These last few days, I’ve been seeing stories shared around social media about how much damage parents are doing to their children because they are neglecting them in favour of their smart phones. The latest research says that teachers are finding increasing numbers of children are not ready for school because their parents are ignoring them to spend time on electronic devices.
And while I don’t doubt that this is true in a minority of cases, I imagine issues of neglect are generally way more complicated and deeper-rooted than an addiction to Facebook mobile.
What I object to, however, is that yet again, the majority of parents – who are doing an amazing job of bringing up their kids – are being made to feel like rubbish parents by sensational newspaper headlines simply for daring to have a few moments in their day which aren’t all about their children.
I am quite happy to admit I check my mobile phone in my children’s presence. To make it crystal clear before I get trolled, I’m not ignoring my kids and letting them fend for themselves all day long while I like pictures of cute kittens on Instagram. We are talking the odd few minutes at various intervals throughout the day – the same as most normal parents. Because, like it or not, mobiles are a way of life these days.
Maybe I’m texting Cardiff Daddy to ask him to pick up some milk and bread on the way home from work because it’s easier for him to do it than for me to have to take three kids to the shops. Or maybe I’m sending a photo of what our children have been up to that day to him, because I know how much he misses them while he’s at work. Maybe I’m responding to an urgent work email or accepting a commission from a client before they start looking for someone else. The joys of self-employment. Maybe I’m arranging play dates for my children. Or maybe I’m adding a few items to my online grocery shop because I’d rather go to the park with my kids than drag them round the supermarket.
Or maybe, just maybe, I’m messaging my friends about nothing in particular or browsing random crap on Facebook. Because, despite feeling very lucky to spend all day every day with my children, there are moments when I desperately need a little more stimulation than singing the same nursery rhyme 11 times in a row and pushing around toy trains and cars.
I don’t need to be shamed into thinking that makes me a bad mum by people who don’t know me – and neither do most of the other mums and dads I know. Because they are doing an amazing job of raising their little ones, smart phones and all.
Despite the media perception that motherhood is all three-hour coffee shop dates with friends, for many, it can be really lonely.
I consider myself lucky that I have lots of friends with children, but I’ve written on my blog before about how I can go a couple of days without a significant adult conversation with anyone other than my husband. If he’s home late from work or out in the evening, there are days when I might not have a significant child-free conversation with him either. And it can be tough.
My phone is my contact with the real world. Sometimes it’s the only chance I get that day to connect with people who won’t scream and shout at me because I gave them their lunch on the wrong colour plate.
It was a lifeline during the early days with each of my babies, keeping me company during the never-ending night feeds, allowing me to ask friends if what my baby was doing was normal, not to mention giving me the focus to stay awake when I hadn’t slept for more than two hours straight for weeks on end.
Indeed, I wrote about that in detail a few months ago when we had all that ridiculous talk of ‘brexting’, where mums were being shamed for checking their phones while feeding their babies, rather than staring at the side of their baby’s head for several hours a day, every day for several months.
There have been times when I’ve been at soft play or the park and I’ve been on my phone while my kids are off playing, and I’ve felt like someone is staring at me, silently judging me. I have friends who have been tutted at or even been told to put their phones away.
What these judgey people see is a snapshot of five minutes of my day. They haven’t seen me reading books to my children for almost an hour beforehand in the library. They haven’t seen me helping them colour and paint. They haven’t seen me sat on a cold floor singing songs and shaking brightly coloured plastic maracas. They haven’t seen me and my kids splashing through puddles or climbing trees. Or singing along at the top of our voices to Queen and The Beatles in the car. They don’t know that I’ve been dealing with a morning-full of tantrums or kids fighting, and I just want to feel like ‘me’ for a few moments. They don’t know that I do the majority of my work in the evenings so I can spend every day with my children.
Would they be so judgemental if I was talking to another mum, rather than being on my phone? Or reading a newspaper?
My children (along with my husband) are the most important things in my life. But I want my little ones to understand that they won’t always be the centre of everyone’s universe. (Aren’t we always being told how ‘entitled’ this generation of youngsters act?’) Sometimes Mummy, and indeed other people, need to do things that mean they need to wait a moment, or mean that they cannot have that person’s undivided attention.
Just to be crystal clear once again, I am in no way condoning neglecting your children for hours on end in favour of smart phones. Or neglecting them full stop, for that matter. But being made to wait for 30 seconds while I finish a text every once in a while isn’t going to harm them.
I am definitely not the mum missing her child’s milestones because I’m too busy liking random memes on Facebook. But I am the mum who is more than just a mum.
I am the mum who loves her children more than I ever thought it was possible to love anyone. But I am also the mum who sometimes needs a little more in her day. And sometimes my phone is the closest thing I have to bring me that.