18 March 2011

Attention, Please!

Yesterday my son asked me ‘if, please, when I was speaking to him, I could pay attention only to him.’ Frankly, he caught me off guard, as I was only doing two other things at the time, both fairly mindless activities. So I thought he was receiving a pretty good sized chunk of my normally somewhat divided concentration. Also because just one of his two brothers was speaking to me at that same instant, and my husband was occupied and not asking me to help him find some household object that had been in the same place for the past five years.

Granted, my son’s request came during that lovely quiet, wind down ‘all/almost done’ time in the evening. You know, when dinner is almost ready, when the day’s emails are all answered, when all three boys are home and almost finished with homework. Oh, and almost about to practice piano without being asked. I hope you know I jest.

So why I was distracted I don’t know, but it could be that I was running through the upcoming events of the next day/weekend, with five M-beings going separate ways. One off to a sailing regatta, one off to two different sleepovers Friday and Saturday. Another child having a friend come to sleep over here. Two birthday parties to wrap gifts/have kids write cards for. Muffins for the Middle School bake sale for Japan. Wondering if I had any Dramamine for Saturday’s boat driving lessons that my husband had arranged. And three evening events – a cocktail party followed by a dinner party with another party the night after and the highly unlikely possibility of fitting in a much needed hair appointment between them.

I didn’t even try to look who was spending too much time on Facebook. Frankly, I didn’t even care.

Multi-tasking gets a deservedly bad rap, but most mothers don’t do it by choice. It’s mathematical. When you divide the hundreds of things that have to be done in an hour into the actual number of minutes available, the numbers don’t work out unless you can manage at least three at a time.

Would I have loved to concentrate solely on what my son was telling me?  Yes, of course (depending on if it was interesting or not). No, I kid, I usually love listening to anything my boys have to tell me and that’s why family dinners are so important. But much as it pains me to admit, giving anyone my undivided attention is not always possible.

A friend who teaches at a wonderful school in the U.S. once told me that at the end of the day they accompany the children down to their parents’ cars. The school principal will not let the kids get into the car if the parent is on a cell phone. Her philosophy is that the child has been away from home all day, and deserves at least a few minutes of the parent’s focused attention in the time it takes to go home. 

It sure sounds like a great idea…


  1. I really liked your attention column. A few months ago I was at a lecture
    held at my kids' school, where a perfectly cuddly-looking child
    psychologist/author posed a question to the audience: what is the one thing that kids want from their parents?
    Lots of people offered an answer. In the end, he said they were all wrong.
    The one thing they want, he said, is their undivided attention.
    Easier said than done. Especially, as you know, when you have three of them.

    But after that I did try to imagine how my children saw me when they are
    trying to talk to me. Chopping food, checking something on the computer, writing something down, reading over someone's homework, admiring one child's latest accomplishment on the piano and another' latest art project. Answering the phone. The list goes on. I do try to remind myself to focus on one of them at a time. At least for a few minutes each day.
    It's funny. I often think of our lives as so different. But the nice thing
    about reading your blog is not just hearing the voice of an old friend, but
    realizing what we can bond over in the present. Keep it up!

  2. You write very well, Alexis... dynamic and fluid. Enjoyed this article very much, especially the wise words of the school principal in the final paragraph.


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