What’s on Your Invisible Laundry List? The Silent Load Moms Carry

Cheerful but busy mother works on laptop while taking care of two childrenIt has been said motherhood is a thankless job, and this often feels true. There are a lot of things moms do to keep their families running, and many of these tasks seem to go unnoticed, which can contribute to moms experiencing overwhelm and burnout.

A few weeks ago, I found myself incredibly irritated after a tiff I had with my husband. It was during a morning when I was feeling particularly tired, run down, under the weather, and stressed about the many things I needed to get done. As I rushed to get out the door and drop the kids off at school, I snapped at him about something. He, in turn, got annoyed. It turned into a heated argument where he pointed out everything he was doing to help pick up the slack while I was exhausted and not feeling well during my third pregnancy. This threw me over the edge. How dare he point out the fact he washed some dishes and gave the kids a bath! Did he want me to break away from the 8,000 things I had to get done to present him with a medal?

While I so appreciate the help, it felt like only a small dent in the laundry list of things I had on my plate that week. As I drove off, I fumed. And then I came to realize the hundreds of things I had to get done weren’t even on his radar.

This happened to be around the same time I was internally beating myself up for not meeting my own expectations for the kind of mom I wanted to be. I was juggling work, parenting, and being the chair for a large fundraiser about to take place, and I’d had to tell my daughter multiple times that week I was too busy to play with her. And just the day before, I’d found myself blowing up and yelling at my kids because my patience had reached a threshold. I felt terrible about it.

Feeling like I was on a tightrope without a net, I tried to cut myself some slack. I sat down and began listing all the things I do as a mom with young children. There is the obvious—feeding the kids, driving them to and from activities, breaking up sibling fights, doing laundry, washing dishes, planning meals, grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. But what I realized as I started to think about the little burdens on my mental to-do list is there are so many other little tasks cluttering my mind. In and of themselves, they may seem like minor things. But when you add them all up, these often-unrecognized tasks create a hefty workload for moms who are basically the equivalent to unpaid, overworked project managers. Sometimes it just feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.

Seeing these tasks laid out in a bullet-point list helped me to take a step back and recognize that, even on the days I feel like a crappy mom for sticking my kids in front of the TV, I am still doing a lot to be a caring and responsible parent.

Below, I present my ever-growing list in hopes it helps other moms realize, “Wow, yes! I do a lot!” (It should be noted I recognize dads also do a lot and that they may, in fact, cover many of the things on my list—as well as tasks that don’t appear here—in their own households.)

The Invisible Laundry List

  • Manage school schedules and the “family calendar” (know when there are days off, field trips, teacher conferences, etc.)
  • Pack lunches and make sure the kids’ favorite snacks are well stocked
  • Pump, store, and manage milk supply if breastfeeding
  • Fill out school enrollment and registration forms and pay attention to deadlines
  • Manage correspondence with teachers, etc.
  • Plan for play dates
  • Organize extracurricular activities and plan for summer camps
  • Buy kids’ wardrobes every season and make sure they have shoes that fit
  • Make sure kids have attire for special occasions
  • Schedule and take kids to doctor and dentist appointments
  • Make sure Children’s Tylenol, Motrin, etc. are stocked, and know the proper dosing and intervals for each child by age/weight
  • Make sure the bathroom is stocked with shampoo, bubble bath, toothpaste the kids like, etc.
  • Plan for birthday parties and holidays, buy gifts
  • RSVP to birthday parties and buy the gifts
  • Remember to send gifts, cards, etc. to family members for various occasions
  • Write thank-you notes for gifts children receive
  • Schedule babysitters
  • Baby-proof the house
  • Keep the diaper bag stocked with diapers, wipes, cups, snacks, toys—and lug it around
  • Pack clothes, toothbrushes, toys, favorite stuffed animals, etc. for kids when traveling
  • Store and/or donate clothes the kids have outgrown
  • Make sure kids get their nails trimmed and hair cut

Oh, and grow and birth humans, which, given the exhaustion and nausea pregnancy entails, is no small feat while keeping up with everything listed above if you have other children.

Moms do and manage a lot! And we do so while trying to make time to play with each child and remain calm and positive when disciplining. At times, it can be overwhelming or downright impossible.

Moms do and manage a lot! And we do so while trying to make time to play with each child and remain calm and positive when disciplining. At times, it can be overwhelming or downright impossible.

When I was younger, I was in the photography club at school and found myself irritated when rolls of film would pile up and my mom could never find the time to drop them off to be developed. How hard could it be? Just drop the film off and pick it up next week, I thought. I hate to admit it, but I now understand why she never did remember to bring that film to the store.

