“Honey, why is your cell phone in the freezer?”
By Melissa Doody
According to the urban dictionary, “mommy brain” is “the phenomenon known to mothers where their brains become useless piles of goo after being around their children for too long.” In my world, the useless pile of goo is what remains of my once perfect ability to plan and prioritize, manage my time, sustain attention, and regulate my emotions. In short, my children have devoured my Executive Functions!
Well, lately I have been really wondering why.
I finally found the answer when I reflected on my typical morning. Take today, for example – my two-year-old, Owen, wakes up at 5:30am and runs to the fridge shouting, “mixed up fruit, mixed up fruit!!!” (poor impulse control). I roll out of bed and spring into action, chopping fruit, making coffee, and listening to Owen go on and on about all the things he wants to do today. Shortly thereafter, my four-year old, Clare, sulks out of her room looking like Eeyore and goes for the couch, requesting our daily ritual of “morning snuggles” (a time that I need to put down the coffee, situate Owen, and snuggle her into a good mood.) This lasts 5 minutes, max. Meanwhile, Owen is making one bad choice after another, jumping from the stairs, racing around the corners of the kitchen table, and oh no… he has the potty face! I spring up – “Owen go to the bathroom, pull down your pants – wait – no – don’t go – sit, wipe, stand, flush, wash hands!” Fast forward to breakfast where there are constant reminders. “You have 10 more minutes, 5 minutes left, you need to eat 3 more bites – WAIT – don’t put your banana in your milk!” While all of this is happening, I am making lunches, doing dishes, and trying to shove food in my own mouth. Shoot!!! The phone is ringing and I can’t find it! My husband, saving the day at the last minute, walks in – ”um…honey…why is your cell phone in the freezer?”
I am not alone. Mothers all over the world are plagued with mommy brain, and as a result they lock their keys in their car (fully loaded with groceries no less), arrive late to work (sometimes with a shirt inside out), double book the dentist with the furnace guy, have trouble focusing at work because they have no idea how to pay attention to ONE thing in a quiet environment, and yes – leave their cell phones in the freezer.
So why are my Executive Functions so impaired? Simple! Because I do ALL of the Executive Functioning for my two and four-year-olds, which just does not leave anything for myself! I manage their time (2 minutes till we leave!), I control their impulses (NO you cannot put your toy in the toilet!), I cue their attention (Jackets on, nope – not going to color on the wall), and I help regulate their emotions (before you pull your brother’s hair take a deep breath, count to 3, slow down). My frontal lobe is simply overworked and underpaid. So every once in a while, it just gives up and shuts down.
Fortunately, I am an Executive Function coach! So I can take some of my own advice and use strategies to help get me through the week without so many “mommy brain” moments. I take 15 minutes every Sunday night to look at my calendar and map out the week. I make sure my phone reminders are set up for non-routine stuff so that I don’t forget. I have a daily to do list hanging on the fridge with a “when column” so that I hold myself accountable. I’ve used a good old “BVA” (budget vs. actual) to figure out how long typical tasks take me (making lunches, getting the kids dressed, getting myself ready) so that I will make it out the door on time. Everything goes in a place so that I don’t get stressed out and waste time searching for things. Most importantly, I have relaxation strategies to slow down when life moves too fast.
But every once in a while mornings like today still happen… especially when mommy buys a surprise puppy to throw in the mix (poor impulse control). No problem. Flexibility. Emotional regulation. Organization. Planning and Prioritizing. And the day goes on.
Melissa Doody is the COO for Thinking Outside the Classroom, an Executive Function coaching company helping K-12 students and adults become more effective at managing their lives. Currently in Boston and Chicago, Thinking Outside the Classroom will be opening its doors in Los Angeles and New York City in 2014.
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