Mum overwhelm: how to cope and ways to share the load

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It’s that time of the year when parents are just about at breaking point. The summer has been long. Full of fun, but oh-so long. Mum overwhelm is peaking. 

The dearth of summer childcare in 2021 has felt even more testing than in 2020, with many employers happy to pretend that everything has gone back to normal, when it really hasn’t. But – pat on the back, people – we’ve got there by hook or by crook and far too much screen time.

Now the new school year is about to start, parents are bracing for the tsunami of new information we’re about to receive.

  • What day is PE kit needed?
  • When do my children have to submit lateral flow tests?
  • How do I find out what the new teachers are called?
  • When is homework due in?
  • Which days do they need to take in their reading books?
  • Who can sign up my son up to the piano lessons he’s going to moan about for the rest of the year?
  • What is Parkour anyway?

Add to this, the fact that 75% of mums are holding down employment on top of wrangling children into stiff and itchy uniforms, running the house, planning and cooking meals, caring for elderly parents, remembering birthdays, overseeing homework and attendance at activity clubs, and somehow managing to maintain a semblance of fitness or a social life too.

It’s overwhelming. And although the pandemic has led to more men being more actively involved in their children’s complex lives, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the vast majority of the emotional and practical load is still being carried by women. Single parents, we salute you. 

How to banish mum overwhelm

Here are 10 tips to help you cope with mum overwhelm – whether you’re a working mum, a home-based mum, a single parent or a combination of all three.

  1. Use technology. Shared diaries or family planners send alerts to both parents so there’s no miscommunication. It also takes the (forgive us) ‘nag’ out of the request. When you need your partner to take responsibility for something, let technology do the asking.
  2. Be realistic. So your daughter forgot her spelling book. She will write it out on a piece of paper that you can stick in to the book later. It’s not the end of the world.
  3. Ask your school to use a parent community app like Classlist, and make sure both carers receive the alerts and helpful information from school and other parents. It’s like a WhatsApp for schools, but the chat is organised, you can receive reminders about events that sync with your calendar, and you can find school announcements easily.
  4. Lists work wonders and we’re great believers in writing and ticking things off lists for that sense of satisfaction. If it works to ease your mum overwhelm, do it!
  5. Ask for help. Reach out to your community of friends, school families and neighbours when you need help. It’s not an admission of failure, but of strength. You’ll be able to repay the favour some time. Just make sure that anyone else who shares parenting with you also gets involved in the repaying of favours.
  6. Take stock. Think about what you really need right now, what your family really needs. There are bound to be things that can slip without causing any earthquakes. This is a useful exercise. You’ll realise that you are doing an incredible job. During lockdowns, the relief of not rushing about to dozens of clubs was palpable. Consider what can go.
  7. Reconnect with nature. When it all becomes too much, step outside. Take 10 long, slow breaths. Listen. Feel. See. Gradually, that pumping heart rate will calm down. You’ve got this.
  8. One thing at a time. We all know that multi-tasking is impossible, but we all still expect to manage it anyway. It’s totally normal to have three people all demanding things of you at once, while you’re thinking about 17 tasks you’ve got to achieve before leaving in precisely 38 minutes. It’s undeniably stressful to have that many tabs open in your brain. It’s not bad parenting to ask children to wait a few moments until you can give them your full attention.
  9. Offload specific tasks to your children. This isn’t just to help you. You’re setting them up for the responsibilities of life, in a gentle way. Freddie – you’re dishwasher monitor, and Elsa – you wheel the bins out. You will all benefit.
  10. Ditch the guilt. It’s a waste of time and energy. Help your friends by bringing any discussions of ‘mum guilt’ to a firm and positive close. You aren’t holding each other up by perpetuating the concept.

Consider using Classlist for your school. It’s a one-stop answer to school-parent communications, where parents can share advice, organise parties (with RSVPs and dietary requirements all listed for you) and set up lift shares. You can find other parents by searching via the child’s name or a parent photo. It’s a great way to become involved in your school community. Your school or parent association can send out event invitations and announcements, which are all then saved on the app and synced to your personal calendar. Parent life, made easier.

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