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Miranda: Multi-tasking my way to a new low

If you’re a mother, you know how to do at least six things at once.

But should you?

Apparently, it depends on just which six things you have in mind.

Yesterday, Lifehacker posted an interesting take on the pitfalls of multitasking in an interview with Dave Crenshaw, author of The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done. “Crenshaw explains the difference between ‘background tasking’ — like watching TV while exercising — and ‘switchtasking,’ juggling two tasks by refocusing your attention back and forth between them, and losing time and progress in the switch.” The Lifehacker blog post centers on how this issue plays out in the business world.

Interestingly, Simple Mom posted the mother’s analysis of the same topic yesterday:

A Mama’s Challenge
Here’s the irony. With children at home, it often feels impossible for us to focus on anything more than two minutes at a time, because we’re constantly interrupted. As soon as I sit down to update our bank accounts, my daughter wants me to sharpen her colored pencils, or my son has dropped his toy for the umpteenth time and needs help retrieving it.

It’s the stage of life, and it is what it is. Small children require a lot of hands-on, interactive parenting, and while it’s a short-lived job, it leaves you utterly exhausted come bedtime, doesn’t it?

Even though I’d love to single-task most of my day jobs, it just isn’t going to happen. What mom doesn’t multi-task all day long? You’ve got to change the diaper and answer the phone. You oftentimes need to read to your older one while you nurse your younger.

For Simple Mom, the bottom line is that “There are more important things in life than getting things done.”

While multi-tasking is often our only shot at snippets of creativity and seeming productivity, each of us has to determine our own threshold here. I happened to find my own personal limit yesterday. I share this publicly only in the hope that my story will serve as a cautionary tale to other mothers attempting the Superwoman thing.

At noon, I was finishing up the week’s menu plan, trying to make the grocery list, fixing an issue with the blog, answering e-mail, greeting my mother who’d just arrived at my house, nursing the baby, and trying to make sure my 3-year-old didn’t run off by himself for an opportunity to poop privately in his Pull-Up (we’re still toilet training). My daughter called from a friend’s house, asking for a ride home. She was in our neighborhood, within walking distance, but the timing was convenient so I said, “Sure — I’m running out to the grocery store with Grandma. We’ll pick you up on the way, in 15 minutes.”

What happened? I forgot to pick her up.

As in, I went to the grocery store without picking her up as planned. When she called me on my cell phone to ask where I was, I slipped into a heart-stopping abyss of guilt. Thankfully, since my own mother was in the car, she helped me strategize how to explain the situation to my daughter (as we drove at top speed to retrieve her) in an attempt to save her from a life on the therapist’s couch. My daughter (12 years old) gave me a good-natured ribbing, but even though she was gracious about the situation, I knew it had to have hurt. What is more painful to a mother than causing her own child pain?

I have never actually “forgotten” any of my children before, and I desperately hope never to do it again. I’d like to use sleep deprivation, an infant, a tally of five kids, pressing client work, and having my house on the market as some kind of defense. But sadly, there is no defense, and I know that. Perhaps, if I slow down just a little — and stop trying to do 34 things at one time — my brain will function a bit more efficiently. Until then, I have a lot of making up to do with my one and only daughter.

[Photo courtesy Foxtongue.]

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cathy #

    oh boy. i mean girl. you and your daughter. don’t kill yourself with the guilt, though. i haven’t been there yet, but that’s only because my guys haven’t been anywhere much out of my range. my 13 year old stayed out with his friend til an hour and a quarter past his 5pm curfew last night, but he was in the neighborhood, with cellphone. he has leeway, but i usually call by 5:15. does that count? i also knew that he was at the pool with lifeguards and probably a few parents. but 6:20 sure rolled around under my radar.

    maybe it was just that kind of day. at least for you and me.

    i was the kid who was always last to get picked up at my activities, listening to the crickets. i think i turned out okay. not terrible abandonment issues, anyway!

    so one forgetful mom moment does not a psychopath or therapist’s dream patient make.

    August 26, 2008
  2. Thanks, Cathy. I’m trying not to obsess about it, but seeing as I am generally plagued by guilt anyway, having something to REALLY feel guilty about certainly doesn’t help!!!

    August 26, 2008
  3. Cathy #

    breathe it out, my dear…’ve got projects to focus on!

    do you think you talked it out with her well enough for her, yet? that might help you let it go.

    August 26, 2008
  4. I think so…she’s teased me about it, which makes me think she’s in an OK place…and it helps that we had just had a late-night card marathon, playing “spit” at midnight. Will talk to her more seriously again this afternoon and see how things are.


    August 26, 2008
  5. Cathy #

    my sons often remind me of my ability to overkill the convo on a given issue they are already over. maybe your daughter is fine after the extra attention in late night card game. i’d like to suggest a check-in rather than a serious discussion.

    guilt promotes overkill.

    August 26, 2008
  6. Well, I checked in with her and told her sincerely how bad I felt, and that in no way was my mistake a reflection of my love for her, etc. — and of course I couldn’t help but get all weepy at the same time. In general I try not to cry in front of my kids (!) but in this case I think it was OK, because she saw how badly I felt about hurting her feelings. She tried to say that I hadn’t hurt her feelings, but I said, honey, I know that had to have upset you at least a little bit. She acknowledged that much. She is very sensitive and often tries to take on the peacemaker role; naturally she tried to make me feel better. We had a good talk (a brief one) about it and I feel more at ease knowing that I restated my apology in no uncertain terms.

    You’re quite right, however, that one needs to avoid beating a dead horse. I don’t think I’ll bring it up again, unless I sense there is still unfinished business. It will now turn into family lore, to be retold at various holiday dinners…”Remember that time when Mom forgot DD?”

    August 26, 2008
  7. Cathy #

    oh good, that’s settled!

    and i like the acknowledgement of how you’ll be reminded of your digression in years to come.

    and from one veggie to another, we gotta come up with better cliches than beat a dead horse, kill two birds with one stone, etc!

    August 26, 2008
  8. miranda, miranda, miranda! my goodness, girl! don’t be so hard on yourself! i will confess to doing worse. i left sarah strapped in her carseat and went into our neighborhood seafood dive. got inside with dh and livvie and asked dh, “where’s sarah?”. says dh, “I thought you got her! she was on your side of the van!” yes, definite mommy brain/dumb blonde moment there. i ran back out to the van to find a sobbing little redhead and apologized and hugged profusely. i’ve also done the basic forgetting to buckle one or the other into her carseat before backing out of the driveway, but the neglected one quickly points out my error with a loud, “moooommmmm!!!!! you forgot to buckle me in!!!!!!!”. sometimes there are just so many things in our brains that something slips. guilty as charged.

    August 26, 2008
  9. Thanks, guys…confession (and commiseration) sure are good for the soul!

    August 26, 2008

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