“They grow up so fast.”
While we may not have understood the truth of these words before becoming parents, we certainly do now. They do grow up so fast–too fast!
In fact, a part of us grieves the loss of every passing moment as our babies grow into waddlers, toddlers, and tiny budding persons with minds of their own. We want to soak up all the precious imperfect moments of parenting but our world encourages us to multitask, think ahead, and move on to the next instead of appreciating the now.
In my work as a couples therapist and relationship coach, I find that most moms experience this frustrating and guilt-producing catch-22: When they are with their children, they feel overwhelmed and distracted remembering all of the things that need to get done. They need a break. But when they get this break and are away from their children, they miss them. They feel guilty and sad about being less present with them.
Many moms find their minds are scattered, pulled in every direction at once. In a way, how could we expect anything different? These small humans we are raising have no concept of time. To them, today is the same as yesterday or three weeks ago. Everything is here and now. When they are playing, they are not considering the other responsibilities that are waiting for them–they are just playing!
As our children are forever in the present, we are forced to be the keepers of time.
When we play with them, we aren’t just playing. In our modern world of busyness, our mind is distracted and we feel obligated to do everything at once. While we sit on the floor with our kids, we also make a mental grocery list, fold the towels, and pull out our phones to send a work email.
But what would happen if you decided to single-task instead? Choosing to single-task instead of multi-task would allow you to be more present as well as find more joy and serenity in what you are doing. You wouldn’t burn out so quickly or run yourself ragged. When you’re with your children, you wouldn’t feel so strongly as though you need a break.
Single-tasking requires that you train your mind to stay focused on what you’re doing. It also means learning to slow down. And when you can do both of these, you’ll find that parenting is far more enjoyable. The Catch-22 will disappear because when you’re with your children, you’ll actually be appreciating them. And when you’re away, you won’t feel the familiar mom-guilt pulling you back.
Here are some tips for practicing single-tasking:
Turn Everything Into Play
The next time you are playing with your child, stop doing and just play. Witness the miracle of their imaginations. Teach them to fold the towels with you and turn them into mountains to drive cars over. Race them to the kitchen and have them look through the pantry with you as a scavenger hunt to make your grocery list. If you are engaging in play, you will be more focused on the here and now, making it less likely that you’ll be multi-tasking.
If you’re pulling weeds, pause for a moment to show them the awesome wonder of nature’s unique shapes and colors instead of searching for the next weed to be pulled. Instead of rushing them through the grocery store, pause for a moment to let them study the pillow with the zebra on it. Just as your children learn from you, you can learn from them. Children see the beauty in the mundane–and if you are willing to slow down, you can see it too.
Give Them Undivided Attention
You are the foundation for your children’s security and connection. When you know you will be away or preoccupied, create intentional connection with your children first. Play with them, have a chase, wrestle, or sing. Let them know this is their time–and allow it to be focused on them. When it is time for you to focus elsewhere, you can step into these other tasks knowing you already built a strong connection with your children. The familiar mom-guilt will be gone.
Focus solely on the work email, and then when you’re done, re-engage your child. Connect with them again to re-attune. As they grow to trust that your undivided attention will return, they will become more patient during periods of less attention. You’ll also be cultivating a stronger sense of secure attachment for them in later life.
As the keeper of time, you have the choice to spend your time here and now. Stop multi-tasking and start single-tasking. It’s truly one of the best gifts you can give your child.