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Commentary: Managing the mental load

Erin Eveland
Rich Egger
Erin Eveland

Like many people, I am on a quest to find balance. One of my biggest challenges has been work-life balance, mainly balancing working full-time and being a mom. Most working parents, not just moms, struggle to find the balance between work and family. Having to choose between work and family causes inner turmoil. While we do our best to put family first, sometimes it is hard to do. It is a juggling act. 

My kids are teenagers, I have always worked full-time, and I have always struggled. When I entered the work-force and motherhood, I knew that staying home wasn’t the right choice for me. I needed to work to feel fulfilled. Working has always brought me joy and made me a better mom. But still there is always the feeling of needing to be in two places at once. 

There were many years when my kids were little that my work schedule was rigid. It was hard to take days off for field trips or sickness. I never felt like I could take time off to be with my kids. There was also the worry about my pay being docked too.

Six years ago I left my previous job and took a huge risk to start The Hub, a non-profit arts and cultural center. There were many reasons I wanted to run The Hub. I wanted to bring more arts and cultural opportunities to our area, but I also wanted to have more flexibility in my schedule and I wanted to work in the town we live in. The first field trip I went on with my daughter was when she was in fourth grade. I was able to take the day off and not worry about it. My schedule allows me to attend almost every event in their lives now. When I do have to miss something, my kids are the first to tell me it's okay. 

Mental load is a buzzword right now. It is what we use to describe invisible, intangible labor in both the home and the workforce. Planning events, setting up bill payments, and scheduling are a few examples of mental load. Like most moms, I’m asked questions that most of the time could have been answered by just looking around or checking the calendar. These questions can be draining, especially when I’m constantly repeating myself. 

My kids are involved in a lot of after school activities. My job requires me to work some evenings and weekends. I am in charge of keeping and coordinating ALL of the schedules. It can be exhausting just thinking about my family’s schedule and then I have to add my work schedule to that. I carry the mental load for my family and for work. Most of the moms and women I know, working or stay-at-home, feel the effects of mental load. Carrying the weight of mental load can cause stress, sleep issues, and constantly feeling overwhelmed.

This is a common story. The struggle of being torn between work and home and the weight of carrying the mental load takes a toll on us all. Whether it is a workload issue, a pay issue, or in my case both, working parents have to make a choice. Most of us will feel the fatigue of carrying the mental load at one point or another. 

A few ways to help combat the effects from these issues are to delegate and communicate. It can be hard to ask for help, but if the work needs to be done, you don’t have to shoulder the burden on your own. And yes, I know sometimes it feels easier to do the work yourself than to ask for help. Start small and work up to bigger tasks. 

Another way is to practice self-care. Make sure to schedule downtime for yourself: do yoga, read, or do something else that will help you relax. It might seem counterintuitive because we’re busy, but we can’t take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves. These are reminders to myself as well. 

I don’t have all the answers to these issues. They are some of my daily struggles. I think it is important to know we are not alone in these feelings and that we acknowledge the turmoil of being torn between work and family and how heavy carrying the mental load can be. 

Erin Eveland is Executive Director of The Hub Arts & Cultural Center in Rushville. 

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio. 

Diverse opinions are welcomed and encouraged.