Moms are built to multi-task.
It’s a universal experience – during approximately week two of your first child’s life, once the New Mommy Daze has partially lifted and your new reality starts to sink in.
It usually goes like this: Thursday at 2:30pm, you realize that nobody brought you dinner tonight, your husband has gone back to work, you’re rocking Day Four of your last pair of clean leggings, and the spit-up stains on your couch are not going to magically disappear.
And the baby still needs to eat every 42 minutes. So you grudgingly stop your Netflix binge, strap the baby to your chest in a carrier, and get to work.
Productivity feels GOOD, but tiny kids can make it feel near impossible. And you might not have believed it in that moment, but dicing an onion while nursing a baby and talking on the phone is actually only LEVEL ONE in the myriad of strange multitasking tasks you will embark down the road.
Because soon, that baby stops taking three naps a day. Learns to crawl, learns to walk… learns to hang off of your leg screaming like a dying animal because it needs one cracker for EACH HAND (what else is that other hand for?!). Then the child develops separation anxiety, a need for actual educational growth, and an insatiable desire to utter the spine-chilling question “but why, Mommy?” every four seconds on autopilot.
And then another kid shows up. And then maybe another. Sometimes more.
Getting stuff done with tiny kids under foot is no easy feat… but it’s not impossible.
The Five Rules for Productivity With Small Kids
Rule One: Anticipate your child’s needs, and meet them BEFORE you set about your task.
You know your kid. If you have a chatty one, give him 5-10 minutes of focused conversation before you get to work. If she’s really snuggly, give her some special cuddle time with a favorite book.
Don’t even think about attempting anything productive in the hour before naptime or the two hours before bedtime.
And for good gracious’ sake, sit ’em all down on the potty and put some food in their bellies.
…maybe not simultaneously. But who am I to judge, really. You do you.
Rule Two: Choose your tasks wisely.
If your toddler is in a climbing phase, just don’t bother trying to empty the dishwasher while he’s underfoot. It’s not worth bending down to reach your kid out of the depths of the dishwasher every 7 milliseconds. Or the stabbing risk (because you’re definitely going to stab yourself in the eyeball out of sheer frustration). Set yourself up for success by choosing tasks that are actually remotely feasible.
Save the other stuff for times when your kids are asleep.
Rule Three: Make routines.
Your productivity routines should be TASK-specific and/or TIME-specific.
TIME specific: If you need or crave productive time every day, make it the same time every day. Even young kids can develop a sense for this kind of routine pretty quickly. If they know that Mommy has to work at the computer every day after snack, there’s less likely to be unexpected interruption.
TASK specific: This is not important if you have a newborn, but once kids are mobile, task-specific routines can be a great way to help your child know what to expect. This is helpful for two reasons. First, if your child sees you folding laundry most days at 10am, it becomes a predictable part of their routine. Second, your kid will eventually get used to seeing laundry around and at some point, it will likely become boring enough a sight that they won’t be enticed to jump in the pile of neatly folded clothes. I can’t make any promises here folks, but it’s worked for me.
Rule Four: Communicate clearly with your child.
The formula for good communication is: “I’m sorry I can’t _______ with you right now. I am working on __________ because it’s important for our family. I can play with you in ___ minutes / when the timer goes off / when my coffee cup is empty…..
Joking about that last one, but it’s worth a shot.
Obviously this doesn’t work if your kid can’t understand your words. But training your kids early that Mommy has important things to do that are NOT related to them is not only helpful to your sanity, I truly believe it is a responsibility to our kids – to help teach them that they are not the center of the world, and that moms are important contributing members of society.
Rule Five: Find the right kind of activity for your child.
Isn’t this the answer we’re all looking for? What is going to entertain my kid for 20 minutes so I can get something done?
There’s no magical unicorn activity, but you’re looking for something that 1) doesn’t require a lot of parental assistance and 2) has potential to entertain your child for a good chunk of time.
I’m not above just saying “go play” – in fact this is my go-to. But if this is a new concept for your kids, or they are too young to find their own toys, you’ll have to get in there a little more at first.
Don’t worry. I won’t leave you hanging without a suggestion or two.
My favorite ideas:
Under 3 months: baby wear, unless you are a lucky soul whose baby will sit in a swing for any amount of time.
3-6 months: jumpers, activity centers, ceiling fan gazing. More baby wearing.
6 months-confident walker: CONFINE THEM in some sort of baby contraption. Baby wear if they tolerate it. And also, bless your soul. I promise it gets better.
Confident walker-2 years: Outdoor play, water play (if you don’t mind a mess), magnets, a “mystery box” filled with an assortment of toys or craft objects, crafts if they are into it.
2 years: All of the previous things PLUS building/stacking toys and anything that encourages pretend-play. MORE OUTDOOR PLAY.
3 years: More outdoor play. More pretend play. Play-doh. If your child is ready, independent play in his/her own room.
I would be missing something if I didn’t add: I hear Daniel Tiger is a pretty good babysitter.
Now go get something done, mama!