The world over, families celebrate Mother’s Day as a way of thanking moms for all that they do. Typically, fathers get up early with the kids, bring mom breakfast in bed, and find other ways to make her day restful and happy. But it is important to go beyond these merely celebratory gestures and really look at how to make life easier for moms on a daily basis, more now than ever before as she grapples with the added stresses of having to manage the household and her work while dealing with the threat of COVID-19 and looming uncertainty.
The lockdown has been especially hard on mothers, with the extra food prep, mountains of laundry, ensuring that home is sanitised, children are kept engaged and sanity is maintained. The recent weeks have been demanding, difficult, frustrating and overwhelming. Moms are now having to take on more of the emotional and domestic workload than ever before. For mothers working from home, the challenge is even greater with frequent interruptions from kids and no let up on the home front.
As Mother’s Day rolls by, instead of expensive gifts, how about spending some time actually trying to understand and acknowledge the mental load that moms carry daily? Women are the primary earners in 40% of households today. Yet mothers end up doing two to four times the cooking, cleaning and childcare. Although men have nearly tripled the amount of time they spent on child-care since the 1960s and the number of men who are stay-at-home fathers has doubled in the past 20 years, there still persists what has been called the “invisible work” of maintaining a home and parenting.
This means that the work of being the “Knower of All the Things” somehow almost always falls on mom’s shoulders. Moms are responsible for knowing who needs to be where, on what day and at what time; what size clothing their children are currently wearing; and what’s on hand for dinner and what needs to be bought. Mom is the one who holds all of the behind-the-scenes knowledge about all of the many things involved in raising kids. The one who plans, notices, anticipates, researches and worries. The mental load that comes with this work has grown exponentially in recent weeks. And on being unable to cope, moms begin to berate themselves, push harder to do better and ultimately reach a breaking point.
Add to this the fact that moms hardly get half an hour each day to themselves. A recent study found that fathers engaged in relaxing and leisure activities 47% of the time that mothers were taking care of the kids, while mothers relaxed only 16% of the time when fathers were taking care of the kids. Moms are homeschooling when working, preparing lunch when working, policing screen time while working and dealing with the waves of guilt, self-doubt and resignation that comes with not doing any of those things perfectly. It is no surprise then that mothers report that they are “way more tired” than fathers. Most moms get less than 17 minutes of “me time” each day. Additionally, moms have the tendency of putting away self-care for later. According to one study, 78% of moms shared that they put off taking care of their own health because they were too busy looking after their loved ones. Clearly, a mother’s time is rarely her own.
So, the best gift that you can possibly give a mother is not just to help around the house but to also try and share some of the mental workload – however, this will not happen overnight. It is a slow process of making everyone aware of exactly what goes into ensuring that each day runs smoothly. Sharing mental workload is not just about assigning daily chores. It is about getting the entire family to take on larger responsibilities and see to tasks end to end. Done consistently, this will mean that moms get some time off each day to themselves – to take care of their own emotional and physical needs.
We need to attend to the well-being of moms if we want children to do well, and also for their own sakes. Mothers often forget that self-care is a necessity and not an indulgence. It is imperative that moms are able to set aside quiet and uninterrupted time for self-care. Modelling healthy self-care can be helpful for children to witness and internalise. This is when they learn that taking care of oneself matters just as much as taking care of the family.