Lydisms: The Curse of Multitasking
By Lydia Rueger
Post-present-explosion, my Christmas day was probably like many moms as I began cooking the day’s big meal while talking on the phone to out-of-state family in between periodically clearing out the living room of toy packaging while taking pictures of the kids for some Christmas morning memories and occasionally commenting on the skills of newly-acquired Zhou Zhou pets while donning a superhero mask and shield.
At the end of the day, I felt we had made good memories with my in-laws who were visiting, enjoyed a nice dinner and taken advantage of a holiday off together.
My daughter, however, was not impressed with my juggling of the days’ activities. Though she had tons of things to keep her occupied, at bedtime, she told me, “You just TALKED so much today, and I just wanted to play with you.” For once, it was not that she was being ungrateful; she loved her Christmas toys. It’s just that she wanted me to try out her new toys with her. Sigh. Multitasking, at its finest, was not fine with her.
The double-edged sword is that multitasking is often necessary for moms — in order to get our responsibilities finished in order to spend time with our children. Not only that, it is a quality our culture celebrates. Many employers look for it and it’s one we list on our professional résumés. My own places my multitasking talents under “Skills Summary,” stating: “Able to affectively manage multiple projects and meet deadlines.” It’s important! And it’s frustrating that my slightly distracted attempts to play with my children on busy days are not enough!
But then I think of a time a few months ago when I glared and shook my finger at my daughter to be quiet while I completed a phone interview for a magazine article (a parenting article about children’s self-esteem, no less.) I think of times I absentmindedly respond “uh huh” to my children or my husband while I check email or send a text message (and have no idea what they’ve said)…not to mention texting while driving. Clearly, this is not multitasking at its finest.
A therapist friend of mine, Michelle Karl (check out her website www.thebalancedmother.com) once told me that although we often measure success in how many things we can cross off our list in a day, it is within that process we lose so much. When she said this, I thought of when my kids are the most kind and honest with me. It is usually at bedtime when they have my undivided attention. This is when I hear “I love you so much mommy” from my almost 3-year-old, and when my daughter is able to articulate what was frustrating or exciting about her day, or tell me about her friends. I guess this is what my therapist friend is talking about.
It also makes me think of my friend who, by her own admission, does not successfully handle multiple projects at once. She says she likes to keep things simple. And while she doesn’t say “yes” to every activity and volunteer opportunity, she is always available when the people in her life need her. She can still ask me “how are you?” and I know she really has time (and wants) to hear the real answer.
Of course, these examples don’t mean that we can or should stop multitasking. I guess my prayer will be that I recognize the life moments when it is most necessary to just focus on just one thing. Hopefully someday I can rewrite my “Skills Summary” to say: “Able to affectively manage multiple projects and meet deadlines, but recognize when it’s important to stop managing, just for a while.”
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