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.