How To Manage Motherhood Without Multitasking

3.30.12 I don't know how she does it


Hardly a day goes by without someone saying, “I don’t know how you do it.” It’s true -I have a big life with lots of kids, a full time job, and a fistful of other responsibilities. On paper, it seems like I have more going on than most people could handle, but it all seems quite manageable to me. That’s because I don’t try to figure out how to do everything in advance. If I did, I’d be totally overwhelmed and never get anything done. Instead, I just do it. I start with a goal and a plan then fill in the blanks as I go along. I leave plenty of room for the plan to change, simplify whenever possible and keep aiming for the goal. That’s what we all do, whether we have no children or five, are unemployed or have several jobs. By taking one step at a time and keeping the goal in sight, we can get anywhere we aim to go.

You hear women say it all the time, “I’m so busy right now, I don’t know how I’d manage with a baby in my life.” But then they have one. Sure, they’re overwhelmed for a while. They stumble a bit while they try to find their pace, but eventually, they figure out how to do everything they need to do to get through their day. Maybe that’s as a stay-at-home Mom and maybe that’s as a working Mom. I recently heard a woman say “I don’t know how she stays sane, home all day with that baby. It would drive me nuts if I didn’t have my job to keep my brain humming.” Of course, there’s another woman out there saying, “I don’t know how she takes care of her baby and her job. It would drive me nuts to divide my attention like that.” The point is, even though you can’t see how the other team plays the game, if you suddenly found yourself as part of the opposite team, you could play that position too. You’d learn the rules and make a few mistakes, but it wouldn’t take long before you were a contender.

Women with one child can’t fathom how they’d manage another, much less several more. They try to think it through and sure enough – it’s not possible. But once that baby is in the house, they go through the steps they need to take and pretty soon, that new baby is incorporated into the rhythm of the day and all that pre-baby worry is a mute point. It doesn’t really matter if she’s adding baby number two, three or five, it’s the same process – you worry, take baby steps, stumble, pick yourself up and figure it out as you go along. Pretty soon, you’re on it and women all around you are dumbstruck by your skill and grace. They simply don’t know how you do it.

Of course, when you know for certain you don’t want more on your plate than you think you can handle, you do something about portion control. You make sure you don’t have more kids than you want or more work than you want to handle. It makes sense to take control of the things in life that are controllable. But don’t underestimate yourself, if something unforeseen dropped into the middle of your carefully planned life, chances are, you could handle it.

Women say, “it’s all about multitasking,” but they’re wrong. Multitasking doesn’t really do anyone any favors. It means nothing ever gets your full attention, and you’re never fully present to any one part of your life. Instead, the more efficient and rewarding way to manage a large-sized life is to do one thing at a time to the best of your ability, then move on to the next thing. That’s how it goes whether you have one kid or five. And if you try to do two things at once, pretty soon, you’ll make a big mistake.

I try very hard to not multitask, but every now and again, when I think I can get away with it, I give it a go. Last week was particularly jam-packed. My legs hadn’t been shaved in days and my fingernail polish (which, by some miracle I’d found time to paint a week before) was chipped and bugging the heck out of me. So there I was, sitting on the toilet thinking, “well, since I’m just sitting here, I might as well take my nail polish off.” Good plan, until a few moments later I realized my hands were covered with acetone and I hadn’t wiped yet. OK, TMI…sorry about that, but you get my point. Do one thing at a time to the best of your ability, then the next and the next and pretty soon, you’ve gotten through the day. Your manicure might be a mess, but what the heck.

We don’t really have to know how to accomplish every step of a plan to achieve a goal. Just take it as it comes, do the best you can and figure it out as you go. And be kind to yourself. Mistakes are normal and acceptable as long as you learn from them, forgive yourself and do better next time. Seriously, Moms can handle just about anything and we hardly ever know how we did it.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

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