Ask any mom about the invisible workload of motherhood and she knows exactly what you’re talking about.
It’s the things we do for our families that are necessary but go completely unnoticed. The endless list of small tasks that would only ever draw attention if they didn’t happen. The mental weight of doing it all, remembering it all, feeling every emotion in your family and worrying, constantly.
It’s not just making dinner every night—it’s knowing what everyone likes, deciding what to make, having a mental inventory of what’s already in the fridge and cupboards, picking up the groceries, and knowing which night we won’t be home for dinner because of soccer. It’s packing the leftovers into a Tupperware and making a mental note of when it will go bad. It’s noticing that maple syrup has spilled in the back of the fridge and silently cleaning it up, tossing out an old salad dressing and some uneaten pasta as you go.
The invisible workload carries over to the pile of school forms and birthday party invitations on the counter, the lunch bag that needs replacing and the school shoes that are getting too small. It’s how summer clothes are removed from dresser drawers and replaced with pants that you bought in anticipation of the cold. It’s how those old summer clothes end up being sold, donated or passed on to a friend. It’s why your kids have neatly clipped fingernails and get regular haircuts.
The list looks somewhat different to everyone, but it never ends. Sometimes, it’s about stocking the cupboards with toilet paper, dish soap, paper towels, shampoo, and toothpaste. Other times, it’s why a new kettle appears when the old one breaks, or a babysitter shows up on date night. It’s buying and wrapping the presents for those birthday parties, knowing the names of the kids and parents at the party, and understanding which kid your child is avoiding and why. Oh, and it’s how EVERY holiday happens.
And, you’re still doing the visible things.
But when? Oh my god, seriously, when?
Whether your day is spent working outside the house or at home with a young family, it’s likely that you’re busy as hell and being pulled in five different directions at any given moment. Your mornings are chaos and your 9-5 is either spent in an office or with your lovable yet incredibly demanding offspring. Then there’s dinner, maybe homework, bedtime routine, and finally, free time . . . which you’ll use mostly to care for others.
When I wake up from a half-sleep in one of my kids’ beds at 8:15 pm, having passed out next to them with a copy of The Gruffalo discarded on the floor below, I want to call it a day. I want to kiss my beautiful child on the head, slip out of their room and dive into my own bed for a long, deep, uninterrupted sleep.
This never happens.
Instead, I stumble out of their warm bed and look frantically for my phone to check the time. I sprint to the mall before it closes because one of my kids has outgrown his fall jacket and the other has destroyed all of her socks. While I’m there, I pick up new work pants for my husband and grab a copy of that novel I need for book club. I leave the mall and grab a coffee before Starbucks closes, then head over to the 24-hour grocery store to pick up food for the week. On the way home, I might have to fill up on gas or pop into the drug store (also open 24 hours, thank God) because I forgot to grab a birthday card for that party on the weekend or a gift card for that awesome teacher who’s leaving the school and also, we’re low on Children’s Tylenol and Band-Aids. There’s always something. There are usually many things.
Sure, there are evenings that I stay in and watch a show with my husband or play Words With Friends on my phone until the screen is a tired blur. But many other nights, I meet a friend for coffee or (less often) join them for a workout class, attend a school council meeting or run some random errand that couldn’t be fit into my day. Sometimes I take my laptop to a coffee shop and catch up on work. Other nights, I head to the bookstore and slowly browse the aisles, soaking in the quiet.
I’ve taken my car to the gas station to vacuum it out at 10 pm because there was no other time to do it. I’ve done laundry at midnight and made school lunches at one in the morning before finally collapsing into bed. There is no chore I haven’t completed at an ungodly hour and no store that I haven’t cursed for closing at 9 pm. And my house is still a mess.
When it’s all said and done, I know I should go straight to bed—but I don’t. Because I haven’t had a single moment to myself to just EXIST, alone, in my own thoughts. So I turn on a late night television show, pick up a book or scroll Instagram until I’ve sufficiently chilled out. It’s only then that sleep feels appropriate, and I can rest before doing it all again the next day.
While there are others just like me, there are our morning counterparts as well. This isn’t about staying up all night to do things—it’s about squeezing your entire adult life into a few hours when your kids are in bed. We all do it to an extent. For some, this means getting up at 5 or 6 am to work out, enjoy a cup of tea in silence or get organized for the day. For me, it means staying up at all hours because I hate mornings more than a three-year-old hates mittens.
