Mom’s “Thoughts at the End of a Long Day” Reveal the Truth About the Mental Load

As the mom of three wild kids, I was howling with laughter at a recent Facebook post by Meredith Ethington of Perfection Pending, in which she nails the many (many) thoughts that run through a mom’s head at the end of a long day — compared to the ones that run through a dad’s. In short? Moms tend to be WAY more anxious and detailed oriented than dads. (Surprise, surprise.) Try as we might, we’re literally unable to shut off the constant stream of worries, what-ifs, and endless to-dos that flood our brains.

Dads, on the other hand? They’re another breed altogether.

According to Ethington, such thoughts floating around a mom’s head include — but are not limited to — the following:

“OMG. This house is a mess.
Do we have enough bread for lunch tomorrow?
I need to have a talk with the five year old about honesty and have him return that toy he “borrowed”.
I hope I can get some sleep tonight. Like, actual real sleep where I have a dream, or twitch, or something. I should buy a sleep mask.
Did I put the laundry in the dryer?
Did I hit send on that email?
Is it too late to register the 8yo for soccer that is six months away?
Are they caught up on their shots for school?
Do we need more cat food?
I should clean out their closets.
How is the ceiling fan THAT dusty? Like, for real. Why is there so much dust on a fan that spins all day? How is that even possible?
I should wash our sheets.
I bet Karen washes her sheets every week.
I need a freaking vacation from mom life, but who would remember that we need more ramen noodles?
I will cut someone if I don’t have any chocolate after the kids are in bed.”

Sound familiar?

But where Ethington’s post really hits home is when she gets to the thoughts that are rattling around in a dad’s head at the end of a long day. Or rather, the one thought:

“I’m going to lay down here and take a nap real quick … “

Her words were shared alongside a recent photo of her sleeping husband, who had gotten off a night shift and come home to crash on the couch. He was understandably exhausted, and so, like a reasonable human being, he took a nap.

The post, which was shared on July 13, has really struck a chord with moms everywhere, and it’s easy to see why. As moms, we’re all way too familiar with the laundry list of unfinished business that comes with the territory of motherhood. Add a job outside the home to that, and that ever-growing To-Do list of yours can suddenly feel out of control.

But Ethington is also quick to point out that her post is not about bashing dads; far from it, in fact. Instead, it’s more of a commentary on how dads are more readily able to give themselves a break when necessary — which is something all moms could really stand to do more of.

“I love my husband a ton, and I’m always amazed at his ability to shut down when he needs to and get some rest,” Ethington tells Babble. “I’m kind of a little jealous, to be honest. He works hard and sometimes needs a quick nap before helping out when he gets home. I’m HAPPY that he can do that. He laid down on the couch, and I snapped a picture. I wanted to share it because I think so many women have a hard time giving themselves a break when we should. The moral of the story I guess is that I wish I could be like that!”

Boy, do I hear that.

Ethington’s post hits upon a concept we’ve only recently started talking about: the mental load of motherhood, and the 24/7 stress of having to remember all of the things once you have kids. For some reason or another, this tends to fall on mothers more than fathers — or at least, we tend to carry the burden differently.

“I think so many women are in this role in their households,” Ethington shares. “Whether they work outside the home or not, we tend to carry the mental burden of keeping everything in order. It’s exhausting, and often feels extremely overwhelming to have that constant to-do list and dialogue in your head.”

In my own home, I sometimes get angry that my husband can be so calm when the kids are being wild, the house is totally trashed, and someone still has to go to the store to get groceries and figure out dinner. I see all of that hot mess as a pile of tactical challenges, adding to my daily stress. But my husband? He just rolls with it. And I’m starting to think that maybe there’s something more too that, after all.

“It bugs me that the fact that women carry a mental load that men often don’t is seen as an insult to men,” Ethington shares. “No. It’s not. It’s not about men at all. It’s about the fact that we carry this burden because we’re hard wired differently.”

And that right there is the key to understanding it all. Like it or not, we’re set up to react to situations differently — and often, that’s actually for the best.

“The only way it would be an insult to my husband is if I had said that he’s not ever doing anything around the house, and that’s simply not true,” Ethington adds. “I think most men are willing to help out, but they just don’t care about it the same way we do for whatever reason. So, it’s up to us to say, ‘Hey babe, can you take care of x, y, or z?’ and I think most good men will do so willingly.”

Ethington also points out that although men and women seem to approach parenting differently, “that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a difficult thing for women to have this constant to-do list that is hanging over our heads at all times.”

So yeah; while it may occasionally irk me that my husband has the ability to just lay down and sleep, totally unbothered by the unchecked list of never-ending chores and tasks that still exists, I’m also pretty grateful, because it means that he’s pretty chill in other ways that I’m not — like bringing our kids on all sorts of adventures. Instead of me shouting, “BE CAREFUL!” my hubs is out there shouting “DO IT AGAIN!” At the end of the day, the trade off is pretty sweet, if you ask me.

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