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Mommy Track, Not Mommy Brain

June 13, 2011

Women increase in intelligence after becoming mothers. That old adage about mommy brain or baby brain is bunk. It’s been written about and studied. Katherine Ellison wrote a popular book about it in 2006, The Mommy Brain. This does not explain why, during the last weeks of pregnancy with my first boy and for months after giving birth to him, I went to the grocery store, leaving the front door wide open for several hours. Or, the afternoon I came home, went into the house, correctly locking the front door but leaving the car door wide open for the entire day. Or, the time I poured milk into my mug and filled the baby bottle with coffee. Leaving those aside for the moment, research says I’m smarter. Check out this article by Erin Crawford in the Des Moines Register, 2006 about Katherine Ellison’s book.

Ellison says my perception improves. I’m more clued in to sounds of need and distress in my babies. This is true. I can hear my little guy (now almost 3) yelling in the living room while the older one does Power Ranger karate moves on him; Or, the older guy yelling because the little guy has retaliated by pulling his hair. Sometimes I wish I could tune these signs of distress out. They occur often.

She also says I’m more efficient. Supposedly I’m better at prioritizing and more focused and quicker at finishing work. This is absolutely true. I don’t know how I do it, but I get my work done in the 45 minutes I have to do it, instead of the 3 hours it used to take. I read stuff I have to read while standing at the stove or waiting in the car park for school to let out.

I started prioritizing the day I got home from the hospital with Zach. After he’d fall asleep I knew I had only minutes before he woke again for more time on the breast. I learned to prioritize immediately. Thoughts at the time:

1. Toilet – has to be done
2. Shower – dying for one. There’s breast milk all over my torso. 3 minutes, max, no hair washing.
3. Dress – can’t leave the house without clothes
4. Makeup – if he wakes while I’m on step 3, I can skip this
5. Eat – I can do this while breastfeeding, so will multi-task it
6. Sleep – God, I wish I could put this at number 1, but will try and snooze while he feeds

My ability to prioritize has been improving ever since. I’m such a master at mommy multi-tasking now, I don’t understand why my husband only does one thing at a time. I can simultaneously wipe a nose, send a text message, turn off the oven, start the dishwasher, answer Zach’s question about unicorns and begin the grocery list on a sheet of paper. Concentrating on one thing at a time makes me feel constrained and boxed in. I can’t ONLY do ONE thing at time. That is totally under-utilizing my capacity.

Anyway, look, I’m re-opening this debate because despite the evidence, and the supposed status of women as having equal rights, working mothers get “mommy tracked”. There’s no denying it – check out this article about a Goldman Sachs working mother who claims she got put on the mommy track and is now suing. I’ve seen it first hand, I’ve experienced it. Why does this happen if we’re smarter, more empathetic (as per Ellison), can prioritize better, manage better, and get the same amount of work done in half the time? Trust me, if we leave the job ON TIME to go collect our kids from day care, we will still meet the deadlines set, come in on the weekends around trips to soccer matches, and generally outperform the guy sitting across from us who can stay until 7 pm, dials in on his laptop Sunday mornings and goes to after-work drinks with the lads. He’s spinning his wheels. I’m working.

Limiting the workplace to single people and men is not diversity, and it isn’t healthy. Would businesses advocate limiting the workplace to white people or males? How about limiting it to brunettes? They’d be losing out on valuable input from people who, due to the release of massive amount of hormones, are now smarter, calmer, happier, more empathetic, more perceptive and better able to prioritize and multi-task. Some may be blond. We do, however, want to go home on time to collect our children; need to take our legally, duly-earned vacation days for time off with the kids; and will, on occasion, have bits of oatmeal or baby formula on our lapels. These can be cleaned with baby wipes, which we carry in our large handbags, since we are so organized.

And, by the way, if you don’t have kids or are not a woman, I’m not saying you’re at a disadvantage or not as smart as me. Sleep deprivation (for me) evens us out. I’m just saying: we’re equal.

Lory Manrique-Hyland is a freelance writer and stay-at-home Mom. She has a BFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU and an MA in Creative Writing from City College. She’s also a certified adult educator and teaches fiction at the Munster Literature Centre. Her first novel, Revolutions, was published by the Lilliput Press. Read more at The Mom Blogs.

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