Did you know mothers can't multi-task? I know people are always like, "You sure know how to multi-task!" But it's garbage. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell calls multitasking a "mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one." In fact, the term "multi-tasking" was developed for computers that simultaneously complete a million different tasks perfectly.
or perfect but they are pretty spectacular. Mothers do a dynamite job at giving partial attention to a million little things. For example, a mother can simultaneously clean the kitchen, check her email, make dinner, and talk with her child about dinosaurs. Mothers are amazing. Seriously, amazing. A problem arises when mothers think they are giving a child their full attention while they're looking at a screen. Being constantly "plugged in" means children constantly receive only partial attention.
Believe it or not, it is impossible to give full attention to a child while checking Facebook. Sherry Turkle, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, agrees. She has been studying how parental use of technology affects children and young adults. After five years and 300 interviews, she reports that children feel jealousy, hurt, and competition towards technology.
Many children feel they come second to technology. And why wouldn't they? They will be telling you something great thing and suddenly your phone beeps and immediately that's the focus. It doesn't matter where you are, at dinner, at their athletic event, at their school play … technology comes first.
Now, I'm not saying that for the good of the children we should all throw all our devices into the ocean (although, that would be a thrilling social experiment). Technology is helping parents in countless ways, through education, social connection, even employment. Often technology actually allows parents to spend more time with their children because they can work from home. And there is nothing wrong with giving kids partial attention sometimes. I daresay it would be impossible to live a productive life if you didn't occasionally focus on petty little things like finances, cooking, and personal hygiene.
But this generation of mothers needs "unplug" far more than they do. But when? When can a mother make the biggest impact on her children by giving them her full attention while still living in the 21st century?
First thing in the morning
Children have yet to learn that life is full of ebbs and flows and that even though things seem pretty bad right now it will get better. Change is a difficult concept for children and if they wake up feeling ignored they usually won't have the mental maturity to think to themselves, "Mom seems busy right now, surely she'll have time for me later." Being technology free in the morning is a great way start a child's day.
Right after school
Things happen at school. Real life dramas. Children are seriously in the trenches of life, growing up is hard. If they don't have someone to talk to about it they will find some other way to express their frustrations … and it won't be pretty. Children eventually stop talking if they aren't being listened to. Right after school is for listening, re-framing and supporting … not pinning.
This time is sacred. Numerous studies have concluded that the more dinners you have together the better off emotionally and economically your children will be. Dr. Jenny Radesky says that face-to-face interactions are the primary way children learn, "They learn language, they learn about their own emotions, they learn how to regulate them, they learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people's facial expressions. And if that's not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones." I know a family that have a fancy box that everyone puts their phones in before supper. It's beautiful.
During your bedtime routine
I am constantly surprised to learn that many parents don't have a steady bedtime routine. Google it. Do it. The benefits are enormous. This is time for bonding and learning about each other. It's about swapping stories and processing the day … not for falling asleep in front of the TV.
The bottom line is, don't fool yourself into believing you can "multi-task." You can't. Decide what is worth your full attention and make that your priority … at least sometimes.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Kristin Anderson's blog, Candy House Blog. It has been republished here with permission.