My Spouse Is Helpful, But The Mental Load Of Motherhood Is Still Overwhelming

by Lindsay Wolf
Lindsay Wolf/Instagram

My husband Matt timidly texted me from his upstairs office the other night and asked if he could use one of his birthday coupons. It’s a special ticket marked “free pass,” and I created it to grant him the gift of being immediately forgiven any time he screws up or has a tough day with me. We use these little coupons on each other every few months or so, and it’s worked wonders for our marriage. These little “get out of jail free” cards are basically gold when you’re a stressed-out couple overwhelmed by parenting life.

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And frankly, my hubby was in some major need of quick forgiveness at that moment.

Despite his best efforts, Matt was having a really rough few days and totally dropped the ball on pitching in with basic tasks around the house. He also stopped communicating about some really important stuff, leaving me to incessantly ask him what the hell was up. Normally when he’s spiraling like this, I feel a natural frustration and vent to him about it. But because of how much I’ve been juggling these days, I lost my temper and threw around the F-bomb like it was going out of style.

When he sent me that text message, I was ugly crying downstairs and quickly found the envelope filled with his birthday coupons. “Consider it redeemed,” I tearfully typed back. As my head rose up from the screen, my husband was standing there in front of me. We embraced, and I started gently weeping into his sweater. And that’s when Matt looked into my red, exhausted eyes and spoke the words I so needed to hear. “You have a whole lot on your plate, honey. I bet it felt good to get it all out. It’s okay. I forgive you. I love you,” he said.

Cue more evening waterworks.

I am so damn tired, y’all. This motherhood thing is brutal sometimes. I have an awesome partner who tries so hard to be a good teammate, but I still feel alone on this hot mess express. Sure, Matt’s had some growing pains in learning how to adjust to an equal parenting partnership, and I wish he was as much of a neat freak as me, but my husband is lovingly showing up and giving it his level best 90% of the time.

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Yet even with those odds, it’s still not enough for me to actually let my guard down and trust that I’m fully supported. There are just too many spinning plates on the wobbly parenthood sticks I’m holding. And even if Matt takes half of them away, a whole bunch more seem to pop up in their empty spots. My spouse is legitimately helpful, and yet the mental load of motherhood is still very much weighing me down.

And to be completely honest, it’s no wonder why.

Chronic sleep deprivation alone makes me feel like someone scooped out my brains and put marshmallow fluff back in there. At any given moment, I have about five cups of coffee in my system that still haven’t kicked in yet. I’ve got reminders scrawled out in permanent marker on my hands that I know I won’t be able to recall in a few hours. Since starting on antidepressants this past month, I’m struggling to fall back asleep when my kids wake me up at night and spend the rest of my time wide-eyed and thinking about my endless to-do list.

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That motherfucking to-do list can kiss my sleepy ass.

There are birthdays, appointments, therapy sessions, sick family members, handling debt collectors, trips to the grocery store, big life check-ins, holidays, constantly restocking basic household items, parent-teacher conferences, Amazon orders, student loans, house repairs, bills, bills, and more bills. The list is as annoying as it is exhausting. And I never ever get it all done.

Sure, I could delegate some of these tasks to others, and sometimes I do. But usually, the sheer weight of it all keeps me from having the extra brain space to even consider asking for more help. I’m essentially living in a foggy-headed Twilight Zone where I know I need support, but when the time comes to ask for it, I’ve forgotten that I even needed it.

In an effort to lighten the load, Matt and I temporarily moved with our two small kids across the country to be closer to our families. The fact is, we were going at warp speed in a city where we could only afford a single car and a small townhouse, and my mental health was crumbling within our limited resources. After my main freelance gig ended, I was left desperate to find another work-from-home situation. But since I was unable to invest in daycare to actively look for a new job, I ended up spending nearly every waking hour with my kids.

You can imagine how that went.

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By relocating, Matt and I were hoping to transition to a slower life that involved less financial challenges and lower stress levels. But the cross-country trip hasn’t completely eased the burden. Matt’s parents are extremely helpful and so supportive, but they too have weekly responsibilities, full-time jobs, and obligations that pop up from time to time. While childcare is significantly cheaper here, there are less actual options available. We’re still struggling financially, while stressful situations seem to keep popping up everywhere, and it’s beginning to feel like something’s gotta give.

Thankfully, it just did.

Remember those spinning plates? Well, I accidentally dropped all of them when I was diagnosed with complex PTSD this past year and had an ER trip to deal with it all last month. It turns out that the taxing stress of motherhood can — surprise, surprise! — intensify panic disorder symptoms.

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Therapy has definitely helped me heal, and my antidepressants are making everything feel more manageable. My husband is also making efforts to see his own counselor for the very first time, and he’s working harder to notice when he drops the ball as a partner. I’m asking for more support each day, and I’m giving myself a goddamn break more often.

I’m getting there. It’s hard. But I’m getting there.

The biggest struggle I’ve found in my own parenting journey is that no one hands you a life raft. You have to go looking for it yourself, and sometimes the sheer heaviness of “the mother load” forces you to. As moms, we’re already biologically built to place our kids onto those rafts first. Hell, we even throw our partners on them before we climb up ourselves. It takes concentrated effort and focus to make sure there’s plenty of room on that raft for us. I wish, in this modern day and age, it wasn’t that way. But it is.

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You may be wondering if I’m ever going to get to a silver lining. And I do have one. It’s just not the easiest pill to swallow if you’re already a tired ass mom.

If you’re willing to put in the hard work of facing your mom overwhelm and figuring out how to effectively advocate for your own needs, you will be arming yourself with a superhero-like strength that endures well past the first eighteen years of motherhood. And I’m not referring to the kick ass supermom you’ve already become. I’m talking about something you can offer yourself, without reservation, for the rest of your life. It takes a willingness to prioritize yourself in a way that will feel so uncomfortable and unfamiliar to you until it doesn’t.

In a sea of endless tasks, dirty diapers, sleepless nights, and constant cleaning, I now know that I deserve to have enough space in my head to think of more than just to-do lists. I deserve to feel loved and supported on my parenting journey. I deserve rest and relaxation when my body and mind are depleted. I deserve to finish with the stupid spinning plates I’m currently holding before someone unloads more into my hands.

And goddammit, I most certainly deserve to give myself as much, if not more, of a “free pass” moment as I gave my husband the other night.