Combatting mommy brain drain

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because-I-said-so-blackDo you ever forget what you’re saying mid-sentence? Do you walk upstairs to accomplish a specific task only to forget what said task is by the time you’ve arrived in the room? Have you ever called your children by the wrong names? Forgot about important deadlines or commitments that you swore you’d remember? Do you occasionally space out when people are talking to you? When asked about current events, do you frantically change the topic or freeze like a deer in headlights?

If you answered yes to any — or likely all — of the above questions, you may suffer from a widespread yet woefully undiagnosed condition called mommy brain. This condition begins with pregnancy and gets progressively worse as the years pass. It multiplies exponentially every time you have a child and is aggravated by lack of sleep.

With mommy brain, otherwise intelligent women lose the ability to form cohesive thoughts. Facts once committed to memory resist recall. Concentrating on one task at a time is nearly impossible.

OK, I admit it. I made all that up. Mommy brain isn’t a diagnosable disease. But all you mamas nodding your heads in agreement know that it is a very real thing. There are days when I fear my brain is turning to mush. Sleep is the obvious remedy, but it seems cruel to propose something that is so out of reach for many moms. Instead, I offer these tips for combating mommy brain drain:

1. Read from a book every day. I love to read. I come from a family of voracious readers; growing up, we had books in every room in our house. Before I had kids, I would read at least a book a week. Now, I’m pretty stoked if I get in a book a month. In an effort to recapture my former reading zeal, I put together a big (but not too big) list of books I’d like to read and I’m committing to spending at least five minutes reading every night. Join a book club if the motivation helps.

2. Listen to something intelligent. My younger brother is incredibly well informed and is always calling to ask for my take on what’s happening in Syria or to dissect the shortcomings of the three-strikes law. In order to avoid sounding completely uninformed and not disgrace my journalism degree, I’ve started listening to NPR every day. Usually, I turn it on after I’ve dropped my daughter off at preschool and am heading home to put the 18-month old son down for a nap. Even when I only listen for a few minutes I feel much more informed about what’s going on in the world and ready to have an intelligent conversation on a topic outside of mothering/laundry/meal planning if need be.

Bonus: NPR totally puts the baby to sleep.

3. Memorize an important phrase. There is a lot rattling around in my mental filing cabinet on any given day. I’m constantly making mental notes to self in an attempt to remember to call my grandma on her birthday or pickup straws at the grocery store. It’s nice to reflect on something other than to-do lists, though, and memorizing meaningful phrases, quotes or scriptures is a great way to put that thinker to use. Post the quote somewhere you’ll see it a lot — the back of the front door or maybe on the dashboard of your car — and see how long it takes you to commit it to memory.

4. Play board games or card games. I am a total board and card game nerd. I use to despise board games until I came across a few that were really fun, and now I’m totally hooked. (Note: I still do and always will hate charades.) Board games are a great way to sharpen your mind. If your kids are old enough to play with you, you can double up and count it as family time, too. Fist pump.

5.  Initiate interesting conversations. Rather than chatting at the playground with your mom friends about your kids and their quirks, start a conversation about something else. If you’re worried about scaring your friends with controversial topics, like health care reform and the gender wars, stick to less divisive topics like that great book you read recently, the most exotic place you’ve visited or talents you’d love to develop someday. It doesn’t really matter what you talk about — as long as it’s not about your kids (or your weight. No one wants to talk about that).

These easy suggestions go a long way towards making me feel like I might not be brain-dead after all — at least on days that I remember to do them.

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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