After 28 years of parenting in the trenches, I don’t think I’ve struggled with distraction more than I do now. It was hard when I had a houseful of littles and was sleep-deprived with a newborn. But today, our phones make us feel constantly on-call and despite the help of time-savers like the Instant Pot and grocery delivery, our time as moms seems more pressed than ever.
I’m not writing this to you; I’m walking this with you. I’m a work-at-home mom who needs to find a line between work and home. I want not just to be around my kids but to be fully present with them when we’re together. And here are seven strategies that will help us make that happen.
1. Do a brain dump.
As memes sometimes suggest, a woman’s brain is like a browser with too many tabs open. A morning brain dump helps us close them. A brain dump is spilling out on paper all the thoughts, lists, ideas, and worries whirling around an overloaded brain. If you want to capture the thoughts to make lists and keep ideas for later, keep a brain dump journal. Once it’s on paper, we don’t feel obligated to hold it all in our heads, which frees us to be undistracted for our kids.
2. Use a planner.
Like a brain dump, a planner allows us to write it down and then forget it until it’s actually time to remember. We don’t have to hold the week’s calendar and to-do list in our brains. But this step is key: Check the planner every evening. This helps keep our minds at rest because we have a regular check-in to see what the next day holds. Then we can sleep well and wake up ready for the day.
3. Don’t overschedule.
This is where we moms need to be brutal. Listen—there are hundreds of good things we, our kids, or our entire families could participate in. On any given day, we get phone calls and flyers asking us to sign up or show up. Our yes to one event, committee, or opportunity is a no to something else and it’s often a no to the undistracted margin our family needs. Give yourself permission to say no because as a mom, you’re giving your family a better yes.
4. Carve out no-phone time.
We do this for our kids, but how many of us have put boundaries on our own phone time? I’m raising my hand here. With out-of-town kids, aging parents, and work that always needs to be done, I easily can justify having my phone in hand. But that’s not the picture of me I want my kids to remember. We need to carve out some no-phone time (and no lap-top time) for ourselves and our family. These four steps can help you set a good online example for your children.
5. Maximize car time.
We spend several hours in the car on any given week. Instead of turning on the radio or popping a movie in for the kids, maximize car time for conversation. I found car time especially valuable with my tweens and teens. They were a captive audience and because our eyes were locked on the road instead of on each other, they seemed open to talking about friends, their day, their dreams, and their plans and anything on their minds.
6. Insist on some sit-down dinners.
As a single mom, this one’s been hard for me. It’s hard for all of us because sports, lessons, and meetings vie for the dinner hour. But study after study shows that sit-down dinners help a family communicate, pass down their culture, bond over stories, keep up a routine, and even eat healthier. Start with an attainable goal. Set aside two evenings each week for family dinners and then protect that family time for everyone.
7. Listen well.
There’s the real possibility that even with brain dump, a calendar, and no-phone time, we can tune out our children. So this step is crucial to being fully present with our kids: Listen well. Listen without figuring out how to fix, instruct, or correct. Listen without interrupting. Fixing, instructing, correcting, and interrupting keep us distracted and we often miss truly hearing our children. If we simply listened, could we store up our children’s stories? Would we discover who they are? Would we find what makes their hearts beat and what gives them pause? Listening well helps us be fully present to our kids. That will come, but not until we’ve created space to listen.
What one change would make the most impact on your becoming less of a distracted mom?