I can remember the exact moment when I finally felt like I’d made it as a mother. My son was turning 4-months-old, and we were on our way to the playground. With one hand I pushed his pram smoothly along the path in front of me, and with the other hand I clutched a cup of takeaway coffee. Every few steps I would lift it to my mouth and take a sip. Delicious.
It was the first time I had mastered this particular juggling act. Previous attempts at drinking while pushing had resulted in scalded hands, stained tops, and numerous collisions with other pram users. But this time I had finally got it right. I had mastered the art of multitasking.
Over the next couple of years, staying at home full time to look after my son, multitasking became an essential skill. “Stop running around!” my husband would say. But I had to run around. If I wasn’t unloading the dishwasher with one hand, while spooning cereal into my son’s mouth with the other hand, and squeezing the phone between my ear and my shoulder as I waited for someone at the doctor’s office to pick up, then I wouldn’t get everything done. There were only so many hours in the day, and in order to get every item ticked off the to-do list I often had to do three of them at once.
It became second nature to do two, or three, or even four things at once. When I got my first smartphone it became even more extreme. I would bounce my son on my hip as I rushed between the bubbling pan of pasta on the stovetop and the half full washing machine, while ALSO trying to check my email and upload a selfie to Facebook.
Friends would come round for coffee, and I would try to hold a normal conversation with them. But after 10 minutes or so I’d often realize that I’d drifted away from the sofa to the table, where I would be standing folding a pile of laundry and peering around to make sure that my son wasn’t shredding another roll of toilet paper in the hallway.
It was exhausting. And after a while I started to realize that it wasn’t working very well. As my son got older and started to want more interaction, rather than just a comfy lap to sit in, I found myself getting frustrated because I’d be trying to do one thing while he wanted to do another. I was supposed to be staying at home to look after him, and yet I wasn’t paying him anything close to my full attention. Of course, I wanted him to be an independent little person, who was able to play by himself for a good amount of time. But I also wanted him to feel loved, and not to feel like I was always looking over his shoulder for something else to do.
So I decided I had to get out of the multitasking mindset. I had to start focusing on one thing at a time.
It was hard at first. I would want to do some writing, or look up a recipe, or clear out the overflowing kitchen cupboards. But I was strict with myself, and tried to leave those things for after he’d gone to bed. I turned off my computer, and instead would sit with a pile of picture books. I started leaving the plates stacked in the dishwasher, and would instead spend half an hour on the floor playing with some jigsaws and building bricks. If we went to the park, I would leave my phone at home and give him my full attention.
Parenting suddenly became a lot more fun. Because I was giving my son more attention and respect, he started giving more back to me. In a strange way, our relationship became more equal, because we shut out distractions and focused on communicating well with each other. I was still his mother, but it was like I had admitted that I had as much learning to do as he did. We both started to laugh a lot more often.
It is satisfying to have a clean, tidy house and a to-do list which has been entirely ticked off by the end of the day. But really, it is far more satisfying to spend time with your son, giving him the love and attention that he needs.
I am a multitasking mama no more.
We are partnering this month with the marvelous minimalists: