Are you a smart phone?
Real Families: Meditations on family lifeby Rachel Ringenberg Miller
Does multitasking make our lives easier? This was an impromptu discussion I had recently with two other women. The conversation started when we began talking about balancing jobs outside the home and home life. We realized that much of the time spent at home is multitasking. We gather the laundry and on the way pick up shoes and drop them off in the appropriate rooms while thinking about the dinner that needs to be made. Then we head off to work. We want to make time in the evening to be with our children, but sometimes it’s hard to do—for example, when the kids don’t have any clean cloth diapers.
My mind went back to one morning that week, a pretty average morning. This is how I remember it. I gather the dirty diapers from the kids’ rooms, put them in the washer and load the dishwasher. While I’m doing this, I’m thinking of what to do next: getting my kids’ breakfast ready (one oatmeal and one rice cereal), and at some point I need to feed myself. But coffee comes first, so I put the oatmeal in the microwave and turn to the coffee maker.
In the meantime, I hear crying in the living room, so I stop midway in the coffee- and oatmeal-making process to see what happened. After some kisses and hugs, I return once again to the kitchen, trying to remember what I was doing. The microwave dings; the oatmeal is ready. I see the coffee bean container and remember, Oh yes, I was making coffee. So while the oatmeal cools, I continue with the coffee making and pull the rice cereal from the cupboard. I try to get everything organized on the kitchen table. This includes setting out the cereals, milk, vitamins, coffee, juice, bibs and spoons before I gather the kids for breakfast. And finally we sit down to eat, and I’m exhausted.
Do all these things really help? Many tasks can be done at the push of a button, so we can simultaneously do laundry, wash dishes, warm food and check e-mail. We are sold the line that we should be multitasking. We can now have a phone conversation and check e-mail on the same device at the same time, says a commercial I saw one night. I wondered then, Where did this idea of multitasking come from? I researched online and discovered that the term first related to computers in the 1960s and referred to a computer’s ability to do more than one task at a time. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that multitasking referred to something humans did. So a word once used to describe computers is now used to describe us. Wow. Is that how we are to live our lives, working and living like machines? I hope not.
That said, I don’t want to go back to the days of washing clothes by hand, and I do use a smart phone. So what are we to do? When I feel overwhelmed, I ask myself, Why I’m doing this? “This” means working a full-time job while raising two small children with my husband. I do it because I feel called to pastoral ministry and to being a wife and mother. God has called each of us to a particular life, and sometimes we need to be texting while vacuuming, but that’s not how it should always be. In the midst of a busy, multitasking life, it’s important now and then to take a deep breath and remember why we do what we do.
Reflecting on why we do what we do opens the door to a check-in with God. It allows us to ask questions such as, Am I living the life God wants to me lead? What things do I need to keep doing and what things do I need to adjust? We all need check-ins now and then.
This morning I could have gathered dishes and started the dishwasher while organizing the mail on the kitchen counter, but instead I sat down with my children and read books until their nanny arrived. Once she arrived I gave my kids one last kiss, grabbed my purse, keys, lunch and walked out the door. For once I felt relaxed as I started the car. When I arrived at work, I felt surprisingly alert and ready to take on my tasks for the day.
It’s tough to balance work and home life, but I think what makes the difference is knowing when to stop multitasking and focus on one thing, whether at work or at home. I could have made the choice to run around the house multitasking, but I didn’t. I slowed down and did only one thing; I read books with my children on my lap.
Rachel Ringenberg Miller is pastor of community life at Portland (Ore.) Mennonite Church.
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