I’ve always been proud of my ability to juggle multiple things at once, like jumping from story to story when I’m working on several pieces at once, or paying a bill while walking on the treadmill. I love to get things done and check tasks off my to-do list. Unfortunately, multitasking is not the most efficient method for getting things done. In fact, research shows that multitasking can make you less productive at work. So while I try to rein in my multitasking tendencies at my day job, I rely on it at home to get sh*t done.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how to prioritize and manage my time, but I still struggle with not multitasking when I'm with my kids — and they notice it. I'm often asked why I’m texting instead of watching a movie, or why I'm folding clothes instead of just sitting on the floor and playing with them. I’m always guilty of trying to do 14 things at once, and I want to fix that. So for one week, I vowed to stop multitasking while taking care of my kids and this is what happened.
To prepare for the experiment, I asked my husband and my mom to keep an eye out for any instances when I slipped up and did something else (like texting or checking social media) while I was with my girls. I established the rules: if my girls were talking to me, or if I was engaging with them in any way, then I had to harness every iota of my energy and attention and focus it on them.
Day 1: This Is Harder Than I Thought
I started the experiment on a Wednesday after work, and I felt like I had so many things left to do. Luckily, my daughter had swim class, so I knew that I would be somewhere where I could not multitask. There were no dishes to clean or clothes to fold — it was just me and a group of moms at a pool. Still, I had my phone with me, and while my daughter was in the water, I was tempted to pay my water bill, or browse Amazon for my nephew's belated birthday gift. It took all my willpower to not pull my phone out of my purse.
For once, I didn’t feel bad that I missed something because I was looking at my phone.
What stopped me was not only reminding myself that I had promised myself not to multitask, but also seeing the look on my daughter’s face every time she peeked her head over the pool ledge to see if I was looking. She would wave and smile, giving me the thumbs-up when she put her head under the water and blew bubbles. She clearly loved that I was watching her. For once, I didn’t feel bad that I missed something because I was looking at my phone.
At dinnertime, I did slip and send a few texts while I was sweeping around their high chairs. They were too busy munching on noodles and carrots to want to talk, so since they weren't paying much attention to me, I did use that opportunity to give into my urge to multitask.
Day 2: Playtime Can Be Fun
I’m not the best at making up voices for Barbie dolls or crafting elaborate stories about far-away islands or superheroes. So when I play with my girls, we usually stick to PlayDoh or arts and crafts. My daughters usually play with their dolls on their own, and I’ll use that time to sort through the mail and the coupon drawer. But not this week! Whatever my daughters wanted to play, I would play with them and focus all my attention on whatever we were doing.
After dinner, we pretended like we were in a café, which was easy because I got to sit at the table and order coffee, tea, cakes, and sandwiches while my daughters acted like waitresses. It was super simple, and no voices were required.
As I sat at the table waiting for my next entrée, I watched my girls as they interacted with each other. Sure, sometimes there was fighting when my oldest told my youngest not to bring me my cupcake, but mostly they got along and talked about what they were planning to serve me. It was incredibly cute to see them getting along, which I don't often see: I usually spend most of my time breaking up their arguments, since I’m in another room trying to tackle a chore.
I also noticed that when I played with my girls, they didn;t fight as much as they usually do. I’m not sure if that’s because we were all playing a game together, or because I was able to stop arguments before they started, but there seemed to be more peace in the playroom.
Days 3 & 4: Okay, Playtime Can Also be Tedious
Here’s the thing about kids: they love repetition. My girls wanted to play family every freaking day, and by Friday, I was so over this game. We played café, doctor, and colored and painted ,but those activities take like 20 minutes each, so there was always free time to play family. On Saturday night, I may have folded a basket of clothes while my girls played dolls with each other, but I stopped mid-fold when my little one asked me to play Mr. Potato Head with her. These moments made me realize how hard it was to multitask and take care of my kids, because they're old enough to know when I'm half-assing at playtime and they call me out on it.
Day 5: Me Time, Bathtime
With the exception of either Friday or Saturday, the girls get a bath every nigh. Usually, once my daughters were old enough to sit up on their own and play with each other in the tub, this was the time when I could catch up on the news and read a magazine. Of course, I had to give up on that during this experiment, because that would mean I was multitasking while watching my girls.
I wanted to organize the sink and the medicine cabinet so badly, but instead I just sat there and watched my daughters.
It was difficult for me to give up on this, because I did not know what to do during bathtime. My girls entertain themselves when they're in the bath, so aside from reminding them to keep the water in the tub, I was just sitting there doing nothing. So I watched my girls and listened to them as they played in their corner of the tub. My eldest daughter pretended she was washing her daughter’s hair (a foam Elsa doll) and my toddler transitioned from pretending to swim to pretending that sharks were diving into the water. It was cute and I loved listening to them, but I just could not get used to not doing something during that downtime. I wanted to organize the sink and the medicine cabinet so badly, but I just sat there and watched my daughters.
Days 6 & 7: I Heard You the First Time
Aside from being fully present for my girls, the best thing about this experiment was the fact that I did not have to ask them to repeat themselves when they talked to me, because I had to listen to everything they were saying. Not multitasking meant that I was not focused on other things while they played in the background. I was watching and hearing everything.
As an adult, I hate when people don’t give me their full attention and ask me to repeat what I just said. It wasn’t until this experiment that I realized I was doing the same thing to my daughters.
So when my daughter hissed at her sister because she said “something mean," I did not have to ask her to repeat the mean statement to me, because I knew there wasn’t one. She just wanted to hiss at her sister.
My daughter loves to tell me about her day at school, and sometimes I don’t always hear everything because I’m busy packing her swim bag or picking out her clothes. But this time, I stopped what I was doing to listen to her when she asked if she could tell me about her day. As an adult, I hate when people don’t give me their full attention and ask me to repeat what I just said. It wasn’t until this experiment that I realized I was doing the same thing to my daughters.
Although I’ve always been pretty good at multitasking in my professional life, I learned that that does not mean I always need to try and accomplish two things at once. Will I continue to clean up, sweep, and wash dishes when my girls eat? For sure. But I also plan on making more of an effort to focus just on them while I'm playing with them, whether we're in the playroom or in the backyard. I need to give them my full attention when they ask for it, even if they don’t always use those words.
I’m constantly trying to juggle many things at once, as many parents do, but I need to learn when to stop and focus entirely on my children. While I do believe that multitasking is a must for this mom of two, I understand that it's also important to take one task at a time is a requirement. That pile of laundry isn’t going to go anywhere soon, so I might as well make the most of my day with my girls.