I’m Terrified My Children Will Only Remember A Distracted Mother

Between working from home, the texts, the phone calls, the Snapchats — will they remember a mother who is always saying, “Just a minute?”

This morning, while folding four loads of laundry (can someone please explain how such little people can create so much laundry??), I was listening to a podcast about balancing work-life guilt. The woman being interviewed talked about the importance of giving 110% to your work and your kids, but warned about the pitfalls of “distracted” parenting — you know the kind when you’re listening to your kid tell a story, but also checking your email at the same time? Or the kind when you’re on a conference call for work, but also changing a baby’s diaper while the phone is on mute? Or the kind when you’re ahem, folding laundry and listening to a podcast while your kids run in and out of the room showing you their toys?

Yup. Guilty.

As a work-at-home mom, I am especially guilty of this and listening to the expert in the podcast, I found myself growing pretty defeated. Because the truth is, there is very rarely a time in my life when I am not doing two (or more) things at once. It’s just what needs to be done to make our lives possible at the moment. For the most part, I’ve been OK with that — I love the fact that we have a fairly “large” family for today’s standards with four young kids and I love that I am able to be the to “to-go” parent at home who is always here for school pick-ups and sick kids and snow days and everything that comes in between. But at the same time, we need money to live and I do have to work to provide for our family as well, my work just happens to be done from home.

So what does this mean? It means that I am in full-blown distracted mother mode 99.99% of the time. And I’m so worried that my children will suffer because of it.

On any typical day, I am switching from work mode to mom mode to wife mode to employee mode to person-who-has-to-unclog-the-toilet mode and it’s enough to make anyone crazy. My life has been this way for almost nine years now, so in a way, it feels like I don’t know how to do “just” one thing. Every time I sit down, I feel anxious that something else needs to be done. Every time I try to work, I am stressed that the kids are going to start fighting or need a snack or someone will need a diaper change (which they always do), so I’m trying to fly through work as fast as I can while cutting up an apple. It’s gotten to the point where I am checking emails at school pick-up or interviewing clients while driving my kids around and honestly, I am starting to wonder if I have it all backwards.

Am I really being more productive this way? Or do I need to step back and remember the way things used to be, when we weren’t connected 24/7? You know, back when we actually had to physically log on to a computer to check our email instead of typing a reply in the middle of the grocery store aisle?

The truth is, I am so tired of constantly being distracted. I am mentally and emotionally drained at the end of the day from the endless back-and-forth and the texts and the buzzing and the demands of my children, but more importantly, I am terrified that they are growing up thinking that my behavior is normal. Before I know it, my kids are going to be the ones on the other end of the phone nodding distractedly to me as I try to ask them about their day. They are going to be the ones switching back from their homework to Snapchat, wondering how 3 hours flew by and they have nothing to show for it. They are the ones who are going to struggle with relaxing because it feels like there is always a screen on.

So I hope to change things before it’s too late. I’ve started small, with a few simple steps:

  • I’ve removed all notifications from my phone. Yes, even email. I have to physically check my email now and you know what? My work hasn’t suffered!
  • I use a special app to give all devices in our home a wake-up and bedtime. Even for myself. No Instagram scrolling at night anymore!
  • We no longer watch TV at night. We used to let the kids watch a show before bedtime, but I was getting tired of seeing them turn into little zombies every night. Better to read together or even play a game.
  • I literally put my phone out of sight. I’m the worst and I’m weak so some days or during certain parts of the day when I need to be engaged with the kids, I purposefully stash my phone on a different level of the house. I’m too lazy to go get it, so problem solved! No mindless checking of the phone every 3 seconds for no reason whatsoever. (Tell me I’m not the only one who does that??)
  • Using a TV fast. We are Catholic, so with Lent coming up, I’m taking advantage by instituting a TV fast for the duration of the Lenten season. This should be interesting, guys.

Overall, I’m just trying to change my own bad habits before it’s too late and before they start to affect my children. I don’t feel any shame for doing what I need to do as a work-at-home mom, but I also don’t want my children to remember me as the mom who was always distracted. All I can do is vow to do better each and every day.

Right after I check this last Snapchat, of course. Shhhhh…..