Whatever time of day you’re hammering through your list of visible and invisible responsibilities, you’re not alone—somewhere, there is a mom just like you, combing through a bin of rain boots at 8:55 pm on a Tuesday. There’s a mom buying glue sticks and felt for a school project and another one sorting through old toys so they can be slipped out of the house before the kids wake up again. These moms are everywhere, all the time. They love their kids more than words but my god, they are exhausted. If you see one, make sure you offer a supportive smile—she may not notice, because she’s so damn tired, but the solidarity is there and that’s enough.
My relationship was restored by Robinsonbuckler11@ gmail com..
I kept reading this thinking she must’ve meant “invisible workload of SINGLE parenthood”, but then…later she mentions a partner. Hmmmm??? She mentions buying a partner pants and watching tv with him. Um, does he not split all of this other work with you??? Hot diggity dog am I grateful my partner does! He actually does the lion’s share! He was a single father before we got together, and he and his son (4 years old at the time, now 6) had the dinner, bedtime, up early for showers and daycare / school, and out the door thing down pat! He makes almost all of the meals, loves to grocery shop together, and we split all other household chores. That partner needs to STEP IT UP dear.
Just sounds like the husband doesn’t do enough unless the mom is stay at home and husband works
I mean, I wouldn’t say “solidarity is enough.” Solidarity with other women and moms probably helps our sanity.
“Enough,” however, would be humane, equitable, work for every woman (mom).
Such a lovely story that really resonates with me, especially since I’m reading it at 1am during my “me time”, even though I’m exhausted and really should go to bed. I’ve been feeling like my mind simply cannot keep up with all the minute details of every day, and I’m frustrated that my once very functional memory seems to have left me. So, it’s very nice to be reminded that my brain is just storing different things and that I’ve not completely lost my memory. Thank you for writing this. You’ve brightened this struggling mom’s night. Good night!
Erin, thank you.
I am a woman and a solo parent. From birth to present I have raised my child solo and this article really drives home.
I’ve had to carry all the invisible workload. I tried explaining to my child’s father how tough it is and how exhausting because there is always something to do and never any me time. He never could grasp it…how could he when he hasn’t had to do it each and every day. It’s great your husband gets it.
Thank you for sharing YOUR story not quite sure why people are getting offended about YOUR story. I loved your honest replies to some of those.
Finally someone is writing about the truth of motherhood. More articles like this need to exist so people in the dark can be enlightened to the difficulties.
In my life, ive come to see mothers and women as super heros. I seem to meet very perserveering and strong mother’s who tackle so much all at once that I wonder how they even make it through the week. And they are taken for granted because they don’t talk about all the struggles, they just deal with it so most people are clueless about the invisible stuff.
I look back and realize that I too am a super hero and so are you. Thank you for this.
Kylie MITCHELL says
wow same here – except the teens take advantage of any closed eyes of mine and either rob me of all valuables, eat me out of house and home, throw rubbish and leave filth and body stink everywhere they go. They intentionally have chosen stupid, criminal types for friends and encourage them to visit at every opportunity. The dont help ever with housework – just contribute to the disarray, joyfully and intentionally ignorant and intellectually challenged. No respect for anyone or anything and whatever they havnt stolen from me, they have broken. My teens are outright lazy pigs who are bullies……Im soooooo tired of them I wish i could die.
I went through that. You can take everything away and call the police. If they do anything illegal, they will go to jail. After their 18th birthday, if they don’t follow your wishes, it is their life– on their own. It is so nice when someone who has abused you turns 18! No more held hostage by abusive narcissist. <3
Why in the world would you allow them to do these things to you,or be lazy spoiled pigs?Not trying to be rude or start a argument,this is a legitimate question.Honey your the mother and guess what you are doing them NO FAVERS by allowing them to think this is ok behavior. Don’t you let the child run your house you run it,we are not their friends we are parents. I hate to think it’s so bad you feel like you could bust die.Im sorry it’s this bad for you.Ship them kids to me and I promise,after 3 months at my home they would realize how goid their mother was.prayers for you mom
Sara Johnston says
Great article!! Thank you for putting into words what so many parents can’t, this is probably the best article I’ve read about parenthood!!
Erin, I sure do relate to a lot of your article. I couldn’t ever see myself running errands in the middle of the night (I love my sleep), but we work in our invisible duties where we can right? I think your writing is lovely and see that it is YOUR personal story. It’s a shame some people can’t see it as that. I also loved your wonderful and informative responses. You have a nack for adding more information and knowing when to let people just tire themselves out with their long “this doesn’t include everyone” cry. I hope to hear more if your story. Thank you for writing this. I knew I did a lot of little things but thought I was along in my feelings.
