Motherhood. Sure, balancing everything is an impossibility no matter what. That is a given.
Outside work or job, shopping for meals (let alone personal shopping), preparing meals, keeping the house or apartment in order, appointments, caring for a child or two or more, the list of “must do’s” for the day to day can go on and on, and trying to balance all of this with any time for yourself, well, good luck with that!
These chores are what I would call the visible workload of motherhood.
Everybody can see me shuttling kids to and from nursery school and playdates, roaming the aisles at Safeway, standing in line at the post office, but it is what I call the invisible workload of motherhood that is the real drain on my energy and psyche.
So what exactly is the invisible workload of motherhood?
First off, I did not coin the term “invisible workload.” That honor goes to somebody else. To whom, I do not know. But ask any mother and she will instinctively know the meaning.
Simply put, it is the humdrum, the instinctive, the bits and pieces, the little things, that as women we know need to be done, that need our immediate attention.
Sometimes these are things that our partner cannot or will not (intentionally or unintentionally) see.
Sometimes these are research-based actions: finding lost notices from school which were meant to have been signed and delivered last week, trying to determine which child has the birthday party on Saturday and which child has the birthday party to go to on Sunday, and buying an wrapping age-appropriate gifts for both (and not mixing them up in the process.)
What happens if this part of maternal life gets ignored?
We mothers are what make the machine run smoothly, the family enterprise function as well as it can.
It is because we do all the detail work. We remember not only all of our immediate family’s birthdays, but also those of our husband’s family, the neighbour’s, college roommates’, and every dog and cat we have ever loved since we were three years old. We are walking date and address books.
Lots of people would have apps for these kinds of things, but for us, no need. It comes with the territory of motherhood. And while we would like some form of acknowledgement from time to time, that does not always happen. The cogs of the machine get a bit sticky, but ultimately the invisible workload keeps going.
What are we best at being?
Okay, so we are great schedulers, shoppers, chefs, party throwers, clean up crew, but what are we best at being?
That is an easy one.
The bulk and most important component of the invisible workload is the emotional support we give our family and friends.
We are the shoulder our friends feel comfortable crying on. We share our personal space whenever it is needed no matter what.
The luxury of an uninterrupted shower is almost unknown until the kids are at an age when they do not want to claim us as relatives anymore. It is always during bathroom time when confessions are made and misdeeds are admitted to.
Private time —hah, I think as mothers, “private time” should be considered as the time we are unconscious, i.e., when we actually are asleep. But that, of course, can be interrupted by partners, kids, dogs barking, a noise of any sort.
How best to handle the invisible workload
Survival skills or instinct comes in here.
Lurking in the backs of our minds, usually not front and centre is that invisible workload. We weave into our visible workload sometimes with considerable effort, and at other times, the invisible workload seamlessly can be woven into our daily routines.
Here’s an example: Goal: pick up kids at 3:05 p.m. Leave home at 1:30 (I live in a suburban area with terrible and unpredictable traffic, so I always have to pad times (example 1 of invisible workload).
Traffic is not too bad on this trip, so go to the post office to mail Amazon poor choice back, ahh…Christmas stamps have been released, pick up several sheets thus saving a trip to post office closer to the holidays (example 2 of invisible workload.)
Amazingly, the line at the post office was not long at all, so I am ahead of a target time for kids’ pickup. This gives me enough time to swing by the fruit stand, so I am able to pick up fruits and vegetables, thus getting rid of the trip to the supermarket which had planned for later in the day (example 3 of invisible workload, and double points: a saved trip to supermarket and food procured).
Pick up kids, and car conversation involves upcoming events. I learn of two birthday parties, school play and upcoming field trip. Example 4 of invisible workload: add purchase of birthday gifts to trip to a planned trip to Target later in the week.)
And so on, and so on. By the time I get to the aforementioned private time, there are 38 examples of the invisible workload!
Thirty-eight examples of the invisible workload from 1:30 to 10:00
Okay, so the above examples illustrate how the invisible workload can be woven into a daily jaunt.
Basically, it’s thinking ahead, seizing opportunities if they present themselves, and combining actions if you can. Multi-tasking and synergy in other words.
Yes, exhaustion is a byproduct of both the visible and invisible workloads, but that is where Netflix comes in.
But I am unable to turn off the invisible workload completely because as I watch the mindless comedy that I had purposely chosen (being too tired to follow the convoluted plot line of the detective series I started a month ago), I see time-saving ideas and mentally note them.
I see the perfect gift for one of those birthday parties, and as the family on the comedy I am watching is eating a yummy looking fruit salad, I have just solved tomorrow night’s dessert dilemma!