Let go of the reins and ask for help to avoid parental burnout.

My husband turned on the shower and started telling me something while we readied for bed. As he talked, I realized I was simultaneously, in that very instant, half listening to a football game on TV, brainstorming a work project, wondering how much water is wasted in our house when we turn on the shower and wait entirely too long before getting in, hoping the box I broke down for the recycling bin was folded neatly enough, and feeling guilty that we’ve completely wrecked the planet we’re leaving to our children. I hadn’t a clue what he said. Obviously.

Blame the invisible load.

That’s what my friend Regan Walsh calls it. She coaches executive women around the country, and the challenge is widespread. 

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This load is what so many women carry—whether they’re CEOs of their homes, their companies or both. It’s everything you think about, worry about, plan for and act on, often without even realizing it. Take, for example, the cough. As soon as we hear one from our kid, it triggers a chain reaction of thoughts that over a 30-second span goes something like this: If he needs to stay home from school tomorrow, I can cover the first half of the day, but I’ll need a sitter for the second. No need to see the doctor. A little NyQuil and a good night’s sleep, and he’ll be fine. WAIT, I never got him a flu shot. I wonder if Mom and Dad remembered to get theirs? I need to call. Actually, we should visit this weekend. Should we just move there? We’re not around enough to help. If we’re putting the house up for sale, I really need to renovate the guest bath.

Sure, carrying the invisible load means the lives of everyone around us run smoothly. But it’s also what ends up pushing us to the brink, because carrying the invisible load is flippin’ exhausting. 

I don’t have all the answers. What I do have is an acknowledgement that you are not alone—and a couple of hacks that have lightened my burden that might help you, too.

Have the pros feed your fam. I actually love to cook. As in, music on, wine in hand and a kitchen that smells like pasta sauce. But weeknights are crazy with homework, practices and my work. I used to force the issue because my family deserves home-cooked food and I refuse to feed them junk. But cooking and cleaning stole most of the little family time we had. So we started going to Whole Foods or The Hills Market on Sundays and stockpiling enough heat-and-eat favorites from the prepared food section to last the week. It’s not handmade by me, but it’s handmade by someone. Sure, it’s not cheap, but I’m willing to trim our budget in other places to buy the ability to fully enjoy our meals and still have time for a board game afterward.

Ask your partner for help. On Sunday nights, my husband and I map out our week. Here are the days I’m leaving early; here are the days I’ll be home late; here are the workout classes I want to get to; on Thursday night, I’m going out with the girls. On the rare occasion we need to enlist a sitter—or trade help with another family member—we do. 

Many moms I know end up being the default caretakers. They’re responsible for the kids unless they make an explicit point to arrange other plans. What can end up happening then is that Dad gets his workout in five days a week every week, plus he grabs drinks with the guys on Fridays. Meanwhile, Mom accepts that yoga and happy hours are something she’s sure she’ll love when the kids are old enough to drive. Don’t wait until your kid gets a license to claim your space (or your sanity). Ask for what you need. 

Prioritize, then delegate. “If you want something done right,” my mom has always said, “do it yourself.” It’s true, to a degree. But to what end? So the towels that you are going to unfold anyway are creased just so? Prioritize what matters most, and delegate the rest, whether it’s to your partner, your kids, or someone you’re paying to help. Does it mean the Christmas gifts wrapped by a 9-year-old are going to look the way you want? Probably not. But it will mean you weren’t up until 3 a.m. wrapping them.

The invisible load isn’t going away. But it doesn’t have to be quite so heavy. Here’s to letting go of a little weight and better enjoying the ride—or, at the very least, being present enough to hear what my husband is trying to say.

Kristy Eckert is a Powell mom and founder of Kristy Eckert Communications. 

This story is from the Spring 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.