Two years ago, I wrote an article about motherhood and multitasking—how as mothers we have become conditioned to doing multiple things at once. I lauded it an admirable skill, a notch on our belts. We are multitasking mothers who gets things done. I’m a multitasking mom who gets things done. Yet, I’ve come to realize it’s not all I thought it was. That badge of honor I wore somehow now is replaced by a feeling that my ability to do multiple things at once prevents me from doing any one thing very well.
As mothers, we focus on the effects parenthood has on our bodies—our deflated breasts that will still squirt milk out months after weaning, our bladders hanging out of our bodies anytime we sneeze, our thickened waist lines—but we neglect the effect motherhood has on our intellect and how it reroutes our thought process.
Overwhelmed constantly with information, concern and worry while also trying to mentally balance taking care of my family, my home and myself (I’d add taking care of my spouse, but let’s be real—I don’t have time for all that. He needs to take care of himself), my mind has learned to always handle multiple things at once. But twelve years into parenting, multitasking has become an addiction—an obsession.
I never do one thing at a time, always pushing to maximize every second by doing at least two things at once. I’ve taken to listening to audiobooks to make sure I’m exercising my mind while exercising my body, but the other day my husband looked at my phone and asked, “Are you listening to that at 1.75 speed? How do you even understand what they are saying? What are you getting out of it?”
I glared at him from behind my somewhat enlightened eyes. Did it matter whether I comprehended the words as long as I finished the book? I walked away annoyed, but for once, I realized he might be right. Why am I bothering to listen to a book I’m not fully digesting?
I push myself to do it to appear productive with my time. I will be able to say I spent an hour reading today and that will be fulfillment enough. It will be irrelevant that I took no enjoyment in the task that is supposed to be enjoyable. I had to confront the reality that multitasking to maximize my time has robbed me of appreciating any single task fully.
I have to be mindful of just being, and to retrain my mind to quiet itself.
This becomes more poignant when dealing with my children. Often times, I catch myself not focusing on what they are saying, as I’m trying to check off tasks on my list. It’s not intentional, it’s an uncontrollable instinct to be productive. Recently, I sat to read with my daughter. But as she began to read to me, the book tucked into her lap, I got up and began folding a load of towels.
“Are you listening?” she asked. “Of course,” I responded… but was I? Was I really listening to her? Was I being there, as my hands folded the towels and my mind went over the list of tasks I wanted to complete before bed? The reality is I’ve let obligation and duty rob me of fulfillment. The most important thing I can do, for them and for me, is to actually be there physically and mentally.
Later that night, with shame hanging from my neck, I sat at the kitchen table and the two of us drew pictures together, her little face so excited to have me all to herself. I wanted to stay present in the moment with my child knowing that these moments are fleeting, but I struggled to keep my attention solely on her.
Being a multitasker has become so second nature that I’ve become incapable of tuning everything else out, even though I know I should. How can I turn my mind off? My anxiety? My worries? My desire to be productive? How can I make any conversation I have with my children meaningful if my mind is scattered across multiple tasks?
I told my husband that from 5 pm to 8 pm, we should no longer have our phones on our persons and instead leave them at the door. I have to balance harnessing today with getting through tomorrow. I also started listening to classical music in carline. And from now on, when I walk and exercise, I will do it in silence. I tried it this morning and instantly went to turn on an audiobook, but I reminded myself that I need to appreciate the experience for what it is—the trees blowing in the wind, the smell of the freshly cut grass.
I have to be mindful of just being, and to retrain my mind to quiet itself. Only then will I recapture what I have been missing by making sure I’m missing nothing.