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I’m sitting on the floor with the kids, or rather, my body is sitting on the floor with the kids. My mind, however, is off to several other places, while my body plays with the wooden trains and rails that my kids love so much.
On the one hand, I want to spend time with them and give it my full attention. I want to be able to play with them and enjoy it. But on the other hand there seems to be this endless list of stuff that needs doing. And that I know I don’t always want to do in the evenings when the kids are in bed. I mean, it’s not bad of my that I want some nights off, is it?
Lessen the overwhelm
By focussing on just one single task, instead of trying to do the whole list as efficiently as possible, you can lessen the overwhelm. Stop letting your life pass you by, missing all the beautiful moments with the kids, because you’re too busy with all the stuff you don’t really need to do. And let’s face it, worrying about it still doesn’t get stuff done, does it? It’s a waste of time.
Stop being a multi-tasking mom
When I stopped being a multi-tasking mom, things became so much calmer.
Doing only one thing at a time has lessened the overwhelm for me, and has created more space and balance in my life, because it’s stopped my mind from flitting from place to place and topic to topic. It’s like a woman running around the house in a blind panic!
A lot of overwhelm comes from the emotional experience you have of the idea of having too much on your plate. The overwhelm, in other words, is to a large extend in your head. It’s worrying about stuff that often doesn’t need worrying about. That definitely doesn’t need worrying about while your not about to do something with it.
I’ve had this feeling a lot, that I ought to be doing at least 3 different things at the same time, or I wouldn’t be able to get it all done. Experience has shown, however, that this is simply not true. Usually, there is enough time to get everything done. And even on the occasion that there isn’t, when the least important thing falls off the plate, did it matter? Usually not.
Sometimes a multi-tasking mom is good
There are situations in normal, everyday life when being able to multi-task is a good thing. One instance where being a multi-tasking mom is good, is in the kitchen when you’re cooking.
You divide your attention between what’s already on the stove, what still needs prepping, and cleaning away some dishes in the meantime.
Cooking is an activity where you’re constantly plotting out the steps that you are taking to put the various courses on the table. Where different things need to be done at different times, but where at the end you want all that goes into the main course to be finished and ready to eat at the same time.
This is when multi-tasking is a good thing. It enables you to put a meal on the table by dividing your attention over various actions, almost simultaneously.
Sometimes a multi-tasking mom is not so good
When playing with the kids, however, you should be doing only one thing. Not because I say so, but because you’ll be more relaxed and happier if you do.
If your head is full with stuff, then there is no place to actually experience what is happening right now. You can’t smell your kids’ scent if you’re not paying attention. The things they say, and how they say it, won’t register is your mind is drifting.
A lot of the time, one thing at a time is a very good thing.
So what can you do about it? How can you stop being a multi-tasking mom?
Pull your mind back
If you find your thoughts wandering, tell yourself you’re already doing something else right now and want to focus on that.
The word “want” is important here. Too often we tell ourselves we “need” or “must” do something. That’s just putting yourself under pressure.
Even when you are doing a chore that you don’t like, you are doing it for a reason. There is always something that you get out of your behavior. The reward for doing what you do.
Sometimes that reward is obvious, like when you eat chocolate. Then again, sometimes the reward is less obvious. When I fold the laundry, the reward is that the house looks neater (no piles lying here and there) and everybody can find their clothes in the morning without any fuss.
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Going in circles?
Sometimes the mind just wants to circle the same topic again and again. Something worries you and it’s eating away your energy. If so, then it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to keep yourself doing only one thing at a time. Perhaps your mind is drifting for a very good reason.
It might help to talk it over with a good friend or your partner.
Often, the thing you were so worried about it much smaller then you at first thought. Often we need to share more than anything else. Talking to someone about it can take your worries away, or at least create a solution that lessens your worries.
If that should fail though, then I find that it helps to sit down and confront this thing at the very first opportunity.
Sit down in a place where you won’t be disturbed. To yourself (or write it down in a journal if you find that it helps) and state exactly what is keeping you busy.
Do it as if you are explaining it to a complete outsider, so that you really hash it out. This helps to process whatever it is. Then ask yourself why it’s bothering you. Even if that seems obvious. Again, hash this out. Sometimes, the mind just needs to go through it all before it can let things go.
Create a routine
That supports what needs doing
If you and the kids have more or less the same rhythm each day, getting things done becomes easier. This will help you stop being a multi-tasking mom.
The kids know when it’s time to play with mom and when it’s time to play by themselves. It also means that you know you’ll have time (later) to get everything on that’s your to-do list done.
Take for example the mornings at our house:
I know that the kids want me to play with them. But I also know that I’ll get antsy if I don’t get stuff done. My solution is to allot time for play with the kids as well as to allot time to do some chores.
In the morning, when we just got downstairs and before breakfast, I clean out the dishwasher. I always turn it on before I go to bed and then unload it early in the morning. That way, I can load the new dishes as the day goes on, without any dishes collecting on the kitchen counter.
