Catherine Cameron: Living with Marge
Recently, the mental responsibility that comes with raising a child has been playing on my mind.
At some point, unless your the exception and in an extremely progressive relationship, you’re gonna get angry. I carry the mental load of our baby. – Constance Hall
For many, the inequality of this mental load between parents can be the root cause of friction. That’s not to say that before parenthood relationships are void of friction.
“I do the dishes every night!”
“Yes, but I do the rubbish every week!”
Before becoming parents, my husband and I occasionally butted heads over who did what in our household. However, at the end of the day, dirty dishes and overflowing rubbish bins weren’t truly important to us and our core values.
Enter tiny human that blows every core value of our existence out of the park and runs circles around our hearts. Enter bickering about tiny human. Enter arguments that are related to what is truly important to us.
Enter new friction that makes previous friction seem silly.
Now that we are raising a toddler, the ‘newness’ of our situation has worn of, and the challenges we face hold greater significance in relation to our lives outside of the baby bubble in which we once floated.
Before I go any further, I need to make it clear that I am not raising the issue of inequality to complain about my situation. I am not, as neither was Constance, “bagging blokes”. I am hoping to shed light on what many new mothers struggle with, and in which we continue to perceive as ‘normal’.
This is how the media fails women. There was a time where I thought I was alone, that everyone else’s relationships were perfect and there was something wrong with me for struggling with the structure of a “normal” relationship. – Constance Hall
There was a time, no, there are still times, when I too I believe there is something wrong with me for struggling with what is expected of me as a mother.
My responsibility is to take care of our daughter. Working minimal hours, I draw the long straw. I love spending time with her and taking care of our home. Compared with the stress that comes with my husband’s work, my life seems like a holiday.
From the outside.
From the inside, or moreover internally, I carry a heavy mental load that at times can be stifling. A circular thought process that continuously churns. Now lets imagine this thought process as a metaphorical person. Lets call her Marge, strap her in a fanny pack and hand her a whistle. Always on the go, Marge plans, preps, worries, strategizes, and makes very important decisions.
Marge asks too many questions:
“Does your toddler need her nappy checked? Are her shoes too snug? When did you last offer her water? Has she eaten enough vegetables today? What will you be making her for dinner tonight? What time is her nap? Has she had enough stimulation today? Why is she coughing – is she getting sick? Is she dressed warmly enough?”
7 days a week, 24 hours a day, Marge is on a mission. Without her, plans would not be made, food prepped, naps scheduled, or laundry taken off the line. Marge is scarcely in the moment – rather reflecting on what was, and planning around what will be. And when children multiply, so too does Marge. And so too, does the mental pressure.
Now, I would like to introduce you to Martin. Martin resides in the minds of most fathers. Although equally as hard working and impressively dressed as Marge, Martin has accrued a great amount of annual leave. Without so much as a goodbye, Martin has the freedom to unclip his fanny pack, and leave as he pleases. After all, he doesn’t need to ask if Marge will be available for all babysitting duties required. That’s a given.
That is not to say Martin is not every bit as stressful and stifling as Marge. But the defining difference is that he is able to switch off. Marge cannot.
Fanny packs and metaphors aside, what I am getting at is that the expectation continues to fall on the mothers shoulders, of being the sole and full time carer for children; day in and day out. Weekdays, evenings, weekends and public holidays, there are still nappies to be changed, meals to be prepped and toys to be put away. Mentally, mothers are required to be ‘switched on’ at all times.
This sees us asking partners or family members to babysit should we want to leave the house without our children, and stipulating the hours in which we will be away in a similar nature we did as teenagers to our own parents.
The father can happily rest on the laurels that the mother will always be there to take care of his child regardless, and need not ask permission to leave the household sans child. His plans do not involve packed lunches, nap routines and an extra supply of nappies.
Family holidays to him are a fresh pair of underwear and some comfortable shoes in a man bag, while the mother lugs half the home and the kitchen sink into the boot of the car for the sake of herself and her offspring.
The fact of the matter is; mothers continue to carry an ever-increasing mental load when it comes to parenthood. One that tips the scales in comparison to that of fathers, and, which feeds the alarming rise in post partum mental disorders, and burnout in women.
Whatever your parenting situation looks like, appreciate the mental load you carry with you, and acknowledge the incredible job you are doing. And, if your situation allows, make easing this a priority. Raising a child is every bit as challenging as a professional job, without the annual leave.
Be brave in challenging the gender roles you are presented with, and the inequalities that may be arising within your own personal experience of parenthood.
Don’t fall into the trap of doing, because asking seems that much harder. Learn to delegate the load in which you carry. Should you be able to leave the house without your child, do so without letting Marge force you to leave behind a list of instructions and a cooked meal.
Learn to let go of her, even just for a second.
Too often we are so caught up in protecting our children that often, we forget to protect ourselves.
Rest easy mothers, the very fact you worry about being a good mum means you already are one. – Anon