Multitasking. It’s an ability we mothers pride ourselves on. That we can carry on two conversations while changing the baby’s diaper AND fixing the toddler’s broken toy makes us feel like some sort of superhero. (And it should, right?)
We’re already busy with just trying to function, but when an additional opportunity comes around we say yes anyway, telling ourselves,
I have the time. I just need to manage it better.
The trouble is, “managing” it often means multiplying its apportionment. Multitasking becomes the answer for squeezing in just one more thing — because, if we can, why shouldn’t we?…
And this gets harder as the years go by. In the early years of motherhood, multitasking is a matter of survival (and a way to keep everyone happy). Nursing the baby while reading to the toddler. Playing a game while cooking dinner. Making that phone call while driving to the store.
But as the kids get older, the attentive demands on a mom begin to change. Our physical presence and the meeting of their physical needs is no longer enough. The nature of our engagement becomes more verbal… and auditory… and emotional. In a word, mental.
I remember a time, when I had four kids under the age of four, that it suddenly struck me what all those, “Oh, you’re a busy mom…” comments really meant. See, I didn’t feel busy in the physical sense. But I felt overwhelmed in the mental sense. Sensory overload, anyone? I’m a thinker, and when my kids began to hit that age where someone (or some three) was constantly interrupting my thoughts, that’s when I began to feel like a “busy” mom.
Because, the truth is, we can do the physical in a multitasking kind of way pretty well. Nursing the baby while opening the fridge for the toddler. Cooking dinner while unloading the dishwasher.
But when it comes to the mental, we can’t double up. Believe me, I try, and it doesn’t work.
I grew up with a dad who couldn’t do it, either. We could be in the same room with him, telling him a story, but if the TV was on (even sometimes if it wasn’t) he would have no idea someone was talking to him. He didn’t mean to ignore us — he just couldn’t do two mental tasks at once.
None of us can. At least not very well. Much like my dad, I can easily get lost so deeply in thought that I don’t even hear the voice of someone speaking to me. My husband knows — if I’m writing, don’t try to talk to me. If I’m thinking, good luck getting through.
I don’t mean to be that way. I don’t wish to hurt those around me by making them feel their words are less important than whatever other ones I’m processing. But the fact is, I just can’t do both at once.
And when I try? THAT is where multitasking goes wrong.
You see, multitasking can be a good thing — a wise thing, even — when we’re combining the right types of tasks. Chances are, you can do a physical task and a mental task at the same time and do them both effectively well. But just like you can’t physically be two places at once — carrying the laundry up the stairs while dishing up dinner — you can’t mentally be two places at once, either — reading a blog post while listening to (and comprehending, and responding to) your kid’s story.
In a world where sensory overload is totally the norm, we must fight falling prey to the habit of mental multitasking. If you’re scanning through your Pinterest feed while your spouse is telling you about his day, you aren’t “there” like you should be. If you’re engaged in a Facebook chat while your son is trying to show you his newest LEGO creation, or your daughter the pretty picture she colored, you aren’t “there” like you should be.
I’m tired of being a “busy” mom. I’m tired of the incessant distraction. Ask yourself, Momma, as I have, Do all these attempts at mental multitasking add joy to my life? Is my heart “fuller” because my mind is?
It’s time to stop the crazy cycle. It’s time to stop missing the meaningful moments happening right in front of us because our thoughts are being pulled in multiple different (and often less important) directions.
Are you ready to draw the line on mental multitasking? Here are some steps you can take.
1. Set aside time for your mind-heavy tasks.
By all means, Momma, if you love to write, write. If you love to read, read. If you love to learn, learn. Don’t stop doing these praiseworthy things just because you have kids. Rather, set aside time that you can engage guilt-free. Utilize naptime or instate a family “quiet time.” With older kids, do a library day. Arrange with your spouse for some periodic “me” time so you can work on those mental tasks aside from being mommy.
2. If you know you can’t put it down, find a better time to pick it up.
There are mornings I just know that if I sit down at my computer to do one thing, I’ll end up still there hours later. If checking your email right now is going to lead you on a tangent of other tasks that you don’t have time or capacity for, wait. Use that focused time you have set aside (#1) instead of sprinkling it in as a distraction throughout the day.
3. Slow down and take a second look.
Momma, if there’s one thing I’m learning, it’s that you don’t have to “do it all” to be supermom. Chances are, you’ll be a more “super” mom if you don’t do it all. Because, let’s face it — multitaskers though we are, we all have our limits. Overwhelmed? There’s probably something on your checklist that doesn’t need to be there. If you have committed yourself beyond mental capacity, consider what things have pushed you there and let. them. go. Your mental health — and your mental presence — is way more valuable to your family than the best that multitasking can offer.