Recently I enjoyed a rare day away from home, only to return to an unpleasant sight: a crying toddler, an overwhelmed husband, and a messy house. My husband said, "I don't know how you do it. Women must be better at multitasking than men." I wasn't expecting him to cook, clean, and watch the kids simultaneously, but his comment upset me. I mean, is multitasking even possible? Because while women have been hailed as the "multitasking queens," I don't think we're any better at it than anyone else.
Yes, in many ways I am better at managing our household than my husband. But I think it has more to do with the amount of practice I get trying to keep everything afloat, than it does any innate multitasking ability. I constantly have multiple priorities pulling me in different directions — work, kids, house, groceries, budget, yard, pets, etc. It's not that my husband doesn't help, either. I simply take on more of the mental and physical parenting load than he does.
So, what does science say? In a March 2019 study published in the journal, Psychological Research, women participants were not better than men at any of the multitasking skills tested including accuracy, speed, and the ability to avoid distraction. An August 2019 study in PLOS had similar findings; everyone who tried to multitask experienced losses in performance, regardless of gender. So not only is the idea that women are better at multitasking than men a myth, but the idea that multitasking is a better way to be and stay productive is also a lie.
Our epic and often unavoidable fails in multitasking don't mean we are crappy moms. Instead, they simply mean we live in a culture that expects us to do it all, without any support and without making mistakes. Moms don't need to get better at multitasking, we need more help. And in lieu of that help, we're bound to experience a few epic fails, like the following moms can tell you:
"I was clearing the table after dinner and ignoring our whining dog. Then my 11-month-old got to the dog poop on the floor before I did."
"I was pumping at work in my office. I had to jump on a conference call and thought I would just 'multitask' and do both at the same time. Nope. I accidentally turned the video on and ended up flashing everyone on the call. I wanted to crawl through the floor. Someone brought that incident up every time we had our weekly conference call for a year or so after that."
"I took my 18-month-old daughter out for fast food and let her play at the play place, then got our food to go. I carried it and her outside, put everything — including my phone, wallet, and keys — in the front seat and closed the door. She had already climbed into her car seat, so I went to buckle her in and then closed her door.
Apparently, my keys had bounced so that the fob hit lock, and the moment I shut her door they all locked. I sat screaming outside the car until someone reported me to the restaurant, who sent a manager out. They called fire department and my neighbor to get my other set. It was all fine, but I was a mess. The restaurant gave free food to everyone involved."
"I work from home and often have 10 to 20 tabs open on my screen at once. One day I was trying to work when one kid woke up from their nap, one kid asked for a snack, and the cat puked on the floor. When I got back to my computer, I realized my toddler had erased the report I was working on and shut all of my tabs with my research."
"I work from home and managed to do so quite successfully without the assistance of hired child care, until my first child turned about 18 months. At that point he was no longer cool just hanging out in my office area and playing quietly with toys while I worked.
Our house was pretty 'toddler-proof,' so he mostly had free-reign of the house and I would check on him regularly to make sure he wasn't into anything he wasn't supposed to be. Well, one day, as I was working at my computer, it occurred to me that it had been really quiet for [about] 10 minutes, so I figured I should go check to see what he was up to.
His entire bedroom was covered in green marker — the walls, curtains, bedspread, windows, tiled floor. Everything in green marker. Obviously, I couldn't be too upset with him since it was our fault that the markers were left out within his reach, but boy did that end up putting me behind schedule for the rest of my day."
"I was cleaning the bedroom and my toddler walked into the attached bathroom. I was not paying the best attention to her. She started to eat the cleaning ring that I just put on the toilet. She had purple all over her mouth."
"I do some ghostwriting for one of my clients and add affiliate links. So, I have access to her Amazon account. One day I took a 'Facebook break' to check in with my mom group, while I was prepping my toddler's lunch. Someone had posted a hilarious review of a sex toy, so I clicked through to Amazon to check it out.
Clicking on that post lead to clicking on a couple of other 'recommended products.' I was reading maybe my third or fourth sex toy review, when I realized that I was still in my client's Amazon account. I panicked because it would show up in her viewed-items history.
I ended up messaging her to explain what had happened, apologized, and said that I was so embarrassed. Fortunately, she just laughed and said that she was curious and would have to check it out herself.
Pro-tip: you can actually delete your Amazon history, but I didn't know that at the time."