According to the INSEE, in France, there are 2 million single parent families. Whether this situation is a choice or not, everyday life is not easy for a single mum or dad. This situation can create loneliness, but also a very important mental load.
What is mental load?
Monique Haicault, a French sociologist is the first person who described mental load, in 1984. Mental load is having to think about several things at the same time, when these things or tasks pertain to physically different worlds. This expression became more popular later and now refers to the invisible load of everyday organization.
To be clear and simple: imagine that you are at work and your mind wanders. You think about what you are going to prepare for dinner tonight, all of the laundry left, the garage that you have to call back… See what I am talking about? Well, that is what we call mental load!
Of course, mental load exists for almost all parents, but it is even more present for single parents. Sadly, we do not talk about it much.
What are the symptoms of mental load?
Having a mental load feels like time is constantly missing and everything must be done urgently. It creates stress for the parent who may feel overworked and feel that he/she has too many things to do.
Mental load may lead to a feeling of guilt as this parent may think that he/she is not capable. The responsibility is indeed burdensome as the single parent must think about everything without forgetting anything (or must try anyway!).
Of course, mental load exists also for couples with children, but difficulties for single parents are underestimated. Together with these daily concerns, precariousness is often there, as it is hard to conciliate professional life and personal life when we are alone with one or several children.
Single parents are subject to exhaustion, overwork and parental burn out. Why? Because they do not have a partner to share their worries with, to relax during the evening or to have a moment for themselves. This parent must face all daily situations, in particular crisis or urgencies. He/she must also try to be constantly present, available, reliable and stable for his/her children.
How to limit mental load for single parents?
To facilitate everyday life if you are a single parent, you can start by asking your employer to adapt your working hours. Maybe it will not be possible, but it is worth trying! If you obtain some adjustments, this could really help in your organization and may allow you to bring your children to school in the morning.
Moreover, do not hesitate to ask friends and family for help when needed. This can be done with several people you trust, including neighbors, or the parents of your children’s friends… Tell them that you need some support and ask for help even at the last minute.
Other important tip: ask your children to contribute. You are a team, so ask them to help according to their age and capacities. For example, you can prepare a planning with the household tasks together, and give tasks to each child. They will help you but also learn to be autonomous and supportive.
It is also important to learn how to identify the urgent and less urgent tasks. Some tasks can certainly wait, others can be put aside or carried out by somebody else. You cannot handle everything, you are not perfect. Nobody is, and that’s a good thing! Our children also need to see that nobody is infallible and that we are allowed to not be perfect!
Finally, try to stay optimistic and positive. This may be a hard time, but it will not last forever. You will find a routine for your family, your children will grow up and you may not be alone forever! Remain confident, you are strong and you can do it!
More on this subject ?
The novel "Les femmes sont occupées", by Samira El Ayachi*.*