Recently, I found myself with a few hours of unexpected alone time when my morning plans got canceled at the last minute. I dropped my daughter off at school and walked back to my car, trying to decide what I was going to do with this gift of free time. I ended up sitting idly in the parking lot for a good 15 minutes at a complete loss for what to do next. Sure, there were about 800 errands I needed to do and would love to do while kid-free. But, ironically, I couldn’t think of a single thing in that moment.

I realized my brain is typically so cluttered with the long list of things that need to be done that in an instance of quiet and unstructured time, it went blank. I finally took a few deep breaths and thought about how my advice to others would be to embrace the silence and seize the opportunity to do something self-care related.

When we have so many responsibilities, it can be hard to stop and take time out to escape from the pandemonium of things weighing on our minds. But sometimes, pausing to give ourselves a chance to rest and relax is exactly what we need. By remembering to take time out, find balance, and sometimes put our own needs for sanity first, we give ourselves a reset that allows us to have a renewed outlook. We ultimately become better equipped to face the tasks, challenges, and stressors life presents.

If you, too, are a busy, overwhelmed mom, take just 10 minutes now to find some quiet, to sit down and relax. Make your own list of all you do. Writing it out is not only cathartic, but it can give you the opportunity to stop and give yourself the praise you so deserve.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Megan MacCutcheon, LPC, therapist in Vienna, Virginia

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Stephanie


    June 22nd, 2017 at 11:45 AM

    I definitely relate to nearly everything you mention in this article! I work a full-time job, 8-5 hours, five days a week and consider being a parent a full-time job as well. Even when I’m not with my child I’m constantly thinking about needs at home as well as all my work in the office. I feel guilty when I take any time for myself no matter how small or long of time I take even though I know I deserve it. When I do take time for myself, which is hard to find time to do, I have to remind myself that it’s OK! Being a mom is more stressful and challenging than I ever imagined but the calling is worth it! There’s so much negativity in this world and others constantly juding and putting others down for the way they live their life, I have to remember that it’s my life and I’m doing the best I can for myself and my family. Even when nobody notices, at the end of the day I can rest assured I’m trying my best and one day my family will understand.

  • Reese


    June 23rd, 2017 at 12:52 PM

    My husband always tells me that he would help out more around the house IF I would just tell him the things that I need him to do.
    It burns me up because there is no one there telling me what has to be done, I just do it so why can’t he?

  • shelby


    June 25th, 2017 at 8:07 AM

    Well I do have to say though that there are those moms, dads too, who wear their lists like a martyr and expect that they will receive praise or sympathy because of all that they do.
    Look, we are all in this together. No one job of making a family rattle and hum is more important than the next. But it is nice when you feel like as a family you are all in this together and that everyone is pulling their fair share. If not it is too easy to become resentful of those who aren’t doing enough.

  • Bud


    June 26th, 2017 at 9:12 AM

    So there are men too who carry these invisible lists too
    guess those aren’t as important?

  • Megan MacCutcheon, LPC

    Megan MacCutcheon, LPC

    June 26th, 2017 at 9:45 AM

    Every adult, man or woman, carries their own mental list of to-dos, burdens, and tedious tasks. My main point is that parenting seems to make the items on this list multiply and, at times, it can feel overhwleming. As a mom and the primary caretaker of the kids in my family, I wrote this article from my own perspective, but certainly the way responsibilities are divided up depends on the family and may or may not line up with traditional gender stereotypes. I hope the take away for anyone who reads this is that when you are feeling overwhelmed with all that is on your plate, rather than succumbing to self-pity or becoming a martyr, it may help to (1.) step back, recognize, and acknowledge everything you do to keep your and your family’s lives running smoothly and (2.) take some time out for yourself to reset and restore your energy. It’s about having perspective, self-compassion, and mindfulness about how to keep things in balance.

  • Hattie


    June 27th, 2017 at 1:32 PM

    I was a stay at home mom for a while when the kids were all little. Believe me, there is just as much stress with that full time job as any other out of the home job that I have ever held!
    As a matter of fact it got to a point when they got pre- school age that I decided that going back to work full time made more sense for me and I will tell you truthfully that I am sure that that made me a better mom to my children.
    This won’t be the case for everyone, I know that, but I think that the little bit of time away during the day made me so much more appreciative for the time that we did spend together at night.

  • Ella


    June 28th, 2017 at 4:16 PM

    One positive thing that I can say is that many marriages have come a long way from the days when all of the burdens of the household fell strictly on the one parent, mainly the mother. I know that when I was young of course my dad worked outside of the home but any cooking cleaning and anything to do with household fell squarely on the shoulders of mom. She was a saint because she truly worked from the crack of dawn until practically midnight every day making sure that everyone was ready for the next day and any upcoming events. I don’t think that my dad ever had to think about one single thing when he would come home at 5:30.

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