You may have noticed, especially if you are married to one, that a mother is (most of the time) not fully listening to you. If you try talking to her when the kids are around you will notice that she rarely keeps eye contact with you. She probably nods her head and makes “mm-hmm” noises as you are telling her a story, all the while her eyes are darting all over the place like a wide-eyed eagle. You are in the middle of saying something really significant (well, as far as you’re concerned) when out of nowhere she suddenly yells “Tom, put that down!” or “Sarah, take that out of your mouth!”, as you are mid-sentence. Then she will turn back to you and say something like “sorry, what were you saying? Oh yes..” and you will then get to resume your conversation.
I know this can be extremely frustrating at times, especially if you are the spouse of one of these people. And the reason I know this is because I do it myself all of the time. But there is a legitimate reason for this behaviour, which is that this person is a mother. And once you become a mother, you basically stop listening. All you can hear after your children are born is your children and everything after that is a struggle.
I know this drives my husband particularly mad at times because he can be sitting telling me some story about something that happened at work and I am trying so hard to pay attention to him, but as he is talking I can feel my ears cocking up and my eyes starting to move. They are moving sideways into the sitting room because I have heard a noise coming from the couch. Someone is standing up and they are about to start jumping. I am nodding as he is talking, trying to look as if I am hearing everything he is saying but I am sitting perched on the kitchen chair, head turned ever so slightly to the side, eye-brows raised and eyes widening and then suddenly I pounce – “Dee Dee, get down off that couch now before you fall!” Then I turn back to him as he stops and stares blankly at me, waiting and wondering if it is now safe to continue the conversation. I give him the little look and the nod to say that it is ok to go ahead.
I know he gets annoyed with me at times but I can’t help it. I don’t know how to switch it off. And the funny thing is I have often been in the company of some of my own friends who are mothers and they do exactly the same thing to me when I am talking. The only difference is I have more patience because I understand where it is coming from. My husband is not so understanding at times because he just cannot get his head around why I find it so hard to switch off. Especially when we are lying in bed at night. He is getting all comfy under the duvet, looking to cuddle up to me and I am lying there staring into space. He will turn to me and say “You’re still thinking about them aren’t you?”. And I can’t lie so I just turn to him and tell him the truth, “Yes, I am”. I am lying there thinking about everything they have done today, what hazardous situations they encountered that I can make sure to avoid tomorrow, and then everything that has to be done in the morning. It never ends!
I have tried explaining this to him, what exactly is going on inside my head. And how easy it is for him to lie there with his one-track mind. I am managing a full athletic track in my head – I am juggling at least eight lanes. And they are constantly whizzing around all day long. So I will do my very best to listen to you and pay attention to you, dear husband (and the rest of the world) but I can’t make any promises. My daughters are currently four and 22 months old, so give me about sixteen years. Then I’m all yours!