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.

Why I Write

It’s funny how you can look back on a past event in your life and realize its impact years later. When I was pregnant with my 3rd child and married to my current husband, I had a random day at work where it all hit me. I finally understood what led me to marry a man I knew wasn’t right for me when I was only 23 years old.

When I was in college, I did my last semester abroad on a ship that sailed us around the world while we took classes in between visiting other countries. But two weeks into our trip, we had what is affectionately known to our shipboard community as Wave Day, where we were left (temporarily) stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This near-death experience left me both fearless for my future (I never get nervous on a plane because I figure you probably only have one major brush with disaster, and mine has already happened) but also totally afraid of being alone.

The shipboard library post-storm

I always thought my life was supposed to follow “the plan” and I needed to get a job, get married, and have kids. Wave Day created a fear in me that made me need to achieve all of those goals NOW. I was so afraid I’d end up alone if I didn’t end up with Jeff, my boyfriend at the time.

I started that trip in love with a man I never saw a future with, just a college boyfriend that I’d say goodbye to when the time came. And then, my brain did a complete one-eighty after Wave Day. I found a way to focus on all the good in this man, even though there were plenty of red flags that should have told a very smart twenty-two-year-old to slow down and take a more objective look at the situation. Was this really the man for me? 

And at the end of the day, I decided that two things mattered to me above all else—he made me laugh, and I knew he’d be a great dad one day. The rest, we’d work our way through.

Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out that way, and a happy ending wasn’t in the cards for us. With two little kids at home, ages one and three, I was all alone and couldn’t find any books on the market for how to be a single mom to toddlers or how to explain to someone so small that dad wasn’t coming home. 

By Ryan’s 1st birthday, it was just the three of us.

I was incredibly judgmental about divorce prior to going through my own experience, and even now. It’s hard when our lives are so private, and people only see what we want to show on social media. It’s hard not to judge. I’ve led a divorce support group twice, and I still find myself wondering why things ended. But I also learned that (almost) every story is really painful and justified. The simple reminder to be kind to others floats through my mind. You never know what someone else is going through—despite was social media says.

And so, I started writing. What started out as a helpful tool for single moms evolved to a memoir of the crazy things I went through, the lessons learned along the way, and how I got to the place I am today—very happily remarried to an angel of a man and one more baby.

Life isn’t perfect, but that tiny human is. And I’m so grateful for every experience I had over the last ten years.

I learned that there’s no such thing as a happy ending. But it’s important to remain optimistic and hold on to hope when things look bleak and scary. That, somehow down the line, you’re going to come out of this blackhole, and life is going to feel good again. 

One day, you’ll wake up and realize you haven’t cried for a whole week. Then, a whole month. You’ll realize that you have the energy to devote to more than just your emotions. That you can be a good parent, a good friend, and a good daughter again. And life will feel good. It won’t be perfect, and there’s no promise that heartbreak won’t come again. But when the moment is good, live in it. 

4th of July watching fireworks in the back of Josh’s truck, our first summer dating

I like to think I’m healed from the trauma of my first marriage, but then a song will come on when I’m alone in my car, and I’ll find myself in tears. It feels like a way to keep healing and learning from my past. It reminds me how strong I am and what an incredibly blessed life I’ve been given.

I hope that if you can see yourself within my journey that it helps you realize you aren’t alone. So many go through what I went through, and while our situations may not be the same—the story, the feeling, the pain—I find that we all generally go through the same stuff. And it helps to know you aren’t alone.

Excerpt taken and modified from my book, The Other Side of the Door

An Introduction

This is the second time I’ve started a blog to share with others. The first time was almost exactly five years ago. I was coming up on my first anniversary post-divorce, and I’d done a lot of healing and soul searching over that last year. My life was completely upside-down, and I’d recently come to the conclusion that I needed to move to a townhome since child support wasn’t coming in, and I was barely breaking even each month.

Then the next day, my ex-husband died. He was 36 years old and had fallen into a dark spiral of drinking. His BAC was nearly 0.4 at the time of his death (0.08 is the legal limit for driving).

Needless to say, that blog never took off, as I got sidetracked with the business of death and figuring out this new life for me and our kids.

But I continued to write. At the time of his death, our daughter Peyton had just turned 5 and Ryan was 2. Jeff hadn’t seen either of them for over six months before his passing, so while the permanence of our situation was tough, the missing him wasn’t as awful.

