Friday, August 27, 2010

Now HE Needs Something, Too?

As a FT working Mom, my time and energy are limited. And as an introvert, my job as a therapist requires a significant amount of cognitive and interpersonal energy. By the time I get home I'm pretty tired.

What resources I have left are mustered and directed toward my boys. They are my heart and, well, frankly they take a lot of energy. It's a little bit of a self-sustaining energy in that I get a ton from them as well. All the same, I'm exhausted by the time they are both in bed.

So, wait a minute. Who's that guy sitting there on the couch looking at me expectantly? Now that I am totally tapped, what could he possibly want from me? How do I muster enough energy to listen to his day, to nod at appropriate moments, and to ask questions or make follow-up comments when I can barely keep my eyes open?

As parents who are already stretched pretty thin, often our relationships with our partners get short shrift. Sometimes it feels like making time for our husbands is one more of a series of obligations. So the career woman and mother parts of our identities are honored but the wife role often gets left behind.

How do we stay connected? How can we make our relationships priority without resentment or total exhaustion? Having time where we shed the other roles and exist primarily as wives is crucial for our marriages and for ourselves.
  • Have Check-in Time. Set aside a small amount of time each night where the two of you connect, however briefly that may be.
  • Focus on What You Get. Think about what your husband does for you on a daily basis to make your life easier and/or more pleasant. It is easier to find the energy to engage with him when you believe that in general the relationship is a two-way street.
  • Go on Dates. Plan "date" times where it is just the two of you. Decide together how often is feasible and agree not to talk much about the kids. Dates can be romantic living room interludes with wine and dessert after the kids go to bed, but it's even better if you can get out of the house.
  • Reconnect with Former Shared Interests. Don't forget who you were as a couple in the days B.C. (Before Children). Pull out both yoga mats, critique Stephen King's latest novel together, revisit one of the hobbies or interests that filled your lives back then.
  • Ask For a Massage. No strings attached, but the physical closeness and the sensations create intimacy and a sense of being taken care of.
  • Go All the Way. Sometimes you are in the mood and have the energy to follow up. Attend to your own and your partner's sexual needs and ask for what you like.
  • Just Say No. When it's been a really long, really rough day and you just have nothing left to give, it's okay to say "I'm totally pooped and having a hard time focusing on you. I'll be a much better listener once I've gotten some rest. Can you hold those thoughts until tomorrow?"
Sometimes it feels like you're stretched to the limit and that one more thing may cause you to break. But, engaging in an emotionally, personally, and sexually satsifying relationship is fulfilling. Your marriage should be a resource that produces as much as it demands. The garden of your marriage can yield sustaining, nurturing fruit if tended with care. In this way, nurturing our relationships is nurturing ourselves.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Multitasking: Friend or Foe?

As parents we all have to do it. Multitasking is necessary for survival. We have to learn how to pay attention to what the toddler is grabbing while chopping vegetables for dinner and answering the ringing phone.

We multitask on a micro scale as we tackle our basic chores and on a macro scale as we negotiate our multiple roles and responsibilities. Multitasking is a necessary and functional skill. We often measure our competency as parents at least partially on how well we can multitask. So, what's the problem?

I am a multitasking junkie. In many ways this enabled me to balance graduate school and marriage and it now helps me take care of household chores while watching and playing with the boys. But, sometimes my multitasking gets a little out of hand. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to do three things at once and I still have no clue what the rules are for the game my son is explaining to me.

I think I'm being more efficient by handling multiple tasks nearly simultaneously. But, research indicates that we're actually less efficient when we multitask. Apparently, spreading little bits of our attention out onto different tasks or constantly switching back and forth leads to mistakes and misunderstandings.

When possible, we need to slow down and focus on a single task. Our work, whether it's washing dishes or writing memos, is more accurate and more efficiently done if we dedicate our full attention to each task independently. Being present in the moment and giving our full attention to what's in front of us is good for productivity and for mental health.

This is the basis of mindfulness, which is a term that is being thrown around everywhere these days. Mindfulness is being focused on the present moment with nonjudgmental clarity. Being mindful means being aware of where our attention is and choosing to focus it on one thing.

The research bears out - mindfulness is good for the mind. Practicing mindful thinking and meditation is associated with stress reduction, improved attention, and enhanced mood. Basically, mindfulness is good self-care. Learning to be mindful allows us to really hear about our partner's day, to fully attend to our children's stories, and to completely relax when we finally have downtime.

As mothers, can we ever really eliminate multitasking? And should we, if we actually could? Probably not. It is necessary for us to juggle our multiple activities and multiple roles, sometimes at the same time. But, it is also important for us to learn to slow down and fully attend to who or what is right in front of us. It's good for our relationships and for our mental health.