That’s one job out of the way.
This is also a good time to turn on the washing machine.
Daily Routine for the Kids
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I know that the kids will want their share of attention first, so I start by playing with them after breakfast.
I also know that they’ll have an easier time playing by themselves in the afternoon. That goes for my kids, it might be different for yours. Just experiment and see what works. But for us, the mornings are usually a good time to go outside. So if I need to do any groceries or go to the local market, we do that in the morning also.
It gives the boys a chance to move around. And if the weather’s good we’ll also go to a playground. Getting the kids to run around in the morning let’s them burn a lot of their energy and makes them more easy going in the afternoon. I have the idea that they’re more content to play by themselves (and let me go on with my business) if they’ve been outside in the morning.
When we get back, I usually have enough time to do one or two household chores before lunch.
Rinse and Repeat
We repeat the same pattern every time, so the kids are used to this. It makes use of their natural rhythm and inclinations.
It means that the kids follow in the natural flow of the household, have time where they naturally play by themselves. As a consequence, I am no longer a multi-tasking mom.
An added bonus is that the kids move and play enough to burn all of their energy, but that the rhythm of the day is predictable enough for them to get enough rest mentally from all the new things they encounter throughout the week.
And for mom, it gives me the space and calm to play with my kids knowing I’ll have time later to do the household chores.
But there’s a lot that needs to get done?
A lot of us tend to have the feeling that there’s just too much to get done in the day. I think this has two main reasons:
- We give ourselves a lot to do, and not all of these things necessarily really need doing;
- Children take up a lot of time, so our perception of how much time we have changes when we have kids.
With regards to point 2, I’m not going to say that you’re supposed to enjoy time with the kids. Even though it’s true that they are little for only a few short years, nobody can force you to enjoy the time they need. Not even you. In fact, putting pressure on it is only going to make you feel worse. So don’t.
What I can do is advise you to relax more while you’re spending time with the kids.
And that’s difficult for some of us, I’m fully aware.
In fact, I have a tendency towards feeling a strong urge to finish my chores instead of goofing around with my boys.
But just experiment with this for a couple of days. Leave the household be for a bit. Do the strictly necessary in the early morning (I think it’s okay to let the kids watch some TV before the day starts, so long as they’re not watching all day).
What really needs doing
On an average day there are, in my view, only a few things that really need doing. Those are:
- Dishes, you’ll want clean plates to eat off;
- Laundry, because skipping a day can get you into trouble;
- A little bit of cleaning if you spread out your cleaning chores across the week.
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Don’t try to do huge amounts of cleaning every day while the kids are at home. Some tricks that can help:
- Let the kids help;
- Let the kids clean up their own messes and spills. Yes, you’ll need to help, but it will be less frustrating;
- Let the kids clean up their own toys, preferably before they go off and play with something else;
- Create a game around chores. My kids love being chased with the vacuum cleaner. It’s one of their favorite games that never bores.
Allot time to clean while the kids are with grandparents or a partner. Or cut the cleaning up in smaller chores and do a little each day. With bigger chores, such as cleaning the bathroom, my oldest son usually helps while my youngest son naps. While they’re still so young they love to help, so take advantage.
Prioritize and get it over with
Some more tips to get the to-do list under control.
- Eliminate things that don’t really need doing, or that aren’t handy to do today and aren’t urgent. Always ask yourself is this really necessary?
- If it’s necessary to do this task on your list, then at least ask yourself if it’s urgent. If not, give favor to more important or urgent tasks first.
- Try to limit the important tasks to just three items. No more! Anything else you put on your list is allowed to drop off and get rescheduled.
- If it has high priority, or if it’s something that will prey on your mind during the day, then get it done in the early morning. If necessary, get up 15 – 30 minutes before everybody else to get this out of the way. You’ll be amazed what you can done in half an hour with nobody else underfoot!
- And always, always focus on just one thing at a time! No multi-tasking mom!
What always works really well for me, is to sit down with a cup of tea and to do absolutely nothing for 5 minutes.
What? Yes, I know, this is rather contradictory to all the productivity advice listed above. But my aim isn’t truly to make you more productive.
My aim is to give you the tools you need to be more relaxed and less overwhelmed. I want you to quit being a multi-tasking mom, and if you’re doing nothing well….that means success 🙂
So, take your cup of tea (or coffee, if you’d rather) and sit down. This can be in the early evening once the kids are in bed, but I recommend you try to find 5 minutes in the middle of the day if possible. Even with kids, once they are used to you taking 5 minutes they’re likely to let you have your time.
5 minutes in the middle of the day of absolutely nothing feel like such a luxury! Really, how often do you do that? Go ahead, try it, you’ll feel like a queen. It’ll totally change your mindset. Just remember that you’re supposed to do nothing, that includes that you don’t think about the stuff you still need to do. You do nothing, for 5 minutes you give yourself permission to let it go.
It works, just try it. Quit being a multi-tasking mom, and bring peace and bliss in your head!