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This is Your Brain on Kids: Any Questions?

Many of us remember the iconic fried egg from the anti-drug commercial of the '80s. "This is your brain on drugs," the narrator warned us. "Any questions?"

The message was quite clear: drugs would fry our brains, like an egg crackling in a skillet.

I've come to realize that becoming a parent can have a similar effect on the brain. While the comparisons between using illegal drugs and parenting are few and far between, one thing is quite clear to me: parenting has scrambled my brains, like an eggy mess that's been broken, stirred and flipped into oblivion.

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It's not that I completely lack concentration. It's just that ... MOMMY, I WANT BANANA. BANANA. BANANA WITH PEANUT BUTTER PLEEEEEEASE … since having children, I lack the ability to focus on one thought or task for an extended period of time. Something, or someone, is always competing for my attention: a hungry belly, a diaper, a carpool, a permission slip ... HE KEEPS TOUCHING ME AND HE WON'T STOP WHEN I ASK HIM TO STOP MAKE HIM STOP, MOM! ... that I must sign.

Most of the time, it's not the big-picture parenting worries that get me down. It's the minutiae, the tiny details, the requests that eat away at my focus each and every day.

This is not to say that I cannot concentrate when it comes to work-related issues. On the contrary, parenting has improved my ability to multi-task and complete diverse goals in an efficient and effective manner.

But that … MOM, SHE HIT ME!





MOM! …ability diminishes greatly when I'm with my children. Even the simple task of thinking a single thought—whether I need to pick up milk at the grocery store, what time I need to leave for work or when I should return that phone call—is met with constant … MOM, CAN YOU HELP ME WITH THIS PROJECT? IT'S DUE TOMORROW … interruption.

This problem isn't a matter of asking my husband to take on more household duties, so that I can have a quieter, more focused mind. In fact, he and I split chores fairly evenly. I cook. He washes the dishes. I do the laundry. He cleans the cat litter box. We envision our marriage as a partnership, and we try to make the work we do as parents as equal as possible.

What's more, he feels the burden of diminished concentration too. We are parents. And when we are parenting, there is no … I GOT POOP ON MY HANDS, MAMA … guarantee of a quieter, more focused mind. Ever.

I can practice mindfulness. I can do yoga and go for long walks. I can go on weekend getaways. Joy of all joys, I can even go to the grocery store all by myself.

But these efforts can only go so far. Someone always … MY SOCCER CLEATS DON'T FIT ANYMORE, MOM … needs something.

With that said, I have noticed that the constancy of these needs has tapered off a bit with my older children (ages 9 and 6). They grow more independent and self-sufficient with each passing year. But that self-sufficiency hasn't quite developed in my 3-year-old. Or any toddler and … WAAAAAH! WAAAAAAH! WAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH! … baby, for that matter. Children this age are almost entirely dependent on their parents for food, shelter, clothing, cleanliness, attention, entertainment, language-development, safety … LOOK AT ME, MOMMY! I JUMP OFF COUCH LIKE SUPERMAN! … and require an almost ceaseless attention.

It's a type of attention that leaves little room for a parent to concentrate on anything but … WANT TO PLAY PLAYDOH? PLAY GAME? READ BOOKS! I DON'T WANT BOOKS, I WANT TO COLOR! I HUNGRY! NO STRAWBERRIES, I HATE STRAWBERRIES! I THROW STRAWBERRIES ON THE FLOOR! … parenting.

With my focus so disparate, my mind so chaotic, I sometimes wonder if I'll ever return to my pre-parenting levels of focus. Must I wait until the kids are grown? Until they're out of the house? Until they're settled into their adulthood?

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Does that clarity and concentration ever return?

And then, just when I've given up on my mind as a fractured, scrambled lost cause, I remember … MAMA, I LOVE YOU. I GIVE YOU A HUG … that I still know how to focus on what's truly important.

Image via Twenty20/_Serena

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