Lee Moore says
Thank you, I just read your story (twice) and no lie was found! THANK YOU!
This could not be anymore true. Seriously. Thank you for this article and for making me feel like I’m not the only one dealing with an invisible workload.
All of this.. I only wish people would/could appreciate that this is her story. Yes, it resonates with MANY moms (including me), but it is not an indictment against all men or dads as do-nothing bumps on logs.
I am a mom and this rings true for me! All child and home responsibilities fall to me and after a long work day, then cleaning up from dinner and getting tomorrow’s daycare bag together, I’m finally sitting down at 9:30 which is pretty typical. I’m also the breadwinner in our family and often work for an hour prior to going to bed. This was such a welcome read!!!! I don’t like to share my frustrations with my friends and family in that I love my husband and don’t want to lessen their opinion of him. I read it as a personal narrative because I know many families where the husband carries the heavier mental load. I seek out parenting blogs to hear other people’s experiences – sometimes they echo my own and other times I cannot relate. Either way I’m always grateful the person was brave enough to share! I’ve definitely been at the gas pump at 11pm!
Mary DeCosta says
“The mental weight of doing it all, remembering it all, feeling every emotion in your family and worrying, constantly.” That’s my theme, right there. And it doesn’t matter if you have one child or 5 children – the mental gymnastics are the same. It also doesn’t matter if your husband/partner is incredibly helpful like mine is… his brain just isn’t wired the same way. This is a welcome piece and I hope it helps others understand the mental fatigue that comes with this role.
Heads have invisublets tasks too and glad to see some of theses urban dad’s stepped in for comment.
Mom’s. .all moms have huge to do lists. That’s what mom’s do amd have been for centuries minding our families and running the home while typical dad earns the living of a simple nourished life.
Buy. Yes..mom’s want it all, jobs. Equal pay, run the home and recognition for doing it all. It’s impossible to have a life without the support of any kind from another adult amd yhbak God for dad’s …to those that have one living at home and contributing to financial and emotional needs of his family.
The tasks never end but that’s also because we accept the demands that are thrown at us.
Do we really need to buy glue sticks for school projects. Shouldn’t the school be handling this? We keep accepting more responsibility every year and it’s getting harder to havea life. But be thankful you have friends to go for coffee with, warm bed to tuck your kids into while you run out of the house to fulfill errands and obviousky the invisible task of minding sleeping children by your husband or mate is supporting yiu with.
It’s Co parenting and yeah..mom’s have a shit load more ..but lets not discount the dad’s that have a hand in the pool .
Annonymous dad and parent says
I’m not so sure you and all other mothers married to husbands who do the other “invisible tasks” are being fairy represented. I’ll acknowledge my wife does a great deal of the “invisible tasks” you mentioned. But to say you have a larger mental load is unfair. We men also do lots of “invisible tasks” and the mental load is pretty significant. I see by your responses that you acknowledge the effort your husband puts into other tasks. I have to say that additional mental load is put on husbands whose wives think all their “invisible tasks” add up to more than their husbands. It’s 2017. We all deserve equal pay for equal work. And husbands deserve equal acknowledgement for our value in bringing up heathy children and a nice household environment. This takes a mental load on both sides of the equation. I’d love for the title of this article to simple be changed to “parenthood” instead of “motherhood”.
Erin Pepler says
I appreciate your comment, but all I can really say is this:
a) My husband 100% agrees that my mental load is bigger than his. He is wonderful and supportive and totally engaged in parenting our children, but I carry the mental load on a much larger scale. That is the truth in our household. I didn’t argue that EVERY woman has a bigger mental load than her husband does. I told my own story, which a lot of women relate to because it’s not uncommon. It’s sort of #notallmen vibes to say it’s “unfair” when truly, it is my own story and my own husband agrees with how it’s been presented here. If it’s not true for YOU, that doesn’t change my personal narrative. Like, if you have a huge mental load, I feel for you – I’m right there with with you. I get that sometimes, the husband is the mental load-carrier. But I’m not going to write that blog post because it’s not my experience.
b) Honestly, I write as a mom because I *am* a mom, and this site is called UrbanMoms…it’s not anti-men/anti-dad, but it speaks to a certain audience. The titling reflects that, in my opinion. If you relate to this as a dad, don’t let the title change that feeling – just take what you can from the article and enjoy it. If I went on a website aimed at men, it would speak to men (but of course, I may relate to some articles as not all experiences are gendered).
Thanks again for your comment! I genuinely appreciate your discourse.
