Multitasking… or not

I’m finally home from several speeches in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. One of my usual lines in these talks is to tell people not to multitask. “Wherever you are, be there,” I say. Give your present task your full attention.

And I usually try to follow that advice. But tonight I was faced with a dilemma. I needed to sign 50 book plates to get out in the mail tomorrow. It’s a mindless task. My 3-year-old insisted on watching Dora, another mindless task. He also announced that he wanted to snuggle and climbed up in my lap on the chair where I was working. So I had one arm on him but instead of watching the show with him, I was signing book plates.

I am now debating whether this was acceptable multitasking or not. On one hand, TV time isn’t exactly quality time. It wasn’t like I was signing book plates when he was asking me to play or read him stories. On the other, could my son tell that I wasn’t fully snuggling him? That I was trying to do something else while showing him affection?

I don’t know. Does anyone else have guidelines on when it’s acceptable to multitask… or not?

5 thoughts on “Multitasking… or not

  1. I think it is A-OK to do something else while watching Dora. Of course, I usually knit something mindless while reading aloud (as long as the read-ee doesn’t need picture-pointing or page-turning assistance), so I’m biased in favor of the idea that you can connect effectively with a kid while your hands are doing something else.

  2. Hi Laura – I also think it’s okay to multitask when doing “mindless” tasks…. not high level tasks (such as talking on the phone while emailing someone). I know that space well of having a toddler that requires your attention but also having other things to get done. I usually tell my kiddo that I will snuggle him when I am done or I give him a time limit, such as Let’s snuggle for 5 minutes and then I”ll get back to work…. hope this helps…. I really think all moms struggle with multitasking… 🙂

  3. I think we beat ourselves up a lot about TV. And sometimes — especially if you have a toddler who goes to bed late — it just seems like a necessary way to keep your sanity. I can’t get any real work projects done while my kid is watching TV but I can get her to eat her veggies if I feel like she hasn’t done that and I can straighten up or wash my face or brush my teeth so I am ready for bed later … these seem like small things …but young children are very very demanding — especially after the nap that daily daycare requires of a toddler– the come home after your full day of work ready for a full 5 or 6 hours of play, they won’t sit in a stroller, and it is necessary to get your work done and to just collect yourself, and your home as a human being — I think kids realize when you are blowing them off — my child will occasionally — when I ask — say no she does not want her favorite program and I take this as a sign that she wants mommy time — and it is her way of saying hey mommy I need your full attention. They know and can sort of tell you … In your case and will let you know and if he didn’t say anything or express unhappiness he probably was very happy himself as Dora is his version of mindless and we all need a little mindless in our day — most jobs as you note have a mix of the very intense and mindless.
    They are very little for such a relatively short time (unless you keep having babies!) and I think this changes as they get older (I hope) like you can say OK go read your book and mommy will sit her next to you and do this or you can combine your workout with them, say you both take a bike ride, so you are doing all these good things at once, but you can’t put a 35 pound two-year old on a bike and expect them to ride with you for an hour…. I mean we have to be realistic or take them on a hike… no way.
    So when they are young, this is not really possible especially if you are limiting TV time overall to say an hour a day or less, and especially if they do not have a sibling their own age to play with — they compete so much for your time and energy and it is very difficult, doable but very difficult. I am hoping that as I provide my two-year old with a sibling I can also say, hey I expect you to go play now with sibling. It is interesting for example in our culture that maybe we do not foster as close bonds between our children as in other cultures where family is everything (for example Latino culture, where you are expected to entertain yourselves with your siblings and cousins — no outside play dates). There are I would think some benefits to this and to be honest this is one of the main reasons I wanted my kid to have a sibling. But this works I’d think only after the younger sibling is say over 2 years old?

  4. I don’t understand why allowing your toddler to sit on your lap while you sign bookplates and he watches Dora is not infinitely better than having him sit on the sofa while you each do those same tasks. If you never snuggle him without simultaneously doing something else, that is another issue.

  5. I think when it comes to kids-all bets are off. They come first. If we need to do two things at once and one is mindless – then let’s not call that multi-tasking. I spent many hours reading with a young one on my lap and never felt guilty. But being inattentive to the child because of a work distraction is what we have to put a cap on.

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