I just read something that made me feel guilty. And not just a little guilty - this is heavy-grade, industrial strength mother guilt.
It was on a blog site - someone alerted me to it and suggested I should read it. So I clicked the link, scrolled down, and as the words sunk in I knew she was talking about me.
And my husband.
And possibly you.
The post was titled ‘How To Miss A Childhood’ by the blogger Hands Free Mama. It told of an email she received from a concerned reader, who has been caring for babies since 1977. It began …
It dawned on me that I am guilty of most of those things. On a daily basis.
“I can recall a time when you were out with your children you were really with them. You engaged in a back and forth dialog even if they were pre-verbal. You said, ‘Look at the bus, see the doggie, etc.’ Now I see you on the phone, pushing your kids on the swings while distracted by your devices. You think you are spending time with them but you are not present really. When I see you pick up your kids at day care while you’re on the phone, it breaks my heart. They hear your adult conversations. What do they overhear? What is the message they receive? I am not important; I am not important.”
Urgh. Get me where it hurts, why don’t you. It made me think of being at the park with my daughter last week, where I pushed the swing while checking my emails. It made me cringe as I thought of my son pulling my face to look at his as he spoke, instead of at my phone. It made me feel bad.
It went on with a check list of ‘How to miss a childhood’:
- Keep your phone turned on at all times of the day. Allow the rings, beeps, and buzzes to interrupt your child midsentence; always let the caller take priority.
- Carry your phone around so much that when you happen to leave it in one room your child will come running with it proudly in hand - treating it more like a much needed breathing apparatus than a communication device.
- Take your children to the zoo and spend so much time on your phone that your child looks longingly at the mother who is engaged with her children and wishes she was with her instead.
- While you wait for the server to bring your food or the movie to start, get out your phone and stare at it despite the fact your child sits inches away longing for you talk to him.
- Go to your child’s sporting event and look up periodically from your phone, thinking she won’t notice that you are not fully focused on her game.
- Check your phone first thing in the morning … even before you kiss, hug, or greet the people in your family.
- Neglect daily rituals like tucking your child into bed or nightly dinner conversation because you are too busy with your online activity.
- Don’t look up from your phone when your child speaks to you or just reply with an “uh huh” so she thinks you were listening.
- Give an exasperated sigh when your child asks you to push her on the swing. Can’t she see you’re busy?
- Use drive time to call other people regardless of the fact you could be talking to your kids about their day - or about their worries, their fears, or their dreams.
- Read email and text messages at stoplights. Then tell yourself that when your kids are old enough to drive they won’t remember you did this all the time.
At that point I almost had to stop reading, as it dawned on me that I am guilty of most of those things. On a daily basis. Having it spelled out like that made for uncomfortable, guilt-ridden reading.
The rise of smart phones has brought about one of the biggest life changes for parents, and kids, in the last few years. In the years between my first and second child the iPhone was launched, and with that the way I go about my life has changed drastically.
When my son was a newborn, when I was with him, I was completely focused on him. Sure, I had a phone and I would text people. I had TV and the net to distract me. But not like I do now.
I bought my iPhone just before my daughter was born. With it I took photos of her in the hospital and posted them on Facebook. I checked my emails and EB comments while I breastfed. I read SMH and EB while she slept in my arms. I loved that I had a new connection to the outside world in those isolating days of new motherhood.
But I didn’t realise then how much I would come to rely on that connection. How much it would disconnect me from her and her brother.
I’m not saying I never give my kids attention - of course I do. I’m a good mum and they have my attention in spades. But I know there are times they should have it more. When they want it and I'm busy replying to an email, or checking Twitter. And I know I’m not the only one.
So how do you switch off? When should you switch off? And how much is it affecting our kids? All questions we may not want to think about, but probably should.
I know my kids will grow up too quickly. They already are. And I don’t want to miss their childhood; I want to soak up every moment. I know this isn’t always possible, and my life and work can’t stop for them. I’m not saying I'll suddenly throw my phone away, but I'll certainly stop and think about how much I use it around them, and turn it off more than I did before.
Maybe I’ll even push the swing with both hands.
Will you follow Amity's lead? Comment on this article on the Essential Baby forums.