Anonymous Dad 2 says
I have to completely agree with Anonymous Dad. This may be your story for urban moms but it perpetuates the belief that mothers are the only one carrying the “invisible” load.
My wife reads articles like this and fails to see that our family is different than yours. I am the one waking up early before work to clean the kitchen, do laundry, clean the kitchen from the night before, and take out garbage. Then I work outside the home 10 hrs + a day to come home and clean bathrooms, pay bills, do vehicle maintenance, and spend time with our kids. As a result I am up until midnight or later before starting the routine again at 5 am.
Don’t get me wrong, my wife isn’t lazy by any stretch. She gets up early to make lunches, get the kids dressed, and then spends the day just trying to keep up with them in addition to home tasks.
The difference is that I recognize that we share a very heavy visible and invisible load and she thinks she carries the bulk of the “invisible” tasks because she reads articles like this.
I agree, this should be called the invisible load of being a parent.
Erin Pepler says
Sounds like your invisible workload is big as well and I empathize. But do you really think I should change my personal, truthful narrative – one that resonates with many women – because you aren’t happy with your wife’s reaction to articles like this? Honestly, it’s written to women because again…I’m a woman writing for a site aimed at women. If I wrote this for a publication aimed more widely at parents, my language may have reflected that. And again, at no point do I argue that men don’t experience this same mental weight in some households. I completely agree that it can be either partner.
Thanks for reading and commenting, even if wr disagree!
I am a mom (with a full-time 6a-4p job and a 5, 3, and soon to be a newborn ~2/23), like you, Erin, and although I get what you are saying about this being your personal take, I did, too, read it as a global statement that only moms carry the load. Do I completely agree with the parties, the cards, the presents, the school forms, dentist and doctors appointments, making sure the correct subscribe and save stuff is coming, because by God, we do not need any more shipments of a case of toothpaste, and all of that, but I also agree that without amazing husbands carrying other loads, we moms would not be able to function AT ALL. My husband drops off and picks up our kids, lunches them, naps them, all while working a FULL-TIME job from home as well. He cooks, cleans, takes out garbage, makes sure oil changes and car repairs happen, constantly thinks about how x, y, and z thing will happen, fixes the light bulbs, makes sure we have batteries for the million kids toys that need them, etc. His mental load may be different, but it is definitely just as large. I think your blog downplays those dads who are tired too and could use some acknowledgement. I completely agreed with everything you had to say as it mirrors my daily life, but those dads need acknowledgement too. We all read blogs on both genders and I think it helps if we take that tired step back and put on the shoes of our spouse. We would all be better for it. My two cents and hopefully both moms and dads out there feel the love and knowledge that they are not in this alone.
Sarah Kelly says
This article speaks so much truth to parents! For whatever reason, we feel that we need to be the best full-time employee and parent and spouse and chauffeur and seamstress AND live a balanced life. I truly believe that there are ways that parents can help share that load- an extra set of hands! I know families who have hired an Au Pair to live-in with them and provide cultural and, more importantly, flexible childcare! To learn more, check out this great agency: http://www.adanacaupair.com
This is my life except for the part where I see friends, or go for coffee… throw in a 9 yr old with type 1 diabetes, and I am about to start a second job ( which I already am dreading because I honestly don’t know where to fit it in ), but I need to cover costs of her medical expenses. I also have chickens that I tend to, I work already as a nursing instructor….. omg, reading this was so beyond deflating because it is my life exactly. It also is comforting knowing I am not the only one. It’s sucks but I love my kids and partner. Some weeks are better than others, but i do wish that I could just run away at times. I just got over a nasty bug that lasted 3 1/2 weeks I am assuming because there is no such thing as a sick day-ever, for myself…. Moms, you rule. I guess I just need to think of myself as wearing a cape and being grateful for being able to pull off all of the shit that I do. High five to you all! I am acknowledging you and giving you a huge warm embrace <3
Erin Pepler says
I’m glad you felt some comfort and weren’t just deflated, as you mentioned! It sounds like you work super hard and have a ton on your plate. Hang in there and keep killing it!!
Barbara Mayo says
I am there every day and I have a house full including different generations to boot. I have people to help me but not with everything. If you’re anything like me you always have to ask for help. It’s never a given.
Erin Pepler says
I’m really lucky to have a network of support, including my mom (who works full-time but is a very willing and able babysitter) and my husband, of course. 🙂
This is most of us! Although hubbies do help out, it’s the little things you mentioned that they just don’t think about.
