“What do you want to do for Mother’s Day?” The question always comes with good intentions, asked by well-meaning people: my partner, relatives, or friends, all of whom are likely expressing the desire to make me happy. And despite the fact that I know that anyone asking this question obviously cares about me, that they want to ensure I feel adequately celebrated and properly honored, the truth of the matter is that I don’t want to be asked any questions about Mother’s Day at all. In fact, all I want for Mother’s Day is to not make a single damn decision all day long. And I'm not alone.
As a mom, and especially as a mom who is home most days of the week with a 20-month-old, I make a thousand tiny decisions in a 24-hour period. It’s up to me to choose what my daughter wears when she gets dressed, what to make for breakfast, what we do that day, and what time to put her down for her nap. I keep a running mental list at all times of things that we need from the grocery store or Target, making sure to pick up a carton of milk before we’re completely out, or stopping for a box of diapers when I know we’re down to the last few. At any given time, I can tell you how many pairs of pajamas my toddler has left in her drawer before I need to run the laundry, and I don’t even need to peek inside the dishwasher to know we’re low on clean sippy cups.
Kate, 32, tells Romper that she feels 'decision fatigue' at the end of a full day with her 11-month-old son.
To say that a mom’s brain is like an internet browser with a million tabs open would be an understatement. On top of the tangible day-to-day tasks, there are dozens of things I’m quietly keeping track of: pediatrician appointments, playdates, family events, just to name a few. And that doesn’t even cover the constantly moving target of toddlerhood; with a sleep schedule that’s always in flux, teething, and growth spurts that require new clothes, paying attention to a toddler’s essential needs is a full time job in and of itself.
At the end of a long day, I have zero mental bandwidth remaining to make any more decisions. I don’t even want to decide what to eat for dinner or what to watch on Netflix, so I certainly don’t want to decide what to do for a holiday that’s supposed to be a celebration of me. I know it sounds petulant, but the emotional labor of motherhood is real — and it’s enormously taxing. The mental workload of being a mom is strikingly different than any other job, and it comes with a special side of exhaustion of which there is seemingly no end in sight.
And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Kate, 32, tells Romper that she feels “decision fatigue” at the end of a full day with her 11-month-old son. “There’s been an overload of options from first waking up in the morning until bedtime each night and I don’t have the energy to decide anymore,” she says. “I’m usually craving a couple minutes to read a book, or listen to a podcast, or watch a show where someone else is the one making decisions — and I simply get to be a spectator to it.”
Liz, a 33-year-old mother of two under 2, feels similarly, adding that it’s hard to understand how mentally draining motherhood is until you’re actually in it. “Before becoming a mom, I was one of those people who thought being a stay-at-home mom was kind of relaxing and fun, and dare I say, easy?” she says. “It is anything but that! At the end of the day, I am frazzled and burnt out from making so many nonstop instantaneous decisions.”
Part of what’s so uniquely trying about the emotional labor of motherhood is that those choices aren’t independent of one another, as Kate points out. “Every decision seems to have a domino effect,” she explains. “The sleep schedule impacts the eating schedule, and the eating schedule impacts when we can get out for errands and activities, etc. When one thing gets off track, it can seem like everything is off track. Sometimes it just feels liberating to pass the baton and say: ‘your turn.’”
I’d much rather receive my second-favorite breakfast item or a coffee flavor I’m lukewarm about than have to pick any of those things out myself.
Granted, asking for help isn’t always easy — and #MomGuilt is all too real. But it’s important to remember that maternal self-care is essential; after all, taking care of ourselves often makes us better mothers, and it’s important for our children to see us put ourselves first sometimes. It reminds them that, one day, it will be OK for them to put themselves first, too.
And so, for Mother’s Day this year, all I really want is to power down for 24 hours, and have someone make decisions for me. I don’t want my family and friends to worry about getting it wrong or disappointing me; I’d much rather receive my second-favorite breakfast item or a coffee flavor I’m lukewarm about than have to pick any of those things out myself.
What’s more, I don’t need a day off from the physical aspects of motherhood so much as I need a break from the mental parts of it. I don’t need to go to the salon or have a shopping trip; I just want someone else to choose what we do that day or what we eat. I want someone else to keep track of the dishes, the laundry, and how many pajamas are in the dresser drawer. For one day, I’d like to take that little decision-making part of my brain, put it in a box, and let it get some sleep. And sure, then I’ll take a cup of coffee and breakfast in bed, too.