One of the hardest things I found about being a stay at home mum is that I never truly got to “switch off”. I constantly had things on my mind, and I was usually juggling 3-4 tasks at the same time.
This often lead to burn out and decision-making fatigue.
Have you ever broke down crying because your husband asked you whether you wanted tea or coffee, and you genuinely didn’t know the answer? Just me?
That’s decision-making fatigue. When having to make just one more decision is enough to turn you into a sobbing wreck or an unresponsive potato. (It can go either way!)
When your kids are very young, you probably feel like you’re being physically pulled in a hundred different directions. Every child seems to need you at the same time, and every need is urgent (or so you’d think by their volume level…)
I remember the frustration of trying to wash the dishes, and being interrupted 20 times. I just wanted to do one job from start to finish!
As my kids have gotten older and started school, as well as me having started part-time work from home, the demands of child-raising and homemaking and working have shifted largely to the mental realm.
Oh, there is still PLENTY of physical work to do.
But while I may now be able to clean the whole kitchen with little to no interruptions (and even some helping hands!) I struggle to get a whole job done without my thoughts jumping all over the place.
What I’ve discovered is that the more decisions I can take off my plate and the more I can streamline things, the less thinking and decision-making I have to do in a day. And this results in better focus, more efficiency in my tasks and a more loving atmosphere in the home.
Here are some of the strategies I’ve developed for reducing my thought load as a stay at home mum:
Rock those routines
A routine is different from a schedule. Routines are not set in stone, but they do tell you roughly what to do when, and in which order.
Routines give structure to your day.
Which means, instead of thinking, “Hmm, should we have lunch soon? Who’s hungry?” you simply look at the clock, see that it’s sometime between 11:30 and 12, and you know that means “time to make lunch!”
Having a routine that is automatic and fits your family well saves you from making many decisions each day. Just do what’s next in your routine – no need to over-think it!
If you don’t have a routine yet, the best way to get started is by keeping track of the natural order and flow of your day for the next week. Then see if you notice any patterns and if there’s anything you’d like to change. You can write up the routine you’d like to stick to, but it’s best to make small changes over time.
You want your routine to become as natural and habitual as possible. Remember – we’re trying to reduce your thought load in the long term.
Automate the admin
Admin has got to be one of my LEAST favourite parts of being a stay at home mum! There’s paying the bills, balancing the budget, reconciling the bank account, the hundreds of papers and emails that come home from the school, managing our emails, and more!
I think the reason I dislike the admin side of home management is because it requires my full concentration and often, careful consideration. Give me a mindless job like scrubbing the toilet or hanging the washing any day over admin!
I’ve found the key here is to automate as much as I can.
Set up the bills to deduct automatically from your bank account when they’re due. Think about getting a budgeting app or program that automatically categorises your bank transactions. Set up email rules so new emails go to the correct folder automatically.
The more you automate your admin, the less you have to think about it.
Sometimes we have an overwhelming thought load because we’re carrying stuff that shouldn’t really be carried by us.
That’s why my husband and I are always trying to teach the kids to be more responsible for more of their lives as they get older. Admittedly, this is still something I need to work on more! I find it hard because I don’t want to let go of control. Plus, when you come out of the little years where you are literally doing everything for them, sometimes letting go feels like neglect.
But (preaching to myself here!) it’s for their good and ours if we help them take on their own responsibilities from a young age.
One way I’m implementing this at the moment with the 8 year old and the 6 year old is that I put on a timer in the morning counting down how long until we need to leave for school. They know what they need to do to get ready (get dressed, eat breakfast, pack lunches and pack bags) and it’s their responsibility to do it in time for us to leave. Now, I do remind them to check the timer. And I do correct them if I see them playing before they’re done. But gradually, I’m seeing progress in this area.
And while it’s still a challenge now, I know this will pay off in reducing my thought load once they are fully capable of getting ready for school on time.
How much of your thought load might be caused by taking on other people’s responsibilities?
Write it down
My husband noticed recently that I seem to reach for my phone a lot during the day. I told him often that’s because I think of something I need to do – a message to respond to, someone to email, or a product I need to look up.
He suggested that instead of grabbing my phone then and there, I make a note to do it later, and then continue to focus on what I was doing in the first place.
And this is a principle I try to implement across the board – writing things down when I think of them. The reason this helps me is because if I write it down, that piece of information is then stored somewhere concrete and I don’t need to keep it in the “open tabs” section of my brain. I don’t need to struggle to remember it all day or be so distracted by it that I stop what I’m doing.
Of course, for this to work, you need to have a central location where you keep these notes. Random post-it notes or whatever scrap of paper happens to be closest to you are not going to be helpful if you can’t find them later. I like to leave my planner open on the kitchen counter so I can see my daily to-do list, and also write any notes as needed.
Watch your information intake
Speaking of phones, how much unnecessary information do you think we consume each day just through mindless scrolling? How much anxiety do think we bring to ourselves by staying glued to the news and world events?
Speaking for myself – it’s way too much!
And have you ever thought about how all the information you take in is adding to your thought load?
Last week I found myself watching a youtube video which was someone commentating on a recent case of a missing child. As I watched, I felt my anxiety levels rising. I soon decided that there was nothing good or productive about me watching this video and taking in this information. I had no connection to this boy in real life, and there was nothing practical I could do for him or the family.
I prayed for the boy and then I turned off the video.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about the real people who are affected by the stories we read in the news or on social media, I’m just saying we need to be wise about what we listen to and take in.
We are not called to be up to speed on everything.
We don’t have to know all about what’s going on in the world because we have a heavenly Father who does. And He cares and knows infinitely more than we ever could.
Don’t pick up a burden that you were never meant to carry.
Limit your information intake if you want to reduce your thought load.
You might notice that I haven’t conquered everything in this list. I’m not writing to you as someone who’s super chill and manages everything perfectly and never feels overwhelmed.
No, I’m writing as someone who’s right there with you; someone who knows all too well what it feels like to have no room to think because you have so much going on inside your head.
And that’s because reducing your thought load is not a “one and done” task.
We need to stay aware of things that might be adding to our thought load and making us more stressed (and less effective) as stay at home mums. And as we become of aware of those things, we can eliminate them or choose to deal with them differently.
Do you struggle with the thought load of being a stay at home mum?