I’m not saying that mothers cannot multi-task. We all can, and do. Even if it’s just eating a sandwich while nursing an infant to keep blood sugar levels up during a Wonder Week feeding marathon (took me a while to master that one), we all do it.
However, I think the myth that women and specifically, mothers, are excellent multi-taskers is almost as dangerous as her sister myth, that women can ‘have it all.’
But mothers are great at multi-tasking… Aren’t they?
Well. To an extent, as I said above, yes, we have to be. We all have a lot to get through each day. To go slightly into detail; We have kids to get up out of bed, to feed, clothe, entertain, take to school/nursery/playgroup/just out. Then there’s more feeding, more entertaining, more appointments/playdates etc. Then there’s the ‘home admin,’ and all that entails. We might also work – full-time/part-time/work-from-home (in any capacity)… It’s all work. Then there are relationships to maintain – partners, family, extended family, friends… And we also need to look after ourselves somewhere along the line.
Did you notice how I put ‘looking after ourselves’ last?
I’ve written about not dropping the glass balls before. In that post, I talked about the importance of putting the glass balls first (and not having more than you can safely juggle), and how routine can help when it comes to managing everything. However… Even though I know this, and even though in my work as a coach* I help people, parents in particular, identify and achieve their goals – one at a time – I still fell for the myth of the multi-tasking mother.
I do a fair bit of stuff. Other than mothering mushroom and all the other ‘life stuff’ (which in itself can be a full-time job, just ask any stay-at-home mum), I also work part-time, write this blog and another one and then there’s the freelance writing and coaching. Usually I try to take some time out in September as, it being the anniversary of my mum’s passing, I know it can be a hard time for me. Last year, I didn’t. In fact, it coincided with some other personal challenges and a busy time at work including a project I found very challenging. I put a lot more time into that, and no less into everything else. I started believing that if ‘everyone else’ (‘everyone?’ Really? In the whole world? Hmmm) was managing, then I ‘should’ (oh how I loathe that word – but that’s for another blog post) – be able to too. Of course, I couldn’t, and didn’t. Remember those glass balls? Well, I put work above health once too often and it slipped. It cracked. I cracked.
At the time, I posted a rather dramatic announcement that I ‘wouldn’t be around for a while,’ only to return two weeks later with a post that explained nothing. The reason I didn’t explain is because I felt that if I’d written down all the things that happened in isolation, they would seem small, ridiculously so in some cases but all together? Well, the build-up was too much. There were of course things beyond my control that I just needed to take the time to reflect on as well as the smaller things that felt insurmountable at the time because, put simply, there was just too much going on in my head. I needed to stop and I didn’t. So I got sick. My body forced a stop for me.
Taking time out
Two weeks was all it took. Just two weeks when I only had to take care of the essentials – Mushroom, myself and my family. My work (all of it) took a back seat and I concentrated on what was important. This short break was the reminder I needed.
Once I ‘switched off’ from all but the essentials I found time to relax I realised that this is what I had been missing for a while. The time to reflect, to ‘take a step back’ from all the ‘doing’ and just ‘be’ for a bit. I spent some time talking to friends, and these conversations got me to step outside myself and see just what I had been doing. Looking back at myself from this new perspective, I realised that all these plans for the future were great but I had sort of pulled the future in so close that it had overtaken the present. I was rushing towards it, trying to do everything – without asking for support when I needed it – and had become less mindful of what I needed right now.
Being more mindful
I felt annoyed with myself at first – when did I start believing I could do it all at once? No-one had been asking me to stretch myself so much. Even at work, I had deadlines, yes but had I asked for help? No, Not this time. Somewhere along the line I’d gone back to thinking that was weak to need support (it’s not) and that I had to just get on with it. There was a voice in the back of my mind telling me that I couldn’t show weakness at work. I had to start challenging myself again. Who told me I was weak? What if I wasn’t? What would it be like to ask for support at work? What’s the worst that could happen? And all the other projects… Well, I’d just put that pressure on myself. I wanted to ‘have it all’ and have it now! I became impatient, so focused on the future that – apart from Mushroom – I wasn’t paying enough attention to the present. However, once I asked for support, it was given without question from several sources and I was able to get that balance back.
Now, when I get frustrated about what I’ve not yet achieved I remind myself that I just need to take time out. Just a few minutes to reflect on how far I’ve come, instead of rushing ahead of myself to the next goal. If you’re also in that frustrated phase, try it. Talking through these reflections with others can help too, as it’s easy to dismiss your own achievements when they might seem to you like just a tiny step on this massive journey. When you hear from friends how much you’ve done, you might just feel differently about it. I know I did. That new perspective also makes me look at where I am now and what I have – Mushroom, my health, my family, great friends and so much more – and start to think actually… Maybe I do already ‘have it all.’
I said before that ‘having it all’ is a myth. Well, if we redfine ‘all,’ then perhaps it can be possible.
What do you think? Do you find yourself trying to live up to the myth of the multi-tasking mother who ‘has it all’? What happens if you redefine ‘all’ on your terms? Do share in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!
*If you’re interested in finding out more about the coaching work I do, have a look here first but the best way to find out if it’s something that would work for you would be to have a chat with me! Consultations are free and we can Hangout on Google+, Skype, or if you live in London, I can meet you anywhere that suits. If the weather’s on our side a walking conversation can work wonders.