There is, perhaps, no more insidious piece of parenting thought piece writing than the “don’t do this because OHMYGOD danger abounds” and its close, perhaps less panicked cousin “don’t do this because it all goes by soooo quickly.”
I say parenting, but, to be more accurate, I should say “mother thought pieces” because fathers are rarely the recipient of this kind of advice, mostly because society is fairly impressed with any dad who a.) seems to care about his child and b.) does so without lighting said child or himself on fire. (This is, perhaps, hyperbolic, but just by a hair.) Your dad-related thought pieces tend to be more oriented around dads of older kids and what advice those dads can give, either in words or by example. Often they include things like “Date your daughter” which is not literally what the author means, but it is super creepy he chose that exact way to describe it, you know?
Anyway, I am sure I will talk about those pieces some other time. For now, let’s return our focus to where we started: “don’t do this because terrible danger abounds and/or time moves at a rapid pace” op-eds.
They are the equivalent of the people in one’s life who insist on telling you to savor every moment with your child (those people are nicely sent up here) because they spectre of death stalks us all. So no complaining, no breaks! They are written, I think, for a well-meaning place. But sometimes well-meaning does not shield one from being judgmental, unrealistic, or, occasionally, insufferable.
These pieces generally get where they are going by leveling their attacks at two general categories: technology and our busy, busy modern lives. (Although I would argue that they are, also, underhanded slights against women—again these are mostly aimed at moms—who dare to do it a.) differently or b.) with anything less that total parental devotion.) Thus, we have moms warning other moms not to say “hurry” or to avoid using your phone around them (and I swear I am not picking on the woman who runs that blog, she just happened to write both these pieces that I recently spotted on social media).
The thing about articles like this is they are not wholly incorrect. We should be grateful for our time with our kids because it is relatively brief. We should slow down and appreciate more and not put our own “gotta go gotta go gotta go” anxiety on our children. We should spend more time engaging our children than with our phone when we are around them. But these are not absolutes.
It is ludicrous to expect moms (and, yes, dads) to never complain, to never make their kids move faster, to never take a digital break. Because here’s the thing: sometimes it helps to complain. Sometimes it is warranted. Sometimes you do need to get somewhere or accomplish something and your children are moving too slowly or not focusing on what they were asked to do. And, yes, sometimes you do need a moment to check a text or look at a picture or read an article. And you know what, sometimes kids are infuriating, just like all other people. And so, sometimes, it might not be the best choice to shout, “let’s go!” but, as we are all only human, it is also imminently understandable. Perhaps not justified, but certainly acceptable on occasion.
Parenting is a wonderful thing, but it is not the only thing and it is solipsistic to pretend otherwise. To lose ourselves in technology and modern life at the expense of our children is problematic, for certain. But so too is it problematic to lose the world around us in our quest to “focus” on our kids and never waver in that focus. For one thing, it tends to make us believe that we are soling responsible for what happens to our kids. This can lead to undue arrogance (“Johnny got another A because of all those flash cards he did with me”) or excessive self-blame (“Of course Shirley bit Gretchen. I’ve been so busy at work lately.”)
One heartbreaking article best exemplified all of these problems in one fell swoop. My Google-fu is failing me so I cannot find the piece here to link but the long and short of it is this: a mom went to a public pool with her son, was distracted by her phone, son nearly drowned, ended up in coma, did awaken in time, but mom now knows that she must NEVER use her phone while watching her children. It’s a tough piece: well-written and crushing in equal measure. You can feel her guilt all over it.
Except the thing is, it is not really her fault. For one, this was a public pool with paid lifeguards. They also failed to notice her son’s near drowning and they are trained for and staffed at the pool for that specific reason. Second, because it was public there were plenty of other people there who also failed to note her son’s condition. Third, he was outfitted with water wings, which, despite appearances, are not actually a flotation device that is safe enough to leave a child unsupervised with but she, like many parents, understandably did not realize that. So, in reality, a mom did not take her child to the pool, ignored him, and he almost died. In reality, a mom took her child to a pool staffed by trained professionals, outfitted him with items she thought would protect him, and placed him amongst other human beings with eyes.
And the real kicker of it is, why was she using her phone? To post photos of her son to social media. So even her “distraction” was actually an extension of her parenting.
And yet, despite all these facts, she came away believing she had done capital “w” Wrong. And that technology, her phone was to blame. If only she took the time to appreciate every moment, to be grateful, and to reject the rush of our lives today and the evils of technology. If only. Except, you know, there were so many other things along the way that could have, perhaps should have, prevented that horrible moment.
So, since this is a parenting think piece, let me do the parenting think piece thing and give you some advice. And the advice is this: you are human, just like every other parent before you and probably after you (until the robot revolution).
You should make many moments of your life with your child count but you cannot make them all count. To do so is, truth be told, just as potentially horrible and damaging as making no effort to make anything count at all.
Take your time, by all means, but also recognize you have important things to get to sometimes and your children will benefit from learning respect for other people’s timetables and the insight that they too do have or will have things they need to take care of on a schedule.
Technology is not the enemy. Technology is a tool like a hammer or an alligator (sorry for The Simpsons reference). It has plenty of upsides, more than down, I would argue, so stop being so damn suspicious of it.
If you lose your temper and thus, the balance, well, you’ve done it before, you’ll do it again. Remember we are human.
And lastly, I’m a dad and I am just as clueless and reckless and too busy and too distracted as you. So please, take my advice with a hearty heaping of salt. It’s possible that I have no idea what I’m talking about.
(For those confused by the Complaint of the Week tag and the complete lack of such a weekly feature, it is a reference to a long ago time. Just roll with it.)