A mom's mental load: embracing and forgiving my forgetfulness

August 21 2018 | Guest post by Jennifer
A mom's mental load: embracing and forgiving my forgetfulness
Remind mommy to get some sleep
Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

I've been thinking a lot about forgetfulness and mental load. I had a boss at work who constantly referred to freeing up your "psychic space" as often as possible. Much like defragmenting your computer in order to free up memory.

I have always been considered "forgetful" — even before I had a baby. During pregnancy, I had the luxury of blaming things on "baby brain." Now that my daughter is crawling, my ability to keep up with everything in my brain seems exponentially worse.

Here are some of the more serious things I've forgotten this past month:

Event: Returning from a weekend at my parents' house
Some Things I remembered: The baby, all the baby's stuff, all my stuff, my coffee for the road, the stroller, my dog's leash, my leftovers from the fridge, to take out the trash full of diapers, to strip the bedding from the guest bed that I slept in, my laptop and charger.

The thing I forgot: My dog. I didn't realize until I was 45 minutes into my drive home that he wasn't in the car with us. He's so used to being second banana to the baby these days, that he didn't even bother to get under foot while I was packing up. Poor buddy!

Event: Regular workday

I'm "forgetful" so often that I have started to develop a complex.

Things I remembered: that I needed to put a little more effort into my appearance for an important client meeting, my lunch, my coffee for the commute, to eat something for breakfast, my laptop and charger, the book I promised to loan to my co-worker, my breast pump, to remind my dad to have my daughter ready by 4:30pm when I got off work so that we could be at something that evening.

The thing I forgot:
Bottles for my breast pump. (I remembered to wash them the night before.) After frantically messaging another nursing mom in the office, I ended up using some rubber bands to secure a plastic bag to the pump and pray that I didn't spill any liquid gold breast milk on myself before my client meeting.

Event: The next workday
Things I remembered: My laptop and charger, my coffee for the road, my breast pump and clean bottles, to call and schedule my daughters six-month checkup, to put the cloth diapers in the dryer.

Things I forgot: My lunch. And also my wallet. Luckily I had a protein bar stashed away in my bag — for "emergencies" like this.

Things I have forgotten more than once:

  • My laptop charger
  • My lunch
  • Any one of the 35 parts that renders my breast pump completely useless.
  • What time a meeting is happening
  • To notice and thank my husband for cleaning the kitchen
  • To replenish the diapers in the diaper bag
  • To brush my teeth
  • To pee before I leave the house
  • The one essential ingredient we need for our dinner recipe
  • To do my kegel exercises
  • To put the ice cream back in the freezer
  • The thing I said I would loan a friend
  • To pay my garbage bill

My mental load is so full these days, it's no wonder some of this stuff falls through the cracks.

I'm "forgetful" so often that I have started to develop a complex. I've even had nightmares about forgetting my baby somewhere (I've heard this is actually a normal dream.)

Instead of stewing on all the things that I forget, I'm trying to reframe it. Look at all the things I remember! My mental load is so full these days, it's no wonder some of this stuff falls through the cracks. I've also started asking my husband to take some of these things off my plate. When all else fails, I resort to a good ol' fashioned checklist, and one of the zillion phone apps that I forget to update. I've also asked Alexa to help remind me of things.

I try to laugh it off, too. At the end of the day, I'm a human being. My time and energy should be spent being present with my daughter, and not in a constant state of stewing about the things I forgot yesterday, or the things I have to remember for tomorrow.

I'm comforted by the fact that everyone forgets things from time to time.

Any tips or tricks for a mom's mental load and staying on top of things with a child?

  1. I Google calender important stuff (allows me to postpone things if my day is too full). I also try yo have ONE place by the door where I put things I will need tomorrow. I leave my pump at work, in a special bag, and only take the bottles. They also go in a special "bag" that is always besides me at work, so when I leave I know if I hace it or not.
    I also try "routines" (as soon as I get to work, lunch goes in the fridge and the gel packs (for millones transport) go in the freezer…

  2. First off, hang in there, baby! You have a whole new family member. Snafus are bound to happen. You (and I hope husband) have to think for two. So long as nobody was put at risk, just laugh, laugh, laugh.

    What you say about mental load is 1,000% true! The less brute-force *remembering* you have to do, the easier it will be. What's helped me is to see how much I can put on automatic:

    As best you can, make habits and routines your friend. That way, if you forget something (trust me, we all do) something won't feel right. Like my driver's ed teacher said, get in the habit of buckling up as soon as you get in the car – that way, if you forget to buckle up someday, you'll feel "weird."

    With that in mind, try to pair activities that you SHOULD do with things you NORMALLY do. One can act as an alert for the other so that you don't have to clog your brain with two events where one will do. Can breast-pump time be kegel time as well? Can bill paying status be something that is checked as a part of lunchtime routine?

    Stage stuff that you MUSTN'T leave without alongside things you will be UNABLE to leave without. My boss sometimes puts her car keys in the fridge with the leftovers she wants to bring home. Yeah, it looks weird, but once you understand the method to her madness, not so weird.

    Have spares of items you frequently need. Granted, you can't have a backup of your dog, but you CAN hide a spare $20 (or prepaid debit card) in your office in case lunch is forgotten. The same goes for phone chargers and the like. The exception to this is is phone apps. Unless updating one app updates the others, have ONE checklist app, ONE scheduling app, ONE address book app, etc. To quote the old adage, the man with a watch knows the time, the man with two watches is never sure.

    Again, hang in there, girlfriend! Lots of times, organization is indistinguishable from having a good memory. It sure is a hell of a lot easier! 😉

    • The car keys with the leftovers in the fridge it a wonderful idea! So good that I should do that for anything that I've prepared to take with me out of the house. Thank you!

