I sometimes still prefer time with non-mommy friends even now that I’m a mom, and “Mommy Attention Span” or M.A.S is one of the reasons. M.A.S. occurs when one loses all capacity for attention other than toward ones children.
M.A.S is not to be confused with “baby brain” or the way parenting generally slices and dices one’s neurons until there is nothing left but a soupy mess of incoherence. No engaged parent can think straight! We are always splitting our attention and it’s hard to concentrate with the responsibility for another being’s entire life on our minds. BUT the little attention we can muster has to be able to shift. Mommy Attention Span occurs when we try to squeeze attention to everything and anything else in between reacting to our children’s every move.
I understand when you are trying to talk to another mom, there are going to be interruptions. Clearly, when someone is in potential danger, hurt, starving, or about to eat a small, non-edible object it requires mom’s attention. But little ones are going to want attention anytime they can get it. If I’m trying to talk to a friend about something hard, or even something inane, why does the fact that baby brought you a toy, drooled, or made loud noises, demand a response and break from your attention every time?
Example number two. Moms are endlessly complaining about how they have lost the freedom to go to the bathroom by themselves. This loss of freedom results not from the condition of parenting, but from… “Mommy Attention Span.” Don’t get me wrong, moms (and dads who spend a lot of time at childcare), give up many freedoms, often including the freedom to put one’s own needs first. But unless your kid is in some kind of peril, shut the door and go to the bathroom! My kids have yet to set the house on fire or kill each other during the time it takes me to pee by myself.
In part, my feelings on this topic may come from having twins. When you have twins, the illusion that you will be completely attentive to your baby and meet all her needs is immediately shot to hell on day one. There’s something about two sets of little hands on each knee and two little mischievous faces looking up at me that says ‘no, this is not acceptable or necessary while I pee, they’re going to wait outside from now on.’ Are they slightly miffed when I shut the bathroom door in their faces? Sure. But two seconds later when I come out, they have forgotten all about it. Who says we don’t have a right to a minute or two of attending to our own bodily functions?
Where did we get the idea that a good mom is endlessly attentive? And what messages are we sending our children? I’m sure on one level we believe we are equipping our children to have high self-esteem and feel like they are fascinating just by being them. And indeed, it is critically important to reflect back to our children who they are in an accepting manner. But not every minute!! The truth is, they are not endlessly fascinating, and giving them the idea that they are could harm them. There are going to be a lot of metaphorical bathroom doors slammed in their faces and they’re going to have to regroup and deal with it.
Children (and adults) need to be self-entertaining. They need to be able to tolerate times when they are not being enjoyed just for being them. That’s why our kids desperately need us to let them develop on their own. They need time to explore their environment, and I’m not talking about a house full of loud, colorful, over-stimulating toys. Leave your kids alone with a few Tupperware containers and pick up a book. They will thank you later when they can read a somewhat long paragraph without becoming unfocused and wondering where the flashing lights and pictures are.
I believe for some of us, our relationships with partners and friends are suffering, and our connections to ourselves and the outside world are too. The combined cultural notion that we should both want to be around our kids all the time, and want to be attentive to them all the time leave us with no way to connect with other adults. Then, feeling cut-off, uninspired, under-stimulated, and just plain bored, we beat ourselves up for not loving being cut-off, uninspired, under-stimulated, and just plain bored.
Being attentive to children can be delightful, but often it is work… plain and simple. We do it out of love, the same way we listen to our partners go on and on about aspects of their work we don’t fully grasp, or the way we listen to an elderly parent describe the daily happenings in the hallway at their nursing home.
We don’t expect to derive the ultimate pleasure from these activities, and thus we don’t attempt to do them 24/7. We intersperse times when we ourselves can be heard and stimulated. We need those times!! So moms… if another mom, or a partner, or anyone comes around and your kids are safe and have basic care, give your attention to that adult, and for the love of god, accept theirs, you need it! Give yourself some precious moments for you. Be “selfish.”
Your children will thank you when they can sit in a classroom for hours out of the day tolerating not being called on or paid attention to. They will thank you when they can be that partner who listens to someone talk without turning the topic to themselves. They will thank you when their boss provides constructive criticism and they’re not thrown off balance because they believe everything they do is fascinating. Your daughters will thank you when they learn that being a mother means your kids are your top priority, but not that you have to make them a priority every minute. Moms, you still exist! Let your daughters see you exist. Let them see you ignore them now and then so they can learn that no role, even mother, should be powerful enough to erase them.
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