I conducted an impromptu experiment this week. It wasn’t very scientific but it was eye-opening. I tallied the number of times my children said “Mom” in an hour. Y’all. It was A LOT.
Now, of course, I am going to start out with the obligatory (and accurate) statement that taking care of our children and attending to their needs is a privilege. I know my kids are a gift. But, I also noticed that each call of “Mom” seemed to be echoing around in an emptier than usual barrel of energy. I was finding myself bristling internally each time they said my name even though I love them dearly. It was obvious that I needed to take some time to consider what was influencing this. And here’s where that reflection landed.
Like many parents, the impact of the coronavirus means many of us have now been “on” more consistently than at any other point in their childhood (other than maybe infancy). I am not lamenting it. I have truly enjoyed our time together. But, the times when I used to be away from them ended earlier (school closing) ended altogether (grandparents who are appropriately keeping their distance) are suspended for a season (usual summer activities) or may go away again the future (unknown impacts of the virus moving forward). Many of us have now been taking care of a home, working, and managing the mental “what ifs” of our current/future circumstances all while also being with our kids more. In short, we have been hyper-multitasking for longer than ever in a smaller physical and mental space than ever — and, it’s slowly but surely taking a toll.
The concept of multitasking has more than a few debates around it. Some suggest the brain cannot multitask at all, while others offer evidence that the brain can “split” it’s attention if the competing tasks are simple enough. Regardless, there is a consensus that anytime we attend to more than one thing at a time there is a mental, emotional, and efficiency cost that comes with that load. We simply cannot function as well with multiple competing demands as we can when we focus on one thing at a time.
Translation: the kind of corona-level parenting/working/living many of us have been doing and may continue doing is, in many ways, harder than what we were doing before.
That’s what I want you to hear. What we are doing now is categorically different than what we were doing before because we are managing more things simultaneously than we were before. And, if we keep trying to function like we were before, we can be at risk for burnout. We have to make adjustments.
To that end, here are some suggestions for managing this strange, high-task/high-needs time in a more self-compassionate, brain-designed way.
- Decrease the multitasking we have control over. I know limiting our tasks is not always possible but, when you can just laundry, just fold laundry. When cooking, just cook. Just be on the phone. We so often try to combine our tasks to get them all done but the research suggests that we will ultimately feel better and feel more productive if we do one thing at a time. We have control over how many things we choose to do at once. Then, if we choose one and our kid asks us to open a cheese stick we are only taking a break from a single thing rather than several.
- Set boundaries around our best focus times. Our brains need stretches of uninterrupted thought/work. For many of us, there is a space in the day when we focus best. I love Havilah Cunnington’s teaching on “tiger hours”. If we make sure to use these hours well, we are less likely to feel as drained by the caretaking the rest of the day. A stretch of non-multitasking time helps give us the energy we need to help manage high-needs during other points in the day.
- Accept that things, not necessarily you, are different. Many of us are trying to hold pre-corona standards for productivity, creativity, accomplishment, etc. We simply cannot do all that we used to do when many of us have more things simultaneously on our plates. If you are criticizing yourself for not being able to get it all done in the way you did before you are not holding yourself to a fair standard. Give credit where credit is due.
- Go with the resistance. This is our life now. I think part of my recent feelings of burnout is because I am finally realizing life could this way for longer than I ever imagined. We have to ask ourselves how we can lean into the demands that are non-negotiable rather than resent them. And, use this same mindset to identify what is negotiable and let those things go. We’ll get them back someday.
- Ask for help. Maybe this is your partner. Maybe this is a friend. Maybe this is your kids. Yes, it’s okay to ask your kids to help you have a stretch of time where you get to do only one thing at a time. And maybe this is God. “God, you know how many times my kids will say ‘Mom’ today. You know how many times I will need to multi-task. Give me the strength and energy I need for each one.” Remember, there’s no trophy coming someday for doing it all on your own.
In the end, I just know that I want to receive as many calls for “Mom” in my life with gratitude, rather than resentment. And, when I start to feel the frustration of “Mom” rather than the gift in “Mom” it is clear that my heart and my mind are trying to tell me something. Slow down today. Lean in and listen to what may be causing that for you and make the changes needed. You, and your precious kiddos, are so very worth it.
Image by Chuck Underwood from Pixabay