What We Mean When We Say We Have “Mom Brain”

By De Elizabeth

I forget to do things all the time these days.

Sometimes they’re small things: I forgot to move the laundry to the dryer or I forgot to answer a text. Other times, they’re a little more significant: a work email that’s sitting in my draft folder, an invoice I need to send, the paperwork from my accountant for tax season. I’ll remember at inconvenient times: driving on the highway, brushing my teeth before bed, or while trying to fall asleep. Oops, I’ll think. I’ll do it tomorrow.

I never used to be like this. I was always the one with color-coded “to do” lists on my desk, adding reminders for appointments or meetings to my phone. I always used to be great at keeping track of things I needed to do, rarely, if ever, stumbling into the instantaneous panic of Oh sh*t I forgot about that.

But these days, my mental bandwidth is at capacity. I’m still keeping a running list of things in my brain, but none of them have to do with me. At any given time, I’m silently calculating a million and one things involving my 2-year-old daughter’s schedule and general well-being. Feel free to picture an internet browser with a zillion tabs open at all times, including but certainly not limited to: What has she eaten so far today? Should I give her a PB&J for lunch or did she have that yesterday? How cold is it today, should she wear short sleeves or long? She woke up at 6am so should her nap be a little earlier than usual? Are her favorite pajamas in the laundry? Where is her water bottle?

So much in her life — and our household — stays in order because I keep things in order in my mind: scheduled playdates and doctor’s appointments, the location of her favorite stuffed hedgehog (and the two backup hedgehogs in case the OG goes missing), how long it’s been since her sheets and pillowcase were washed. My brain contains an always-shifting inventory of snacks — we’re low on Goldfish but OK on string cheese — and I’m sure to keep a rotating playlist of her favorite songs for any trips in the car.

This isn’t a humble brag or a way to say “look how I’m super-mom,” but rather what I hope is an explainer of what goes on in the brains of so many moms all day long. The buzzy term for it is “emotional labor,” and you can find a ton of articles on it because, as a community, we’re getting better at talking about it.

But that doesn’t negate the exhaustion — or the lack of leftover mental bandwidth — that goes along with the invisible workload of motherhood. To say I’m burnt out would be an understatement; my brain is more like a pile of ashes at this point. I find it hard to have normal, adult conversations — I’ll often pause in the middle of a sentence, searching for a word that should come more easily — and at the end of a long day, anything that’s on my to-do list often feels minuscule enough to be pushed to tomorrow, when I might have more mental energy. (Spoiler alert: I never do.)

None of this means that I’m ungrateful, or that all of this work is thankless (hearing a 2-year-old say “thank you, mommy” is a heart-melting reward for nearly anything), but it’s important to acknowledge that, when it comes to being a mom, there’s so much that you don’t see.

So the next time your mom friend forgets to call you back and tries to laugh it off with “Sorry, haha, mom brain!” take a minute to tell her she’s doing a good job. Take a minute to just know that “mom brain” is actually code for “Sometimes can’t make space for it all, I hope that’s OK.” Let her know that it is OK — and then some. After all, she’s doing the best she can.

Photo by energepic.com from Pexels