parents
- Remembering to send thank you cards
- Managing the family calendar while avoiding conflicts
- Changing out the seasonal clothing and knowing when and where to donate or pass on to a friend
- Doling out punishments and restrictions
- Changing rules as they age out, figuring out what is appropriate for them to watch or listen to, what apps they can or can not have
She noted that parents of children with any special needs (like her) will prep kids for blood draws and extra doctor appointments, explaining why and how every step of the way.
Moms are also:
- Keeping up with vaccines
- Lysoling all the doorknobs and light switch cover during flu season
- Planning dinner, snacks, and lunches making sure the kids aren’t overindulging in trash food
- Fostering healthy habits
- Knowing who is going to fight you at dinner because they hate carrots
- Asking themselves about their child's grooming schedule
- Coordinating with teachers, making sure no one is falling behind, staying up to date on class goings-on, pick up and drop off logistics, encouraging practices for music, sports, and other extracurriculars
- Overseeing homework
- Assisting with projects
- Picking up supplies for class parties
- Taking mental note of the "cool kid" and the bully at each child's school
- Noting peers who are positive influences
- Managing social media activity and screen time
- Navigating trends
- Worrying about and then explaining the latest and ongoing tragedies of the world
"This, ladies and gentlemen, is the invisible load of motherhood," cmillz87 wrote. "Most people would be tired just reading this list very abridged list. If you are a mom, this is just a day in the life, nothing surprising here. You (mama) also understand this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what you think about daily. Every mom carries it. Its weight can vary day to day but it never lets up. I didn’t even delve into the psychological and emotional needs of a family. Am I disciplining enough? Am I disciplining too little? How much time have I spent with each of my children individually? How do I help my babies cope with anxieties and anger individually? Which of the kids needs extra support right now, who is thriving, who needs an extra push?!"
The OP explained that the invisible load isn't just physical; it's mental, emotional, and exhausting. "Attempting to constantly control, define and interpret all the facets of your family life can affect everything from your friendships, your marriage, your sex life, and ultimately your overall mental well-being," cmillz87 noted, elaborating that she doesn't believe in gender roles, so she does laundry, fixes a leaky toilet, scrubs the toilets, takes the car in for service—all more visible things that moms do to keep their households running smoothly and keep their families safe and healthy.
Given all of the invisible and visible things on a mom's plate, "BURNOUT IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT. This stuff is never-ending," the OP wrote.
"Some days feel like 15 years and some days I am overjoyed with the thought that I have four amazing human beings who never cease to amaze me," she shared.
The OP explained that she's a freelance designer and photographer who works from home, she has a "wonderful and supportive husband who works extra hard to provide for the family," and they have four children: daughters 3, 8, 10 and a son who is almost 12.
She explained, "This is our first year with a child in middle school—a big transition for him but I never expected the transition to hit me as hard as it has. On any given day I am a glorified Uber, short-order cook, referee, maid service, a teacher and psychologist. I’m called to drop off instruments at school when they are left behind and also instill in them a sense of responsibility for their actions. Not to mention tending to your friendships and your family relationships, and your marriage. By the time you get to thinking about yourself—it’s hard to imagine even attempting to do anything for yourself outside of just catching your breath. The juggle is real!"
Because of the invisible load, and her feelings about it, cmillz87 says her friends and family have been left wondering where she's been. Her husband has been scared watching her laugh-cry herself into a frenzy and her closest family has checked in to make sure she hasn't run away from home. "I’m hiding out because I’m feeling empty, literally hanging on by a thread but still pour from what feels like an empty pitcher into every member of your beautiful family," she wrote. "Even the dog and the cat need individual love and attention. Drained but pushing on I am working on finding ways to combat these feelings and thrive in my day-to-day rather than barely survive."
The OP noted that she's not detailing her experience as an "end-all solution." Instead, she wanted to share, because she knows she's not alone.
"It is reassuring just to know that you are not the only one that isn’t in love with being mommy 24/7, who is struggling to make it through her day-to-day or that the people who look like they have everything together fall apart more often than we realize," cmillz87 wrote. "Again I’ll say, some days are better than others; some days I put a good face feeling like I’ve got it, other days I am one book bag on the floor from losing my shit. I am doing my best to improve my feeling overwhelmed by sharing more with my husband about things he can help me with as well as trying to make time alone more of a priority. Time to myself isn’t always possible but when I do have a few minutes, I use them to meditate, read or do yoga. I specifically choose these activities because I know even in short doses they have the biggest mental pay off for me."
She concluded that "the trenches of motherhood are real." "I imagine the struggle doesn’t get easier but just changes as your children get older," cmillz87 noted. "So for me, it’s all about staying vulnerable, introspective, and adjusting my approach to keep the load from crushing me."
The OP's post was met with compassion from other parents who've been there and shared tips and words of wisdom.
One Redditor named 780lyds wrote, "I used to think this stuff was all on me, until I developed severe PPD after our 3rd child a year ago. I stopped functioning, and my husband took over. He made sure we had a Christmas, ordered all the presents, did everything I do. Share the invisible load, and trim the stuff that doesn't matter." A dad, writing under the handle ANeighbor, said he agreed, writing, "What OP is describing should be the invisible load of parenthood, not motherhood. Rebalance with your partner to make it more workable. Is that not a fundamental part of partnership and parenting?"
TakeMyUpvotePlus1 suggested going back to basics, noting, "Reading what I did made me think that you are taking on way too much and need to delegate or just NOT do it."
AhavaZahara shared a "simple truth": "We train people how to treat us—stop training everyone that you'll take care of everything. How? Stop doing everything."
But one Redditor named JadieRose empathized with the OP, stating that it's not that easy to just stop doing all of the things. "You can definitely stop doing SOME of this stuff, but other things simply have to get done. Someone has to remember to make the doctors' appointments, plan meals, etc. And the family probably needs things like family pictures once a while, new clothes, gifts, etc. So SOMEONE has to do these things and the default is so often the woman."
JadieRose said she's made progress in her house by dividing "realms of responsibility" with her husband. "It's helped somewhat," she shared. "But the non-routine tasks so often fall to me, and it's exhausting."
She also theorized that she's picking up the slack with the invisible tasks, because her husband was raised to believe that's just what a wife and mom does. She explained, "When we had our first baby last year, my MIL helpfully sent me an email a few weeks after to let me know that her friends still hadn't gotten a thank you card for a gift they sent (that she knew we got because I'd mentioned it). I just forwarded her email to him and CCed her and said, '[Husband] - I think your mom meant to send this to you.'"
Clearly, antiquated gendered socialization has failed to prepare men to be aware of, anticipate, and step up to handle the household and parenting must-dos that the OP listed. But another piece of the puzzle is both parties' willingness to divide and conquer—and, in many cases, streamline—which is key to maintaining well-being. There's no doubt that given its complexity, the issue of a mother's invisible load requires a multifaceted solution. Here's hoping posts like the OP's, and the conversations that stem from them, will empower more couples to work together to share the invisible and visible tasks of family life.