Erin Pepler says
Yes, the combined weight of all the tiny, invisible things! My husband isn’t a slacker by any means but he totally acknowledges that I “run the household” and “keep our lives moving”, in his words.
This lady’s partner must be useless! Holy cow, he can’t help out just a little?
Erin Pepler says
Hi, “this lady” speaking. My husband contributes to the household significantly, in a lot of ways. He does his share of dishes and laundry, is generally very organized and tidy. He is very hands-on with the kids, has a full-time job that involves a commute, and has his own interests and pastimes, much like me. He is also the person who handles most of our financial paperwork (ie, we both earn income but he is the one who makes sure the bills actually get paid on time). He does plenty, but he definitely has less mental load than I do – it’s a different type of responsibility. He’s not Christmas shopping or taking the kids’ outgrown clothes out of their drawers, or sorting through things to donate/sell, or baking for the school fundraiser, or attending council meetings, or keeping track of when we need soap and toothpaste or more milk. His commute (which I don’t have) means that I’m the school drop-off/after school care pick up person, who inherently deals with the teachers/supervisors. That’s just logistics. He also chooses to do less social events than I do. He says no more often. At no point do I complain about my husband, who is far from lazy – I’m just noting the very common reality of many mothers. When you have a young family, a job, community involvement and a social life, you have ZERO free time. I could be less busy, but what would I give up? Just some food for thought.
Amen! Even when partners are helping, it’s still quite a load to carry. And the article is on point.
Erin Pepler says
Thank you, Sandra!
anonymous dad 3 says
This article, and your responses to the comments, make me so angry. I hate (yes, hate) your thesis that women can, and *should”, do it all, and your implication that those who don’t are somehow less. I hate your unabashed assertion that wives’ mental load is heavier than husbands’. You can argue all you want about “well, this is just my story,” but it’s obvious your message is “all of us women have to deal with this – doesn’t this suck?” I hate that all this article does is whine about how hard your life is, without exploring any ideas for how to make it better or even acknowledging the common-sense ways you could. “What would I give up?” – seriously? You are working yourself to the bone because you choose to. There are so many things in your litany of misery that you could eliminate from your life, even some that might appear essential, with little to no adverse consequence. I hope one day you come to recognize that, and that in the meantime the truly terrible message of this article doesn’t harm any more than it already has.
Thank you for saying this. I completely agree with you and I’m a mom of soon to be 3. Am I busy, yes, but I agree, you find a way to create balance, and you lean on your partner to help too. I found it pretty appalling that someone feels they “need” to go out at 9pm to run errands, especially in this day and age when online shopping is the convenient norm. You can get a pair of shoes shipped in less than 24 hours. I know, I’ve done it, without paying extra shipping. Anyway. I do not want to downplay that we all do have mental lists and stress, as my mind is constantly humming with what is next, but being efficient and finding balance is key. My five-year old is actually a pretty amazing little duster, so when the whole family has Thursday night clean the house nights, we actually have a blast together with music blaring and the house gets cleaned. We all feel a part of the process, bond, and have a really positive outcome. Even time for sleep. 🙂
I’m in agreement that this “perfect wife, perfect life” thing that the author is striving for seems to create a social standard that we shouldn’t have to try to attain. Of course she can do her thing and if having all of your kids hair perfect and clothes wrinkle free, and your house spotless is what you “need” that’s fine for you, but I hope not everyone feels like they have to give up their lives and hobbies to be a Mom. Make time for yourself, make time to enjoy your family, vacuuming the van can wait.
This is exactly how I feel 24/7.
This is my life to a T!
Erin Pepler says
So many people are in the same boat!!
Does your husband help with the workload around the house?
Erin Pepler says
Absolutely! I’m definitely not doing his laundry, or cleaning the house while he sits around. He does plenty. But I do find I have a larger mental load.
of course husbands/partners help out people!!!! but I get it, that mental load of being the partner that ‘thinks’ of these things…I am busy thinking & doing inside the house…and my husband is busy thinking & ding outside the house. Unsure I’d have it an
y other way though…
My grandmother raised 11 children during the Great Depression where money was scarce. All of those children grew up well adjusted, educated and went on to careers and full lives, including a nun and a priest. My grandmother never complained- rather she relied on the power of prayer to get her through the challenging times. Today, our younger generations tend to whine about how tough the role of mother is in our society. But in fact, in most cases, they have it so much easier than previous generations and don’t realize that they bring much of it on themselves by trying to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect friend, etc. My advice: go with the flow and don’t sweat the small stuff.