      • My pleasure!

        On a similar note, I came across this article: https://offspring.lifehacker.com/keep-your-left-shoe-next-to-your-babys-car-seat-1828083818

        Of course, it's possible to go overboard with this ("Honey, why is your bra hanging from the dog's collar?"). 🙂

        I find that staging things that must come with me ahead of time into one "Bring With Me" pile helps *so* much:

        1 – No (or at least Less) frantic last-minute running around, and

        2 – Once something is in the BWM pile, you can stop thinking about it. This in turn has the bonus benefit of unclogging your brain-buffer so you can remember those *other* things that you forgot to put on the pile.

        Packing for a trip a full day ahead of time (or longer) accomplishes the same thing.

        We only have so much brain — use it wisely! 🙂

  3. No suggestions beyond what's been mentioned already, just sympathy. My daughter is 10 months old, and my brain hasn't recovered. I don't have a problem with forgetting physical items, just words. I mix them up constantly. At home: Husband, could you put the milk back in the dishwasher? At work: Yes, this client is from Barbados. (No, the Bahamas.) Constantly mixing up my nouns. My mom is the same way, which means 1. this is probably permanent and 2. it's my fault.

  4. Thank you for this! While I didn't really get "pregnancy brain" with my daughter, I am having memory issues from recent emotional trauma. I always had an exceptionally good memory (and probably still do compared to most people, just not compared to before) so I've always been the one everyone relied on to remember things, which makes me especially hard on myself when I forget – probably about as much as a normal person would, but people are counting on me and I hate to let them down, and it's scary to realize that I can't count on my memory the way I'm used to. Thanks for the reminder that I need to adjust their expectations and – more importantly – mine while I recover.

  5. Thank you Jennifer for speaking so much truth! I have a five month old and to top it off, I have a thyroid disease that I've had the pleasure of blaming my forgetfulness, loss of words and foggy brain on for most of my adult life, prior to motherhood.
    I myself have also come to a point where I know I'm going to forget something from home every time I leave it. However, how I treat myself now-a-days is much more positive than it has been in the past, when I used to dwell on my loss and really feel disappointed in myself. I know now there is usually something good that may come out of it. Such as, there may be an alternative way to get around the "item" that I forgot, which I then can feel good about being resourceful, like how you resolved your pumping bottle-less dilemma (Good thinking Mamma!) or just doing without and just being okay with whatever was missing. I find that those moments must be a "God-thing." Such as, if I had remembered my eye glasses, something may had happened down the road, but instead I turned around before leaving my neighborhood (takes me a few turns to realize I can't see that great without them) to go back home to retrieve my eye glasses.

    In this moment right now, I was reminded of this YouTube video titled: It is Impossible to Tell If Anything is Good or Bad – Alan Watts (My husband often shares this kind of enlightening YouTube videos with me) It's about how it is impossible to tell if anything that happens is "good" or "bad". The key is to flow like water through rocks. Be adaptive, especially to events that are outside of your control. Don't get hung up on any one thing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4TZMxkxySc

    I hope you enjoy 🙂

    See you around Jennifer! Thank you for your post!

  6. I have always considered myself to have a terrible memory and for me planning, checklists and habits are key.

    Important items I always need with me always, go in the same place when I get home. It costs me far less precious energy to start and keep up habits like putting my wallet in a dedicated bowl in a dedicated cubby in the hallway as soon as I come home, than to try and work out if the memory of putting my wallet on the coffee table was last night or the previous night and so divine where the hell it might be this morning. Memories of events have no date label on them for me, making it hard for me to look back and remember what I did or planned, so I have to use habit.

    I will also forget things I plan to do, so if it’s important I write it down. I keep one simple note app on my phone and it goes there. I will not (accurately) remember what routine things like meetings and appointments I have on this week, unless looking at a calendar. I will even mix up what month my holiday is booked in if you try and talk to me about it on the fly. Therefore on my phone calendar I have my stuff, a shared calendar with my wife’s stuff and my work calendar, all synced up so I can check anytime I need to, what’s happening. One note app, one universal calendar, anything else is setting myself up to fail. It’s ok to need it how I need it.

    If I accept my limitations, forgive myself and help myself out, I will relax and remember more. For important days like job interviews, catching a flight,etc, I write myself a simple note on my phone with the time of the important event, the time to leave the house, the time to get up (and sometimes even time for breakfast, time to get changed etc) because the important-ness of the day makes remembering things like my schedule even harder than normal. I can check my note anytime I need to, but that fact I can check, often means I don’t need to as much.

  7. I'm dealing with this too, now on my 2nd baby, and Mom brain has gotten worse. I've decided to be proactive about it, planning on reading The Postnatal Depletion Cure by Oscar Serrallach, and changing up my vitamin game. Fingers crossed that I start to see improvement soon!

  8. I totally resent the term "baby brain" or "pregnancy brain" because man! There is just a lot to think about! I would hardly call it being forgetful! I hear all the time people excusing usually white men that their forgetfulness is just because they are so busy. (Prime example, my Father in Law who tell me EVERY SINGLE TIME he likes me desserts because they aren't too sweet) Just from your list above, you have a lot of "extras" to remember because of the breast pump, having to feed and extra kid, etc.

    Plus, I remember reading a recent study that actually found pregnant women had BETTER short term memory than non-pregnant women. They did a small memory test and the pregnant women performed better, so it just confirms my theory that mama's just have more shit to stay on top of. oh and can we also talk about sleep deprivation? We forget how much it affects us until we catchup on it and then we look back and wonder "how did I function?!"

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