Controlling it all and the mental load

Jeff always said we lived in “Ashley’s World” and that I controlled everything.

He was right—I did. I understood why he felt that way and why it triggered so much anger. He continually let me down any time I gave him any wiggle room, and I never felt like I could relax. I had to be in control. It was seven really long years of always being on my toes—always ready to clean up his mess or try to keep his “good drunk” personality around. 

Trying to set rules around drinking is a recipe for disaster for someone who is an alcoholic. Back then I still hadn’t admitted that’s what he was. He was just the guy who embarrassed me at parties.

Living in that world for so long has definitely left some scars on how I live my life today though and how I interact with my husband now. I’m still very Type A and driven and stubborn in a way that makes me want to be in-the-know of everything happening. But I look to Josh to just own things. I don’t want to find the tax guy. I don’t want to worry about paying our mortgage or the water bill. I don’t want to have to take my car to get new tires. 

A lot of those things still I do. But it’s the idea that I can trust him to take them on for me. I trust him and want him to take things off my plate. With Jeff, I could never let something come off my plate because I couldn’t trust that he would follow through as I needed him to. He’d likely never do it or do it 3 weeks too late. It just never worked.

When I think about the mental load that women naturally take on in families, it makes my head hurt. I still take on way too much. I was telling Josh about it the other day. His license expired during COVID and when the DMV opened up for appointments, I had to ask him for 2 weeks to make the appointment. Why? If it wasn’t a priority for him, why can’t I get it off my mind? But it was just one example of something that filled my mind unnecessarily. Same with a doctor’s appointment he was overdue for… it took over 3 months to get him to finally make the appointment. It was causing my all of this extra stress because I worry about his health more than I probably should. This is just a leftover scar from losing Jeff at 36. Even though we were no longer together when it happened, I still felt responsible for his health.

Mental load is something that I don’t think most men understand in a way that women can. And with COVID, motherhood and mental load has amplified greatly. I can’t speak for other households where both parents are working from home, but I suspect the bulk of school work is still falling on the moms. For me, I’m the only one working from home. I have a babysitter here 20 hours a week for the summer, but school is still largely on me. Can they log in? Which programs are they supposed to be using? Why are there so many programs? WHY can’t they just use paper and pen?! As we wrapped up the end of the school year, they had to use my laptop to do the Google Hangouts with their teachers since our desktop we got them is super basic and didn’t have a webcam, and it was stressful always switching over the gmail account to theirs or making sure they were on time for meetings—especially because at that time, I had no child care AND was trying to work and watch the baby all day too. 

It was simply too much. Our school offered paper copies for a lot of the content being offered online. You could go pick it up at school once a week, and I always did. It was just one thing I could take off my plate and visually see how the assignment went. I could put out 2 worksheets in the morning and tell them to complete them before they went out to play. No supervising by me. And when they had questions, I had something tangible to look out. Much easier for my mental load. 

Now we’re in summer school, a chance for the kids to not slide too far behind and also practice for the fall if virtual learning is going to be a thing. This time, I’ve set each of them up with a tablet and downloaded the apps they need for class. My first grader can’t totally do it on his own, but he’s close. And they both need reminders to log in for their small group time. But we’re getting there. It’s taken a lot of work, and it’s not over (ever), but I think I’ve hit my stride. 

But I know there are twice as many moms out there who haven’t hit their stride. Whether they’re single or not, this is all just A LOT. And my heart aches for the families who can’t afford to give their kids a tablet to do virtual schooling and can’t sit and make sure the kids are completing their assignments. The ones who are back at work without care for their kids. The ones so desperately relying on the county to keep providing lunches for their children. I don’t have the answers. This is new for everyone. I’m just scared what it means for our kids, our families, and women in the workplace.

Mental load. It never rests.

Published by Ashley Adams

Author, former single mom, lover of Cherry Coke Zero and Taylor Swift. Here to coach and support and love on women in challenging relationships.

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