Thursday, 24 April 2014

Don't take your dry cleaning when you go for a run

I had a wonderful coffee this morning with a friend. She told me a great Motherload story, and I wanted to share it.

Before Easter she wound up a teaching job, and then went straight into the Easter holidays. On the first day after the holidays, her three children went back to school, and she was free for the first time. She decided to go for a run. She thought, "I'll just take the dry cleaning with me, and I can do my warmup walk, then go on and do my run".

It didn't work out that way. She did drop off the cleaning, then set off to run. But she didn't finish it. All the time, her mind was skittering from task to unfinished task. She didn't enjoy her run, and she felt dissatisfied at the end of it. She hadn't achieved it — completed it, finished it, won it, done it.

She was laughing at herself over coffee, but at the same time, she was angry with herself. "I should have laid down firmer boundaries," she scolded herself. "When I was working, I would never have fudged like that, and done another job while I was trying to exercise. My whole mindset has changed because I'm not going out the door to work."

So apparently she feels that, if she is not performing a paid job, she is no longer entitled to look after herself, and must justify time for herself by multi-tasking. Yet it's simultaneously clear to her that this is an unsatisfactory solution, because she isn't then satisfied with what she achieves. On top of all that, she beats herself up.

Multi-tasking is a lie. It is a convenient lie for anyone who is the beneficiary of multi-tasking. But it is a lie. Women are no better at thinking about and doing multiple jobs simultaneously than are men. But they are conditioned into thinking that, not only are they better at it, but that they must multi-task in order to be real women, or in order to be socially acceptable. If they do not multi-task, they are punished, through social disapproval. Yet multi-tasking leaves, not a sense of fulfilment and achievement, but that lingering sense of doing nothing very well, of leaving everything unfinished and disorganised.

Frankly I would love to have the time to do nothing, very well.

To do things well, you have to do fewer of them. You have to focus and prioritise. You also have to put yourself first. That is obvious. But women who become mothers find themselves in a social situation in which this perfectly obvious truth is no longer permissible. This loss boils down to a two-step process. What happens first of all is that their labour as mothers is disregarded to the point of invisibility, disavowed as though it does not exist, because it is unpaid. Then mothers are expected to pile on top of that multiple further roles, economic, sexual, social, communitarian. And carry them out without complaint or respite.

So in the face of that kind of ideological bullying, here's my advice.

Don't take your dry cleaning when you go for a run.


Heron Sister said...

Thanks for the much-needed (wry) chuckle! I'm rubbish at multi-tasking and of course I feel deficient for this. In those moments when I'm cooking, a visitor wants a thoughtful conversation, the phone rings and my kid is bobbing around the kitchen, I make a point of telling people explicitly that I can only do one thing at a time. It shuts them up. But to not drop off the dry cleaning at the start of a run? That's ADVANCED non-multi-tasking!

size15stylist said...

My t'other half says he can multitask, but he means one task at a time, consecutively. I do like to do a couple of things at a time, if I can, but it is exhausting. Perhaps I'll slow down, well, unless I'm shopping for bags AND a purse!

Anonymous said...

I saw this on mumsnet and it chimed with me. I'm currently off work for stress and doing counselling, simply because I was not just multi taksing I was doing it ALL! I'd cook tea and fold washing, look after my son and put some rubbish out, do something in garden pretty much all at same time. Apparently even one thing was often too difficult for my husband.

I think everyone now has got the picture that they can ask me to multitask but they get a job that is not done very well!!