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Most weeks I plan to post a discussion thread dealing with the topic we covered in that week’s episode. Most likely Sarah will too in the future,* so feel free to comment either place.
This week we discussed the mental load of parenting. Kids involve many logistics, from the mundane (do their shoes fit?) to the more profound (does my kid have a developmental issue that requires therapy? If so, how do I navigate that system?) For whatever reason, in many families that are relatively committed to equal parenting, mom still winds up shouldering much of this. As someone described it once, both parents might take turns calling babysitters, but someone knows that a babysitter needs to be called.
The issue is that the human brain can only ruminate on so many things. As I said in the podcast, time spent constructing our fall activity schedule is time not devoted to figuring out how to promote my next book.** Your brain could be pondering whether you got all the school forms signed, or how to reach out to that new client. Over the long run, time spent on the former, and not spent on the latter, contributes to inequality in the work force.
So — given that the school forms do need to get signed — how can we deal with the mental load of parenting? How do we compartmentalize it, or minimize it, or delegate it, or sometimes revel in it?
I have a few thoughts. First, protect your most productive time. You can sign a form and put money in the school lunch account at any point. If your peak productive time is, say, 9 a.m. to noon, then do those things at some other point.
We talked about Tiffany Dufu’s book, Drop the Ball, and how she made a list of all the tasks associated with caring for their kids and running the house. The initial take-away was that her husband was doing more than she thought (and indeed, was doing things she hadn’t even thought of — we all have blind spots in this regard), but once stuff is listed, it can be assigned to one party or another. This is how her husband wound up being the playdate guru in their house, and also the person who found sitters.
It can also be assigned to a third party. I was relieved to find, upon coming home from bringing my 5-year-old to gymnastics yesterday, that G (nanny) had supervised the boys’ instrument practice and homework. That’s stuff I didn’t have to think about.
It can be assigned to no one. Very few things absolutely have to happen in the sense of catastrophe ensuing if they don’t happen. It’s just a matter of whether you’re willing to deal with the consequences. If you don’t sign up to bring snack, other parents might be annoyed. Or they might not be. Hard to know.
We both recommended lightening the load by putting things on the calendar for the exact time you need to do them. As long as you are fully committed to checking and following your calendar, this gets things out of your brain and into another storage system until they can be acted upon. For instance, my kids will want to be in the Christmas pageant at church again this year. The deadline for signing up is November, and the church secretary doesn’t want me asking about it now, so I put it on the calendar for a day in the beginning of November. I know, on that date, I will deal with it. So now it’s out of my brain until then.
So, a few questions for the discussion. First, when I say “mental load” of parenting, what tasks come to mind? What are your least favorite tasks? How do you deal with mental load tasks, in terms of minimizing/delegating/sharing? Please share any great hacks too!
In other news: I’m running a 168 Hours Time Tracking Challenge next week. I’ll be posting my time logs on this blog. If you’ve ever thought “hey, I’d like to try tracking my time for a week!” this is your chance. You can sign up here to get motivational emails through the week, and you will know that several hundred other people are tracking along with you.
*This week she’s dealing with Hurricane Irma preparations and a likely evacuation — all very stressful. Please send good thoughts her way.
** Of course, the fact that I’m discussing my activity schedule on a podcast that is partially about reaching new audiences means these two aren’t really mutually exclusive in my case. But for most jobs, the overlap is more narrow.