By Dr Teah Mogae
‘I am so tired,’ she exclaimed, trying her hardest not to break down in my office. Angela was working as a paramedic and had just returned to part-time work after 18 months of maternity leave. Her young daughter Matilda was enjoying spending more time with her grandparents and she had hoped her extra income would have reduced her stress. Alas, she was in my consultation room, feeling like she was drowning in all that was being expected of her.
Work was going well so far. She had eased back into the shift work with relative ease, and even though the initial excitement of having more interesting conversations (other than those about her daughter and her milestones) was beginning to wear off, she felt she was beginning to get her identity as a paramedic back. Despite the usual frustrations that go with the job, being among her colleagues was something that made her happy.
Her partner Dave was supportive of her return to work but seemed to think she’d manage the household chores as she did when she was on leave. Conversations with him regarding sharing the workload always ended up as an argument. He felt he was already a stellar partner and doing his fair share.
As she itemised all the tasks on her plate, including grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, laundry, cleaning the house, buying Matilda’s clothes, packing for grandparents visits, drop off and pickups, organising medical appointments/holidays/birthday gifts/play dates/babysitting/family outings etc, it did sound like she was working three distinct shifts; a shift as a paramedic, another as a mother (especially with the overnight waking and settling), and another being a household manager.
She was understandably exhausted. Her never-ending ‘to do’ list was overwhelming her resulting in increased stress and resentment. The ‘learn to relax’ and ‘you should write me a list’ or ‘you should have asked’ comments from Dave amplified the frustration as he did not seem to understand that the process of organising and delegating tasks was even more work.
Feeling a lot better after debriefing with me and understanding the concept of the mental load, we set out developing a plan on how best to share said load.
She was to have a conversation with Dave about tasks he needed to start doing around the house with the understanding that each partner was to ‘own’ their individual tasks from conception, planning and execution. For example, meal planning, grocery buying and meal preparation was all one task. She was to return in a few weeks to assess how the household was faring with the changes.
Crying happy tears at having a tangible plan to deal with her mental load, she gave me a hug. As she closed the consultation door, I silently cheered her on, hoping the discussion with Dave would go well and that they would be able to model shared mental and emotional labour to their daughter Matilda.