Last weekend, I found myself home alone for a couple hours. My younger son was at a sleepover at a friend’s house. My older son was invited to have dinner at his friend’s house. And my husband went to the gym. Despite the fact that I had the house to myself – which is pretty much every mom’s dream – I felt oddly unsettled.
Was there some work project I needed to catch up on? Maybe, but nothing pressing. Did I have emails to return? A few, but nothing urgent. Did the house need cleaning? Always, but things were in decent shape given my “good enough” subpar standards for housecleaning.
I could have spent that time catching up on Westworld or re-watching Season 4 of Schitt’s Creek. I could have read a book. I could have taken a long shower or painted my nails. I could have taken a nap or stared into space for an hour.
But what did I do?
I fretted about all of the things I should be doing, created projects for myself, and generally let my mind run wild with anxious worries and my heart churn with emotional energy.
And this is the real reason moms feel so busy all time. Our minds never stop moving. We’re never really “done.” There’s always something more we feel like we should be doing. And our hearts never stop feeling.
We hear a lot about the emotional labor involved in a relationship and with raising a family. We talk about how we wish our spouse would just do what needs to be done, instead of waiting to be told what needs to be done. We complain about how we moms are the keeper of the family’s social calendar, the manager of the household, the knower of basically all the things.
And that’s true. But it’s more than that.
It’s the emotional energy that we spend not just in planning and thinking about all of the things that need to be done, but in the caring so deeply about all the things. Our mind just isn’t working overdrive, our heart is as well.
Whether it’s our job or a volunteer committee we’re on or the book drive we’re organizing or the day-to-day responsibilities of motherhood, we put our hearts into all of it. Because when something is important to you, you care about the outcome. You are invested, and you want to do well. And what could be more important to us than our role as mother?
Our minds never stop, and neither do our hearts. So even when we aren’t busy tending to the actual labor of motherhood (or our job or caring for an aging parent or volunteering or what-have-you), we are spending so much emotional energy thinking and feeling and caring about the people involved. We aren’t just busy doing and thinking, but busy feeling.
And it’s freaking exhausting.
I don’t think that this emotional busyness – and the resulting exhaustion – is unique to mothers, though it does seem to affect us more than dads or folks who aren’t parents. For some reason, even though men are emotionally invested in the role of dad and/or the direction of their career, they seem better able to “shut off” and compartmentalize their feelings. When they are spending time with their kids, they’re killing it with the dad thing; when they’re at work, they are focused on that.
But we moms seem to care about all the things all the time. When I’m not with my kids, I’m worried about whether they ate a healthy dinner or if they are upset that I’m not home to read them a bedtime story. When I’m not working, I feel like there’s something I forgot or should be doing so that things could be even better. When I say “no” to a volunteer commitment, I feel bad for disappointing people or not being of more service to my community. No matter how much I do, I always feel like it’s not quite enough or that someone is disappointed that they aren’t getting more or better.
And that is why moms feel so busy, why we’re so damn exhausted all the time. Because even when we have a couple hours with absolutely nothing to do, we exhaust ourselves worrying and caring and fretting. Because we are basically carrying the emotional weight of the entire freaking world.
This article was originally published on