The false allure of multitasking

A few weeks ago I asked for recommendations for podcasts to listen to. Discovering the realities of waking to feed my new baby multiple times a night for an hour at a time had me feeling not only tired and struggling to keep my eyes open in the small hours, but also that I needed to fill that time with something. (As if feeding the baby wasn’t an active enough activity.) I wanted to capitalise on that time…to learn, to be entertained, or to experience new ideas. I had many great suggestions, I have found new favourite podcasts as a result, but I also had a different kind of suggestion; one that opened my eyes to the false allure of multitasking.

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A woman whom I know socially, but not intimately, began her private message with greetings and solid podcast suggestions. What followed was a strikingly abrupt and poignant exposition on how she had been berated for filling her breastfeeding time with stuff, rather than enjoying the intimate moments between mother and child. The point which held me and continues to anchor me in this exchange, is the gratitude she expressed for having been berated. This gratitude kept returning to my thoughts each time I awoke to my child the following night. In truth, I did listen to a couple of podcasts over the next couple of nights, but my heart wasn’t in it. My heart was preoccupied, trying to work with my brain to figure out why exactly I had this compulsion to “fill” the intimate time with something. To understand it, I needed to first examine the time itself.

In the first few weeks, so my baby app tells me, I spent on average 40 hours feeding. Just feeding. I look at that hour tally and it’s no wonder I felt I needed to fill it with something. That is the equivalent of a full-time job. For someone who has always juggled part-time jobs with study and other commitments, hour chunks would always be useful for study, relaxing reading, doing chores, or fitness. There was always something that could be slotted in. Something worthwhile. Something that contributed either economically or educationally (which of course has an economic component).

In a nutshell the driving force behind why I needed to capitalise on that time is my own entrenchment in capitalism. Yes there are always chores to be done, dinner to be cooked etc, but that wasn’t what was trying to fill that time with. I felt compelled to fill that time with what I would have previously considered work; reading and paper-based study is a bit tricky to manoeuvre with a breastfeeding baby in both arms, and so I wanted to explore podcasts. Deep down it was so I could feel that I came out of those late night hours having learned something. Because I’ve been led to believe subliminally that the hours spent intimately nurturing a child are not of the same value as those spent building wealth, knowledge, and status.

Now that I understand the impetus behind my desire, I’ve spent a considerable number of hours exclusively feeding, cuddling, and being with my child. Now that I understand the motivation behind wanting to achieve everything in one day, I can relax when my child falls asleep on me and won’t be put down without waking up. Now that I understand where my anxiety about wasted time is emanating from, I can discard it, fight against it, and not let it steal precious moments of nurture and bonding from us.

Yes, this blog post took several weeks to think out and write up. Yes, my sewing machine has barely been touched, I haven’t picked up an adult book in weeks, and yes some days I spend longer trying to remember what I was going to say than I do in intelligent conversation, but I’m also learning to be flexible, vulnerable, and to delight in creation in a newly personal, divine way.

To all the new parents out there feeling an inexplicable urge to multitask; in the words of a wise, unnamed woman, “enjoy enjoying your babies”. She once urged me to relax into this time, and I’m so grateful she did.

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