It’s invisible, but it’s always with me. You can’t see it. My husband and kids certainly can’t see it, but there it is, sitting like a weight on my chest. Sometimes the weight feels like it will crush me, it’s so much — too much. Other times, it’s manageable and I feel kind of proud of myself for that.
It’s my “invisible to-do list” — that compilation of all the tasks and information it takes to manage my family and keep things humming along. Moms, you know exactly what I mean, right?
There’s the regular to-do list (dishes, laundry, school pick-up, etc.). But then there’s all of the other stuff, those behind-the-scenes tasks that no one notices until they don’t get done.
I’ve never met a woman who didn’t have an invisible to-do list and I’ve never met a mom who wasn’t a little (or a lot) resentful of the sheer mental exhaustion that goes along with the hours upon hours of invisible labor we do for our families.
Yes, my husband could manage some of this stuff. And he does — mostly because I remind him. But I’m the keeper of all of this information. Sure, I can delegate it. But just being the one who has to remember it all, keep track of it all, is often more work than the actual tasks themselves!
Here’s a sampling of some of the things that are currently on my invisible to-do list. Can you relate?
In addition to keeping track of my own deadlines and appointments, I need to keep a mental note of my husband’s schedule and both kids’ schedules. School, work, doctor and dentist appointments, they are all in my head (and in my datebook and on the family calendar). I also keep track of my babysitter’s work and school schedules, so my husband and I can squeeze in a date night every once in a while!
Keeping up with my kids’ clothing and shoe sizes. Weeding their clothes, taking out the stuff that’s too small, ripped or out of season. Not only do I need to remember my sons’ current clothing preferences (only solids/no stripes) and shoe requests (no white/no “little kid” characters), I need to do the math to figure out what sizes they might be wearing when the weather turns cooler or warmer.
3. My Kids’ Social Lives
Playdates. Names of best friends. Names of worst friends. Names of potential crushes. Never mind that it changes, sometimes weekly, I need to know the people who are important to my kids. (I also need to remember not to ask who they have a crush on and intuit this information through verbal and nonverbal cues.)
4. Food Preferences
I need to remember which peanut butter and which jelly are the “right” ones to buy for my super picky eater who will only eat smooth peanut butter and jam, not jelly. I need to remember which deli ham my younger son will eat, which chips and crackers they each like (of course, they don’t like the same ones!), keeping a variety of snacks on hand for the inevitable day that one or both children suddenly “hates” the thing they have previously loved.
5. Temperature Control
I have to remember to bring a jacket for my younger son wherever we go, even though it’s 95 degrees and even though he says, “I’m not cold.” If I forget to bring a jacket, he will get cold and spend the duration of our time out a) complaining about being cold, b) sitting in my lap to get warm or c) telling me I should have brought his jacket.
6. All. The. Appointments.
I have to keep track of the doctor appointments, dental appointments and vet appointments for everyone in our house. I also have to remember to save all of those numbers in my phone so that I have them on hand for the inevitable emergency.
7. Gift Ideas
Making a note – in August – of what my kids say they want for Christmas. Buying gifts on sale months in advance. Hiding them. Remembering where I hid them. Going through this routine for birthdays, as well. Remembering other birthdays, having wrapping paper, tape and ribbon on hand at all times — it’s basically a part-time job and it all falls squarely on my shoulders.
8. Thank You Notes
When anyone in my family receives a gift, all I see is another item on my endless to-do list. Buying thank you notes. Making sure thank you notes get written. Making sure thank you notes get sent. Oh, and don’t forget teaching my children about gratitude and appreciation.
9. Managing The Clutter
Culling the stack of newspapers and magazines. Recycling the mail. Storing the birthday cards and holiday cards. Cleaning out the refrigerator. Periodically matching all of the plastic containers with their lids. Pairing up socks and gloves and pajamas. Updating the family calendar, clearing the family bulletin boards for the next month. Clipping the coupons. Transferring the information on the appointment and business cards to my phone. It’s never-ending, but if I didn’t remember to do it, we’d be drowning in paper.
10. Meal Planning
Keeping track of what we’ve had for dinner over the past month, planning a week’s worth of meals in advance, knowing what we’re going to have for dinner tomorrow night before I’ve even finished tonight’s dinner. Planning meals based on what I could do with the leftovers. Planning meals based on what everyone is most likely to eat without (too much) complaint.
