As mums and spouses, we are usually in charge of running errands, making dinners, cleaning the house, organising the family’s social calendar, shuttling the kids, guiding them with their homework and the list goes on! This mental load can be exhausting and even lead us to become more forgetful. For us who are always stressed, we may also become susceptible to illnesses, which is never good for the family. In trying to achieve my own mental good health and well-being, here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.
Your spouse is your partner
Women don’t naturally have the talents and stamina to effortlessly run a household. Nor is it our sole responsibility. If we are struggling, we need to make our spouse aware of the relentless mental and physical work that goes into running a home.
This open and honest conversation does not mean we have failed. It simply means we are human. As loving, committed spouses, sharing the joy, pain and work that goes into running a household is an expression of that love. Practical tips that have worked for us are:
- Breaking it down, and spreading it around. Lists and routines are a great place to start. Routine gives structure and takes off the mental load. For example, my spouses’ routine is to prepare weekday breakfasts and two dinners a week, while I sort out the rest of week, including the packed lunches. He vacuums on the weekends and I clean the toilets on the weekdays. Making lists together gives clarity for planning and clear communication. The list will expand and contract as the family situation changes. For “bigger issues”, we assign the area of responsibility where one spouse takes the lead to research, in finance or children’s education, for example.
- Use technology. Credit to my spouse for initiating apps such as a Google Keep list for the food shopping and MoneyLover for recording our household expenditures. Google calendar reminds us when the sheets and towels need to be washed. These collaborative tools are working for us as information is shared instantaneously.
- When on family holidays… remember that mums are on holiday too! During our last holiday to Legoland, my spouse took over the planning and organising. I had a great time being in the backseat. We have since decided we will take turns to take the backseat.
I will be the first to admit I still take on a lot of the mental load, and systems sometimes fall apart. However, we keep it going because it has given me respite from being constantly in charge. Importantly, this has provided an awareness on the amount of mental and physical work to keep the family running.
The Kids are of Family Inc.
As early as we could, we got our sons involved. They started by clearing their plates, putting away their clothes, and generally “helping” around the house. As they grow older, they get additional tasks. They now prepare their school snacks, their own breakfasts and have moved on to cook lunch on Sundays. We are working with them to think and anticipate the steps that are required for a chore to get done. For example, if they plan to cook pasta for lunch, they add the ingredients to the shopping list so it gets bought on our grocery rounds.
The kids do complain and moan. But we’ve learnt that consistency, persistence and occasional punishment in the form of additional chores pay off. In some areas, they have become very capable (they now cook frozen roti canai and flip pancakes), and in others, they are still getting there (their clean laundry barely makes it back into the drawers).
Make time for yourself and your tribe
As much as we love them, we need to sometimes take a break from the family. While spas and massages are relaxing, physical activities are a better way to get healthy and happy. For me, running has been a cherished solo activity. The group of mums I run with has also provided me a genuine space of women supporting women to be their best selves, for themselves.
Maintaining relationships with people that sustains us is also important for our well-being. It can be a quick meal, a leisurely brunch, that quarterly night out, a weekend of gastronomical gluttony or a road trip! Whatever it is, make that time to be together with people that matter to you. It is difficult, but not impossible, and yet so crucial for us to nourish our deep connections which allow us to be ourselves. To make this work, my spouse and I have three days of annual parental leave, where we can take off alone or with friends. Negotiable during tough times, of course.