The Art of Balancing: Mastering Multitasking and Motherhood
I fear not being skillful and becoming ordinary. This fear may stem from not celebrating my mediocrity during my humble upbringing. My drive to push myself in my job, whether teaching in a classroom or researching the nexus of politics and performance in South Asia, gives me a sense of stability and grounding. Recently, my role has changed from identifying as an academic who enjoys getting up in the morning to practice writing and prepping for her classes to that of a mother who wakes up in the morning to feed, change, and care for a newborn, followed by studying his face, learning his language, and ensuring he is comfortable. Unbeknownst to me, in the quiet corners of our daily lives, where routine meets the ordinary, a reservoir of untapped joy is now waiting to be discovered. But the question is, am I skilled enough to learn a new skill, such as mothering?
Motherhood, often upheld as one of the most profound experiences in a biological woman’s life, is a journey that demands acquiring an array of skills. Without essentializing the art of parenting, I want to emphasize that birthing is a life-changing experience, and while anybody can be a “mother,” birthing a human comes with additional stress, anxiety, and physical transformations. In the intricate dance of nurturing, guiding, and shaping another human being, mothers embark on a lifelong learning process, which begins from the day of conceiving life. Just as one would acquire expertise in any other field, in my limited experience, the art of mothering involves continuous learning, adaptation, and a deep understanding of the unique needs of each child. Despite my awareness of the immediacy of the learning curve, I was hesitant to begin learning new skills, simultaneously honing the skill(s) necessary to be excellent in my job. Because I know how much I dislike multitasking!
Nonetheless, my field teaches me the capitalistic art of multitasking for survival. For example, I am on maternity leave and continue to keep up with and respond to work emails while caring for a baby. I am expected to be competitive, be prepared, and prioritize my work commitments over “other” events in my life. Yet, multitasking is a skill that my profession has taught me. As mothers progress in their journey, the skill of multitasking becomes paramount. Juggling the demands of a household, career, and the needs of children can be likened to a high-wire act. Research by Lee and Brown (2017) highlights the cognitive demands of multitasking in motherhood, emphasizing the need for effective time management and mental flexibility. While the cognitive demand of multitasking can cause brain fog, which I am already experiencing, it can also help the multitasker to be an expert strategist, constantly planning, organizing, goal setting, and prioritizing their work. Now, this is my opinion, and if study indicates differently, I will gladly unlearn and re-learn when the opportunity comes.
One of the most essential mothering skills is that motherhood begins with the times of bonding between a mother and her child. My university allotted eight paid weeks to form that bond! The early days, as Ainsworth (1973) documented in her attachment theory, require a mother to attune herself to the needs of her newborn, fostering a secure and healthy attachment. The learning curve is steep as mothers navigate the uncharted waters of sleepless nights, feeding cues, and the language of infant cries. Although I live in a two-parent household, my newborn is contact sleeping (body-to-body contact) with/on me. Because neither of us is aware of our separate existence, we become one as we rely entirely on each other—I am his only supply of sustenance. He is my only source of mental stability. For me, it was a tremendous revelation. Alongside comes the most critical skill, in my opinion, the ability to cultivate patience and resilience. Mothers (ah, unpopular opinion) do not possess any superpower; at least I do not have any. Thanks to my field, I have gained perseverance and resilience during my graduate school years, which has given me the ability to survive.
Ultimately, the ever-evolving communication skill is part of my mothering toolkit. According to Robert Feldman (2017), communication is not only verbal but also involves non-verbal cues and emotional attunement. I am learning to decode the unique non-verbal language of my child, his coos, grunts, and cries while communicating with friends and family about setting up clear boundaries. This balancing act of establishing clear communication is a skill that needs an eternity to achieve. I adapt to my environment, but it is too early to comment on my progress. To me, motherhood is not a fixed role but rather a dynamic and ongoing process of education and development. Like skilled artisans who improve their work through time, mothers refine their skills through practice, introspection, and a dedication to comprehending their child’s distinctive requirements. During this journey, filled with both triumphs and challenges, I hope to learn, embrace, and survive the lifelong pursuit of motherhood.
Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1973). Attachment and dependency: A comparison. In G. J. de Klerk (Ed.), Attachment behavior (pp. 97–137). John Wiley & Sons.
Feldman, R. (2017). The neurobiology of human attachments. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21(2), 80–99.
Lee, S., & Brown, N. R. (2017). Cognitive load measurement in a multitasking environment during mother-child interaction. Computers in Human Behavior, 72, 156–165.