Menu

Moms aren't naturally better at multitasking—they just have no choice

By painting women as great multitaskers who are naturally wired to "do it all," society let itself off the hook when it comes to supporting moms. And that's not okay.

Moms aren't naturally better at multitasking—they just have no choice

Moms are multitaskers because we have to be. We learn how to feed the baby while cooking dinner because the children are hungry. We learn how to shower while simultaneously entertaining a toddler because even dry shampoo has its limits. We learn how to answer emails with one hand while serving breakfast with the other while simultaneously tracking down lost shoes because there is no other choice.

For many moms, multitasking can feel like a superpower and for years, news headlines about women's supposedly superior multitasking skills have reflected this, calling us supermoms while suggesting that women are better at multitasking than men are.

But we are not, and new research proves it. A new study published in PLOS One debunks previous research that suggested women are super multitaskers. The brains of women and men are equally strained by multitasking.

Moms are not any better at multitasking than anyone else is. We are just doing more.

Indeed, our second annual State of Motherhood survey found that the majority of mothers are balancing paid work with a lot of responsibilities at home. More than 60% of mothers say they handle most of the household chores and responsibilities themselves and a similar share are so stretched for time they have less than an hour to themselves.

The myth of our multitasking abilities is a factor in this imbalance, this time crunch. By painting women as great multitaskers who are naturally wired to "do it all," society let itself off the hook when it comes to supporting moms.

Our survey found 85% of moms don't think society understands or supports them, and it's no wonder. We are supposedly multitasking supermoms, and super moms don't need support. By selling us the myth of our own superpowers, society ensured we wouldn't ask for help. We would just find a way to be the superheroes that the headlines suggest we are (and blame ourselves when we realize we're only human and can't actually multitask better than men).

As Leah Ruppanner, an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne points out for The Conversation, the new research into gender and multitasking is important because when we end the myth we can start supporting mothers. "Debunking these myths that expect women to be superheroes is a good thing, but we need to go further and create policy environments where gender equality can thrive."

This new research follows a 2011 study in the American Sociological Review which found that working mothers multitask about 10 hours more per week than working fathers do, and that the labor we're doing while multitasking is more intensive and stressful than the multitasking men take on.

"When they multitask at home, for example, mothers are more likely than fathers to engage in housework or childcare activities, which are usually labor intensive efforts," Shira Offer, the lead author of the study said when it was released.

She continued: "Fathers, by contrast, tend to engage in other types of activities when they multitask at home, such as talking to a third person or engaging in self-care. These are less burdensome experiences."

Interestingly, Offer and her colleagues found that for dads, this less demanding form of multitasking is a positive experience, but for moms, multitasking is a negative one: It makes them feel stressed and conflicted.

Maybe that's because, for fathers, multitasking momentarily does make them feel like a superhero, but for mothers—who are expected to be multitasking superheroes—it just makes us feel like failures.

Offer believes more flexible workplaces would benefit mothers by benefiting fathers: If more dads could start work later or leave early when they need to, Offer believes it would lead to more "egalitarian norms regarding mothers' and fathers' parenting roles."

The hard truth is, women and men perform equally poorly when multitasking, but women are doing more of it and are more stressed by it.

It's okay if you don't feel like a superhero, mama, because you're not. It's okay to drop some balls. It's okay if you don't feel like you were made for the extreme multitasking demanded of you because none of us were. We are only human and we can't do it all. The science shows it—and it's time for our policymakers to do something about it.

You might also like:

They say necessity is the mother of invention—and nothing makes you more inventive than motherhood.

Sometimes that means fashioning a diaper out of paper towels and your older child's underpants (true story). Sometimes that means creating an innovative and life-changing weighted baby sleep sack and totally crushing it on Shark Tank. Tara Williams is the latter.

Keep reading Show less
Shop

5 brilliant products that encourage toddler independence

Help your little one help themselves.

One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.

$25

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.

$29

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.

$18

Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.

$29

BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.

$20

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

This viral post about the 4th trimester is exactly what new mamas need right now

"We are alone. Together. You are surrounded all the other mothers who are navigating this tender time in isolation. You are held by all of us who have walked the path before you and who know how much you must be hurting. You are wrapped in the warm embrace of mama earth, as she too settles into this time of slowness and healing."

Artist and teacher Catie Atkinson at Spirit y Sol recently shared a beautiful drawing of a new mom crying on a couch—leaking breasts, newborn baby, pile of laundry and what we can only assume is cold coffee, included. Everything about the image is so real and raw to me—from the soft stomach to the nursing bra and the juxtaposition of the happy wallpaper to the palpable vulnerability of the mother—I can almost feel the couch underneath me. I can feel the exhaustion deep in this woman's bones.

My heart feels the ache of loneliness right alongside hers. Because I remember. I remember the confusion and uncertainty and love and messy beauty of the fourth trimester so well. After all, it's etched in our minds and bodies forever.

Keep reading Show less
Life