11. Food Shopping
Having a mental grocery list in my head at all times. Knowing what we’re running low on and what we’re out of. Anticipating what the kids will want to eat for breakfast and school lunches. Reading sales flyers and making a note of what’s on sale and building my menu around that. All in a day’s work if you’re a mom!
12. Vacation Planning
It’s only fall, but I’m already scouting locations for next summer’s family vacation. I also have to think about spring break. I need to take everyone’s interests into consideration, as well as travel logistics and our budget, while making notes about travel sites and articles to read. If I didn’t put in this invisible labor throughout the year, our annual vacations might not happen and we’d miss out on all of those memories.
Who needs one? How does he want his hair cut? When should I take him? My sons are getting to the age when they’re interested in hairstyles and want to give me all kinds of feedback about how they want to look. It’s my job to keep track of that feedback, keep photos on hand for stylists and put up with the inevitable wails of, “It’s not what I wanted!”
Who needs a new toothbrush? Whose nails need trimming? Is there enough shampoo, conditioner and soap in the bathroom? Are there enough clean towels? Do they have toilet paper in their bathroom (because they might not tell me when they run out…). What is that smell coming from their room? Is it the dog? When was the last time the dog had a bath? Keeping everyone in my house clean requires a lot of preparation!
It’s my job to remember reading levels, math skills to study, projects that need to be worked on and tests that need to be studied for. I will sign off on homework sheets and report cards, stack library books by their backpacks, write notes to teachers when we’re having issues with an assignment. While I expect my kids to be responsible for their own stuff, I still need to oversee their schooling.
So much paperwork. School forms, medical forms, permission slips, subscription forms, membership sign-ups, absence and tardy excuses. I sign my name constantly. Daily. I could sign it in my sleep.
Whose iPad isn’t plugged in? Who needs headphones for school? Whose earbuds aren’t working? Who wants a laptop (and the price of that laptop)? Passwords, safety filters, the names of favorite YouTubers. Kid-friendly YouTube channels. The APA’s recommendation for screen time for every age group. The amended recommendations. The NPTA’s recommendations. What the NEA says about screens in school. Yep, it’s all stored on the hard drive that is my brain.
18. Pokemon, Minecraft, Roblox, Etc.
What they are. Who they are. The major characters and rules of play. New updates. Which kid likes which game. Which kid is best at which game. Which YouTubers cover which games. New games. Gaming systems. Who has what gaming system. Which gaming system is best. Which is worst. Why we need a gaming system. Why I will love having a gaming system. What games other moms play on gaming systems.
19. Family Trivia
When the kids started walking, talking, eating solid food. Where we went on vacation in 2012, and for how long. Which hotel we stayed at that one night in Savannah. Who had the flu last year and who had bronchitis. Where my husband put his gloves when last winter ended. I remember the details and pass along the information as needed. I am Siri, I am Alexa, I am Mama.
20. Family Memories
I keep track of the birthday cards and vacation souvenirs. The baby clothes in memory boxes, the finger-painted art and photographs framed and displayed. Movie tickets, concert tickets, baby teeth and locks of hair. Everything in its place, tucked away but easily accessible for the inevitable request, “Can I see … ?” In the closet, on the wall, in the attic. In my brain. Always in my brain.
That’s just a small sampling of the things that are swirling through my head on any given day. There isn’t enough time in the day to list all of the things I need to know, remember and recall on demand.
Every mom understands what I’m talking about. Every dad thinks he knows what I’m talking about — but he doesn’t have a clue. He can’t. We moms are the keepers of the knowledge, the holders of the keys to civilization (or at least the keys to the various locks throughout the house, and we’re expected to know which key fits which lock). We are the warriors on the front lines (of the school pickup line, the grocery store checkout line), protecting our family’s way of life.
We do it because we love them. We do it because, if we didn’t, there would be chaos, tears, anarchy (dirty socks on the kitchen table, potato chips for breakfast). The reward for invisible labor is … more labor. More responsibilities for other people’s crap. More. Always more.
I see you, mama. Give me your address and I’ll send you a thank you card and a lovely smelling bottle of bath gel I bought on sale for 50% off with a coupon I clipped while waiting for taekwondo practice to end. You know I will.