Mental load: The emotional impact of being both a child and an adult
Story of a daughter whose mother has MySense installed in her home
“Mental load is having lots of things on your mind. It’s having to remember to pick up eggs, to label your kid’s PE kit, to plan the Christmas shopping, to buy and make dinners for the week, to read the communications from school —” (Carrell, 2019).
I think that mental load, for the middle-aged, goes beyond the limits of the household. It is about managing your daily life by maintaining a work-life balance and nurturing friendships and family relationships, the latter being the focus of this article.
As we grow, the weight of our mental load varies up and down depending on the different roles we hold throughout our lives. However, most of us will always have a constant role.
From travelling the world to buying a house — we remain someone’s child. From building our own company to writing a book, to even having children of our own, we still remain someone’s child.
On one hand, we have all the responsibilities that are intrinsic to adulthood. On the other hand, our parents still see us as the child they need to protect. We might still even want to play the role of that child that our, now older, parents want to protect. But, no matter what our life has become, most of us at some stage will find ourselves becoming our parents’ caregiver. Emotionally overwhelming, it can add to our mental load.
Juliet, 56 years old, is a PE teacher and takes care of her 84 year-old mum, Bridget.
“I find myself running around all the time at work and looking after my mum. She was diagnosed with vascular dementia in October 2019. In 2014, she and my father moved up to the village that we live in. My dad passed away in 2016. Mum was left on her own. She had a heart bypass and heart failure, which I think is what has led to the vascular dementia. I’m just glad that she and my dad moved here so that I can look after her. My brother lives down south, so he can’t do anything. It’s all on me. […] I try to call her every day. I pop in two or three times a week, and she has carers who go three times a week. I have a son and a daughter, they’re 25 and 23 years old, both still at home. And I live with my husband ”.
As a son or daughter, sharing this mental load might not be easy. Maybe you are a single child and don’t have any siblings to help you — whether that being to visit your parents or just someone to vent and unwind to. Maybe your sister lives on the other side of the world. Maybe, you are the one living far away and feel guilty for not being able to support your parents as you would like to.
One day, my own sister, who was overwhelmed at the time, told me that sometimes just talking to someone who offers their help makes us feel less lonely and powerless. That it’s not always the action of helping that brings peace of mind and reassurance, but knowing that someone is there for you. Maybe, this is what we all need to relieve our mental stress.
Fundamentally, a child is not trained to care for their parents. A child does not have the emotional hindsight to handle and accompany a parent with an illness. We worry about our parents’ denial facing an illness they can’t control. We worry about what they tell us when we ask them “have you drunk enough water? Have you walked today?”. But mostly we worry about what they don’t tell us.
Juliet was struggling with her own mental health. She was concerned with her mother’s denial.
“I don’t think I respond positively to her all of the time. For example, she doesn’t accept her incontinence issues. We’ve been to the clinic and got all the necessary equipment and pads. She needs to drink regularly, get up and walk. And I told her that it’s good for her. […] She’ll be stretching and will do more steps just by going to the bathroom.” Juliet bought an alarm that prompts her mother to get up every 2 hours. “But she threw that away. So I feel that I’m battling against her”.
Juliet needed support but Covid 19 happened and that did not facilitate her situation.
“Mum will soon have a dementia review with the GP. Other than that [she does not have any psychological support]. […] I can contact the Alzheimer’s Society in Leicestershire […] who would ring me back straight away and give me some support. But when she got diagnosed, it was pre-Covid. They were going to send me on a course to learn how to support her. That didn’t happen. […] So it’s really hard. I do feel like I’m swimming against the tide sometimes, because I’ve never come across it before.”
Juliet is persevering and has looked for solutions. She shares her mental load as much as possible with supportive family members.
“I’ve made contact with her GP to speak about her incontinence. I need to know if I’m doing the right or wrong thing. […] The Alzheimer’s Society recommended that I actually speak to the incontinence clinic via the doctor. Then, they will be able to help me with strategies and perhaps send a nurse to talk to her about it. My family, at home, really supported me. My husband would do anything to help. […] My children, because they’re grown up, can help by popping in and getting her stuff. My daughter more than my son, because she works at the care home.”
A big thank you to Juliet for sharing her story with MySense. Her mum, Bridget, has MySense installed in her home as part of our partnership with the Leicestershire Council. Names have been changed to preserve their privacy.
Carrell, R. (2019) ‘Lets Share Women’s Mental Load’, Forbes Women, 15 Aug. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelcarrell/2019/08/15/lets-share-womens-mental-load/?sh=561c8e006bd6 (Accessed: 30 December 2021)
Healthline, (2021) ‘The Mental Load: Managing a Burden You Can’t Actually See’, 7 Mar. Available at: www.healthline.com/health/relationships/mental-load (Accessed: 30 December 2021)
Written by Swanny Henry, Customer Journey Lead at MySense.