The following is an excerpt adapted from Jennifer Folsom's new book, "Ringmaster: Work, Life, and Keeping It All Together."
The continuous cycle of thinking, planning and organizing domestic life is known as the 'mental load.' And if you're a working mom, chances are high that you frequently experience this emotional labor — perhaps on a daily basis.
The mental load is also where the trains sometimes come off the rails. I resist gross gender-based generalizations, but on the main, I find that women are very strong at keeping all of the details in their heads. Again with the generalization, but with a limited ability to compartmentalize, we understand how things fit together. This emotional intelligence is what makes us tremendous leaders in the workplace, but can cause freakouts (that’s a technical term!) and can lead you to feel overwhelmed and possibly burn out.
The week before I left work for a sabbatical, I was in a major presentation with a C-level client. It was also the week my teenagers were interviewing for summer jobs. Sensing this collision of hazards, I asked my husband who was working at home the day of the interviews, to take over. Full stop. I needed to nail this presentation and leave work on a high note.
Predictably, during the presentation, I received a number of texts. Where are the birth certificates? What’s my social security number? What’s his social security number? Unsuccessfully able to answer the texts under the conference room table, I stepped out to the “ladies room” (code word for going to the stall and screaming into my cell phone “I CANNOT BE THE ONLY PERSON WHO HOLDS THIS INFORMATION”). Stressed and angry about my less-than-professional presentation, I read the riot act to my entire family about this.
My 17-year-old son very calmly said, “Mom, I’ve only needed to know my own social security number once before. I didn’t memorize it last year from my employment paperwork. Can you teach it to me?” Ugh. Straight to the heart. I drilled his phone number and home address into his head when he was four, why didn’t I drill this key piece of information for future adulthood?
Despite careful planning, you will experience mental overload as you juggle all of the balls of your three-ring circus. To lighten the load, I share these simple, practical, but often overlooked tips so your brain doesn’t have to be the holder of all of the information:
Daycare and School Contact Information
Make sure primary contact information isn’t only one parent, namely you. A couple of years ago I was on a high-profile business trip and received an email from my son’s fourth-grade teacher with the subject line “flatulence.” Nevermind the hilarity of the topic, she chose to reach out to me first, not my husband who was working from home two blocks from the school and could have much more easily handled whatever GI-based problem there was at school that day. When I asked her why she chose me she said, “your name was first on the contact list.” Lesson learned.
I often wonder how children ever became adults in a time before forms. There are forms for every school year, camp, sports league, dance season, religious education registration, and even annual form updates at each of the aforementioned medical providers. As soon as they are able, as young as 8, have children complete part or all of these forms. This is how they memorize their social security numbers, so as not to cause a complete meltdown while you are trying to give a major presentation. And you minimize your carpal tunnel syndrome; win-win. And if your kids are too small to do this, have your spouse do his or her fair share of the form-filling-outing. My guess is that their number will go first in the contact list. Double win!
Group Texts for Bus Stop/Daycare Pick up
At the beginning of the year, create a group text titled “Bus Stop Pick Up” and share it with your spouse. Include the contact information of anyone at your bus stop, or authorized daycare picker-uppers, who could put on a cape and save the day with a quick “stuck-in-tunnel traffic, can you pick up Emily at the bus?” text.
Scan and Save Key Docs
Prevent the last-minute scramble, and save all of your key documents to a private, password-protected shared drive. I like Dropbox, but use what works for you. I keep social security cards, birth certificates, annual medical exams and vaccine history for each child for smooth sailing through registration.
Jennifer Folsom is vice president of client delivery at Washington, D.C.-based management consulting firm RIVA Solutions Inc. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband Ben and three sons, 17-year-old twins Josh and Will, and 12-year-old Anderson. Her practical guide to modern working motherhood," The Ringmaster," is out now.