Saturday, August 27, 2011

Working Mom Whiplash

I returned to teaching this week, and my oldest daughter returned to school, so we are all readjusting to our school year schedule.  My youngest just turned three, so she does not yet attend school; my mother-in-law watches her on the days that I teach and other days when I need to work from home without interruption.  As she gets older, I am able to do more of my work while she looks at books, or draws, or plays beside me.  Many days, I can check e-mail, look at student work, or plan for class during these small blocks of time when she doesn’t need my direct attention.  Some days, this kind of switching between teaching work and mothering work is hard to do because of the rapid mental switches involved; I call this problem Working Mom Whiplash.

I usually experience the slap of mental switches when I am really concentrating on something and suddenly my daughter needs my attention.  For example, say I am grading student essays on the computer (yes, I grade on-line these days) while my daughter naps.  She wakes up with a fussy cry and crawls into my lap.  I’m in the middle of writing a comment about how the student needs to analyze the issue a little further, and pow, my idea for what to say is gone.  So, while I comfort my child, I’m trying to get my thought about the comment back and to save what I’ve already written.  Meantime, she’s talking to me and I miss what she said, so I ask her to repeat it, and away goes my grading mindset again.  See?  Whiplash.

What about the opposite situation, you ask?  Suppose my children are busy playing together.  I am deep into planning meals for the upcoming week, and I go to the computer to print a recipe.  Since I’m on the computer, I check my personal and work e-mail accounts, perusing to see if anything needs immediate attention while I’m still thinking about the rest of the week’s meals.  One of my students needs help with narrowing down a topic for her advocacy/activism project, so I start thinking about that: what to suggest, and how to write it in a way that will help her explore her own ideas further.  Meal planning is forgotten.  Suddenly, I hear my children fighting over a toy and they come running over.  Bam, I’ve forgotten what I wanted to tell the student.  Once the toy issue is resolved, I go back to my student’s e-mail question, but before I can finish the girls want a snack.  At least while I’m getting them something to eat, I can think about next week’s meals again.

I’m sure these kinds of rapid mental switches happen to many people who work from home, whether the work they are doing is paid, volunteer, academic, or creative.  And, I’ll bet these whiplash-inducing interruptions come from other family members, pets, and roommates, too.  For a hands-on parent like me, who writes and also does quite a bit of paid work from home, they are a daily occurrence.  Even so, I haven’t gotten used to them.  I constantly feel like my mind is thrown back and forth, and it can be quite disruptive to my ability to complete complicated tasks.  I may be overly sensitive to these kinds of mental interruptions, but I’m guessing most of you have experienced them too.  If you have coping strategies for this type of mental whiplash, please share them.  

Fortunately, I have gotten used to doing things in small pieces, but that is hardest to do with my writing.  I can do most of the housework piecemeal, I can prep for class a little at a time, grade student papers one by one, and even revise blog posts one paragraph at a time, so I should theoretically be able to revise poems for a few minutes here and there.  But, I’m finding that the creative impulse resists interruption; most times, I can’t quite get into poem writing if I’m concerned that I’ll be interrupted.  I’m working on this though, because I won’t write many poems if I don’t use the brief time I have to do so.  Wish me luck!

Only a few days left: enter a raffle to win a signed copy of my chapbook by August 31.  See my giveaway post for details.

FYI: I've attached this post to a family scheduling link up hosted by Lacy at Catholic Icing, one of the blogs I follow.  You can see her post about creating a family schedule and the link up here.  And, welcome to my visitors from the link up!  I hope you like what you find here.


  1. As someone who works both out of the home and in the home for income as well as for fun and volunteer work - and does so while homeschooling three young ones, I can so relate to your post.

    Good luck!

  2. Thanks, Martianne. Good luck to you also, especially with cleaning up, purging, and organizing; we need to do that around here also.


Your feedback, reactions, and ideas are appreciated!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...