As you transition from school holidays to school life for another term, you will undoubtedly be flicking between the “tabs” in your mind, so to speak, and running through the “school term” checklist you have created that includes taking care of school uniforms, excursions, extra-curricular activities, lunches, snacks, drop off and pick ups – rearranging your work day and week to fit in with school life – particularly those drop-off and pick-up times.. and all the other things that come with life as a parent: friend trouble, doctors appointments, dentist appointments, haircuts, present buying, clothes buying, sorting through drawers and cupboards for the change-of-season outfits, buying new clothes because the children have grown a few more inches, buying sports uniforms, homework and school projects, finding the stuff that is lost, fixing the things that are broken.
And this is on top of all the regular day-to-day things you organise: shopping, cooking, cleaning, appointments, tax, banking, bills to be paid… just, you know, the stuff of life as a parent in general.
It’s called the mental load of parenting… or being the default parent.
And it can be exhausting. And sometimes when there is a slight change or a shift in plans, life can feel, well, a little out of control.
If you are contemplating separation, undoubtedly, that mental load you carry on a day-to-day basis is feeling heavier than usual – you might feel like you are living in two worlds as you navigate through that list of things to do and organise and all the while, wondering how it will work, and if it will all work out okay. You will be wondering what you need to organise for you, for the kids, for your spouse – just so everyone is okay.
You aren’t alone in these feelings. In my experience, how you are feeling is common. But it’s not permanent, at least not to the extent you are presently feeling. So, breath.
In many families the household and parenting responsibilities are split – not always equally. And I expect you will be wondering, if you do separate, how you will take care of the usual day to day things, as well as having the responsibility for the financial, emotional and physical well-being of your family.
You will be wondering how it will work.
You will be wondering if you will be okay – financially and emotionally. Right?
You will be wondering if your kids will be okay – will they cope with the changes?
You will be okay. It will be okay.
Things will change, it’s inevitable.
However it is important to keep in mind that throughout life, there are always changes, and we adjust. You adjusted when you finished school and found a job in the grown-up world. You adjusted when you juggled uni and a part-time job, you adjusted when you first moved in with your spouse, when you became a parent.
All these significant life events, and many more, you adjusted. And with these changes, you will adjust. Just right now, I understand it can feel overwhelming because it feels so unknown.
With some planning, it will be less overwhelming for you, and you will know that you will be okay.
So – what are my tips for coping with the mental load after separation?
1. Start to consider the mental load as a job in itself, just like doing the dishes, or the laundry – it’s an actual task that deserves it’s own place in your to-do list.
2. Keep a note pad and pen with you, or use your phone – keep lists – you can have separate lists – “this week”; “next month”; a list for each child; work to-do list; home to-do list (there are no rules, the goal is to do whatever works for you and makes life more manageable). It can feel less overwhelming if you tick things off that list.
3. Add things to your list as they come up.
4. Remember that the to-do list will never be empty. There will always be things to do, but there will be urgent and not so urgent things, and you don’t have to get through everything yesterday.
5. If your children are old enough to take on jobs, delegate. There are some really great resources around that show the types of jobs that kids can take on at different ages.
6. Outsource some jobs if you can afford to do so, or accept help if someone offers it – don’t think you have to do it all yourself just to show that you can, or because that’s what you’ve always done.
7. Accept that you will need to let some standards drop – just like when you were cramming for exams, or travelling through that new baby phase, some things will just have to do.
8. Practice saying no to the things you really don’t want to do, or don’t have time to do if it means you’ll be scrambling around feeling overwhelmed doing the other things – you don’t have to accept all invitations – you can reduce some of your external activities – even if temporarily – if your schedule is hectic, consider whether there are any changes you can make
And perhaps, one of the most important things to put on your to-do list, make some time for yourself each week to do something for you – whether it’s 5-10 minutes alone to have a cup of coffee, a walk during your lunch break or after you drop the kids at school (or before you pick them up in the afternoon), or a phone call or conversation with a friend (a real conversation, I’m not just talking about texting!) – make sure you take care of yourself during this period of adjustment, and remember, it will be okay. You will be okay.
Megan Sweetlove is a divorce lawyer and the owner of Sweetlove Family Law. Megan has worked with families who are experiencing separation and divorce for the past 10 years and is committed to assisting her clients find respectful outcomes to their separation, away from the Court process and with a focus on having a healthy future.
If you or someone you know needs assistance during divorce you can organise a complimentary 20 minute phone appointment with Megan here.
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