The Luxury of Undivided Attention


When we had our second child, just one month ago, I knew that it would be hard for our older one to share attention after she had gotten all of ours for the past two and a half years. But what I didn’t realize was how hard it would be for me to divide my attention.

Since Claire was born, this has bothered me, but I didn’t reflect on it enough to really understand it. Going to social functions—or even just a walk with a friend— with Claire has left me feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled. I feel like I hear half of what my friends say because the other half of my brain is on Claire. Where is she?  What is she doing?  Does she need my help?  Is she asking me something?  I want so badly to be a more present listener when I’m with others, but I can’t when she’s there.

Claire’s also at the age where she has lots to say, but she doesn’t know how to wait for a break in the conversation to say it. It often looks like this:  I’ll be talking with an adult and Claire will be asking a question—over and over and over again. I hear her; I’m processing the adult’s comment and Claire’s question at the same time while also trying to formulate responses to both. Therefore, I have one foot in two completely separate conversations simultaneously.

Even when my husband or extended family is watching Claire and I try to get something done at home, I feel like I can’t fully concentrate. Either she is interrupting me (“Mama, what you doing?”) or I’m concerned whoever’s watching her needs a break. I can’t seem to find a spot in the house (or in my head) where I can sever myself from her (temporarily) to attend to other things. And so I’m always feeling like I can’t get anything done.

It’s for that reason that I love day care. I can drop Claire off there and go about my day, being fully productive at work or, in very rare situations, at home. There’s something about being physically removed from her that allows me to shift my brain entirely to the task at hand, rather than having my brain divided.

Now that we have a second child, I’ve noticed that my mind is further bifurcated. I’m attending to Claire, attending to Cormac, and attending to some other thing—making food, cleaning up, etc. (I’m still on maternity leave, so I’m just trying—and struggling—to do the basics.)  Usually, they have conflicting needs. Claire wants to play a game while Cormac needs to be bounced. Or Claire wants a book from the top shelf when Cormac is feeding. Or I am trying to cook dinner while Claire wants me to open her toothpaste and Cormac is crying on the table.

This. Stresses. Me. Out.

I don’t know how other mothers do it. I see many calm mothers of multiple children; I have a friend with five kids who makes it look easy. How do they do it?  How do you?

My brain is always in several places at once. Not only is this stressful, it’s exhausting. And at the end of the day, I can’t recall having accomplished much. It’s like multitasking gone bad. And recent research has actually shown multitasking, which was hailed for so long as a habit of very efficient people, to be counterproductive even at its best.

I didn’t know how much I would yearn to be able to pay undivided attention to tasks. I didn’t realize that it was such a luxury. I had taken it for granted. I’m trying to reconcile myself with having the (forced) attention span of a flea because I know it will simply be my way of life for the next several years. But if you text me and I don’t text back, it’s probably because I started to respond and then was needed for something, and then was needed for something else, and then had to do something, until I simply forgot that I was writing a text. I apologize in advance.

PS – I was only able to write this because both my children are sleeping. Otherwise it might have taken me three days and sixty-three different attempts to get it done.

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Meghan Moran Wilson
Meghan moved to Flagstaff from Western New York in 2011 to pursue a PhD in Applied Linguistics. She met her now husband a couple years later and they bought an off-grid, water-catchment house in "the 40s" (about 35 minutes from town). She greatly enjoys teaching English and conducting research in linguistics at NAU. She also enjoys hiking, riding horses, exploring new places, reading historical fiction, hanging out with their four dogs, and, since January 2021, spending as much time as possible with their small fry, Claire Angelina.


  1. This is so, so true! I’ve been thinking in split screens for at least four years. I value quiet time above all else now!

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