Dear Person Who Wrote the Iphone Mom Letter,
Let’s talk for a minute. There have been some great responses to your letter (I like this one), but I thought I would weigh in too. Okay, sister friend? Here goes.
I don’t actually own an iphone, but I do have a smart phone and I do bring it to the park when I take my kids (which is pretty often even when it’s so cold I wish we could be inside but I know my kids need some fresh air). I chose to stay-at-home mom when my son was born 5 years ago. I still think it was the best choice for my family, but that’s taking a few things into consideration. Notice I said “my family”. I also said “choice”. Not everyone gets to have that choice, and I know I’m lucky that way. Also, for some parents at certain places in their career, staying at home would not have been the right decision.
Feeling lucky and grateful that I got to spend pretty much every second of my son’s first year with him and my daughter’s second year of life with her (she was adopted at just over a year old) does not make my frustrations of being at home with them all the time any less valid. It has been a challenge to stay at home, especially in a community where many of the caretakers at my kids’ music or gym classes are nannies who go home or out with friends at the end of the day.
Being a parent these days, whether you work or stay-at-home, can be very lonely and isolating. For most of us, the “village” that existed during our parents and grandparents child-rearing years simply doesn’t exist anymore. If anything, it’s been replaced by a virtual village-one that I am mostly extremely grateful for. It allows me to stay connected with friends and family, some of whom live far away and some of whom live close by and whose work/nap/activity schedule precludes us from connecting during normal waking hours. At a play place in Richmond the last time I went home, I overheard a mom of a toddler literally crying to whomever she talking to about how hard it has been for her to make friends as a mother. The last thing that Mom needs is a guilt trip for trying to stay connected while her child does what she is literally designed to do: explore and play.
Person who wrote the iphone mom letter: Yes, it does feel good to relax while my kids are having fun in the sunshine. And thanks for the quasi-compliment: I don’t always feel like I am doing the greatest job with my kids (and I certainly don’t think that “having them do their chores” is what makes me a good parent), but regardless, I do think it’s okay for me to chill for a second while my kids are playing in the park. If I had rushed home from work to take them to the park for a few sunlit minutes, I should feel okay about that too.
Because, they are at the freaking park. (Where is your letter to the iphone mom whose kids are cooped up at home all glassy eyed and slack-mouthed, watching one of the seven hours of screen time they’ll get today?) Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe, talks about how French parents don’t generally play with their kids at the playground. They hang out and chat with other parents on the outskirts while their kids run around. Most of the time you’ll find me in the fray, chasing my kids down the slide, pretending to eat ice cream from their imaginary stand, and swinging my daughter on the swing until she starts to turn a little green (which is why French moms come to the park in high heels and I’m running around in my cruddy, year-old sneakers), but I’m not about to call the whole nation of France out on their parenting.
Because I think they’re right to let their kids play in a safe, secure place while they are near but not hovering. And while I do keep an eye on them, I disagree with you that my kids are “my prize”. I love them so much it astonishes me, it truly takes my breath away. But my kids are not something that I have won, some end-of-the-road trophy: “Okay, I got my prize, now I’m done!” My prize is the continuous, flowing journey of raising them, of learning what works and what doesn’t (and that this looks VERY different for almost every family), and seeing how that evolves as they grow up.
There are so many things in this busy world that we have to navigate these days. Maybe when I’m messing around on my phone, I’m planning a play-date with another mom friend, maybe I’m looking up dinner recipes, maybe I’m sending a photo of the kids playing to their grandparents who live several states away. Maybe I’m doing research for my freelance writing job.
My kids are my priority even if I mess around on my iphone on every park outing we take. But they are not everything in my world. If I let my“eyes rest upon those we love, first and foremost, and may everything else fall away in the wonderful, noisy, sticky-fingered glory of it all”, my kids might become used to getting all my attention, but there wouldn’t be any dinner on the table, there wouldn’t be clean clothes to wear to school, etc. I don’t think I am doing my kids a favor by being available and “on” every second of every day. I am not their cruise activities director (Okay, they are 2 and 4 so I still am totally their cruise activities director, but I want them to be able to go to a park and enjoy themselves and play with their peers).
I’m not making excuses for everyone. There are obviously a lot of people who are on their phones all the time without a “good reason”. And I do believe in giving our kids plenty of our time and attention, almost as much as we sanely can. But who the hell am I to judge? Regardless of the reasons why someone is on their phone instead of marveling at the way the late afternoon sunlight hits their child’s peach fuzz as she toddles around or helping to gather pine cones just to make a pile, I’m going to try and keep in mind the quote “Be kind-everyone you meet is facing a hard battle.” So let’s give each other high-fives instead of judgments. Let’s say “we made it through the winter and we’re playing at the park on this beautiful planet that we really should be taking better care of”. And let’s save the mom guilt (don’t even get me started on where the iphone dad is in this whole thing) for another occasion.