We had a lot of love and support over those next few weeks, but mostly, I just felt relief. And guilt for feeling relief. But suddenly here I was — no longer wondering what our future looked like and if Jeff was a part of it. No fears about him being in and out of their lives for the next twenty years constantly letting them down. Now he was just gone. A memory. And I could help shape how they felt about that. I could give them good memories and let that be what they knew. And there was financial stability again. Children qualify for social security benefits when a parent dies, and suddenly I was getting double what his child support was supposed to be. We never had to move.

Several months later, I went on my last first date. Josh and I met on eHarmony, and we stayed at dinner talking for over two hours that first night. I never do dinner as a first date, but for some reason I said yes to this one. I came home unsure of our chemistry, but I knew I’d just had a great time, and he didn’t once ask me about being a single parent or anything about my ex.

Fast forward about 2 years later, and we got married at my church, a place that provided so much grace and solace to me during my divorce, and then we had a beautiful reception with friends and family at a farm house nearby.

I’m sure he would have been perfectly fine living in my house, but I wanted us to really start fresh together, so we built a new home in a neighborhood nearby. It was more than I’d ever dreamed, but the neighborhood and all of its family-friendly activities and amenities were too much to pass up. It was the suburban dream I wanted for them–running and playing in the road with kids all around them.

We became a family of five another year later, when Caleb was born, cementing us forever. While I was on my maternity leave with him, I decided that it was now or never if I wanted to finally write a book, liked I’d planned after my struggles finding my way through a spouses’s alcoholism and then as a single mom with toddlers.

So through every nap and with the help of grandparents, I spent a lot of time in front of my laptop turning my journal entries into a full story to help others like me. The week before leave ended, I wrapped up my first draft and sent it out to 2 people – my friend who walked through it ALL with me and one who walked through a similar situation but had never met me. I needed to know if the story was valuable, engaging, and worthwhile.

By the end of December, I was ready to hit Publish. I had to really live a life without fear or shame if I was going to put this out into the world. As with most of what we share with the Internet, it’s hardest to be that vulnerable with those we know and love, especially since not even those closest to me knew the details of my relationship with Jeff and everything we went through up until his death.

But if my goal was to get my book in the hands of women who needed it, then I needed to go big and do this right. So I started an Instagram account and started trying to build followers there to introduce them to my work. And after six months, I am ready to take this next step and keep the writing going.

Thanks for entering this phase with me and being along for the ride. At the bottom of the homepage, you can enter your email to get alerts when a new blog post hits. And if you haven’t read my book or know someone who could benefit from it, it’s available on Amazon.

Talk soon. xo.

Why I’m Here

I have learned A TON this year as I’ve gotten more into Instagram than I ever dreamed possible. I like social media, but I’ve never really been a slave to it. Until I became a ‘public figure’ account and I wanted to show up every. single. day. to build my followers and attract new readers for my book. I did all this work to publish it on my own, and I work in marketing: I should be able to get people to read by book. And I did for a while. My launch was successful and I sold or gave away way more copies than I ever thought possible. But now they’ve really slowed. And I realized I’ve been publishing all this great micro-content on Instagram, but it gets buried and my views per post can range from about 50-60 on average all the way up to 5 or 6 thousand on a really strong hashtag usage.

So I thought the website and blog would make a nice addition. And in order to hold myself accountable, I wanted to set a few goals for it:

  • I will post at least once per week.
  • I will figure out how to set up a mailing list.
  • I will create additional content for the site.
  • And at the end of 2020, if I have achieved these goals, I will continue to invest in growing my brand as a business, both with trainings and investments in book #2.

So, let’s go!

Hi. I’m Ashley.

I decided Instagram wasn’t enough. The curated photos, the planning of each hashtag, the filtering of my thoughts down to just a few words. I needed more. I am a writer after all.

Through high school, I loved to write. Mostly poetry, but I always had dreams of writing songs, poems, magazine articles, and more. I’m not sure I ever dreamed I’d write a book, and when I decided to do just that, I had no idea where to begin.

But with the power of the internet and some very wonderful strangers I met through Facebook groups, I clawed my way through the self-publishing arena last year and wrote a memoir. Deeply personal and raw, but it was something that needed to be in the world.

I began writing regularly 6 years ago, when I discovered that my husband was drinking to start his mornings and finally faced facts that he was an alcoholic. We officially separated just weeks later and my world was upside-down. My oldest was 3 and my youngest was just about to turn one. There wasn’t a single book I could find to tell me what to do and how to parent on my own when my kids are that small.

Did no one else get divorced with toddlers at home?

I knew pretty quickly I never wanted someone else to feel that way, so I decided to share my story with the world, hoping it can inspire and help moms who are just like me.