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the mental load

A message for fathers

The Mental Load. It’s A Total Fucker

Fatherhood

Natasha McNamara gives props in a message to the dads out there trying (and succeeding) to get it right.

Traditionally at this time of year on Father’s Day, I’m writing nice things about my father on Facebook. I’m lamenting the virtues of celebrity dads (former life on a woman’s mag), writing about exceptional dads who have done great things and suggesting nice gifts (still am actually – they do need gifts). But this year I’m thinking about the generation of dads in my world, because I’m digging these guys.

These are the dads that share childcare – you know the dads you see dressed in sharp suits at 8am on the bus dropping off their kids at nursery with the FT under one arm and a blob of Weetabix on their eyebrow. The dads in the Westfield toilets changing nappies. The dads on the school trips. The kind of dads that share the load. But it’s not just the day to day stuff that these dads are sharing. It’s the mental load.

When my husband lost his job last year he gained a mental load.

I’d been running on empty for years – juggling a demanding job, managing the lives of our children. I got to point where I gave myself the brief of keeping them alive, anything more than that was a bonus.

The problem was, there was too much to remember and I broke. One minute I was the woman they said; ‘how to you do it all and still have time to run PTA bake sale’ about, next minute I was the woman signed off work, highly medicated and locked in the house afraid to leave. But that’s another story. When my husband lost his job, he started pickling things. Fermenting vegetables. The house began to take on a weird smell. He was taking a little time to himself. But once he got the ferments out of his system, he started picking up the things that had pushed me over the edge. He took over the childcare arrangements. The letters from school went to him. The school rang him when the kids were sick. He even agreed to be Santa for the Christmas PTA event (have you ever done this with 300 kids? Its terrifying). He did the shopping, the washing and cooking. He oversaw playdates. He even took on my greatest enemy. The school holiday childcare google doc and abided by the colour coding. He was me.

These things are small, but when they build up and you throw them into the space where your job, your family, your extended family and everything else – they get bigger. It’s called the mental load and it’s a total fucker.

When life was restored, and the ferments were all gone, he went back to work. But this time it was different. We created a group WhatsApp with our nanny so that both of us get the messages. School holidays are both our problem. We share the cooking, the chores and taking the bins out. Letters are read by both of us and school trips are divvied out between us. It took a mental breakdown and a redundancy to make us see that the mental load needed to be shared.

I see this more and more. Grownup parenting, ‘parenting the shit out of life’ as my friend calls it. It’s about sharing the good stuff and the shit stuff. So yes, my husband will get three homemade cards on Sunday, I’ll cook, he can watch the footie down the pub in peace because it’s Father’s Day. But really I’m just grateful to be able to thank him, and his fellow dads on Sunday, and every day, for aiming for human excellence and working towards changing the role of the dad and parenting. Because it really does matter. For redefining what masculinity is. Because it is changing shitty nappies and telling your boss you need to work from home because your kid is sick and your partner has a meeting. It is telling your family you’re not coping. It’s filling in the google doc and using the appropriate colour coding. It’s saying ‘I’m here’ when the other person isn’t. It’s the mental load. Its parenting.

Keep up the good work you lovely bunch.

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