Last week, Renee Septimus shared her feelings about parents who are frequently texting around their kids. Here’s a look at the other side of the story.
If anyone had walked past my neighbor’s yard last Friday morning, they would have seen six kids under the age of 4 and three mamas. Two of those mamas were holding babies and pushing swings, and the third was on her cell phone. A lot.
The third mama was me. I spent much of the morning on my phone, talking to my family on the west coast. My mother had fractured her arm, and the last time this happened, she nearly died from complications related to the pain medication they gave her. Anyone walking by would have no way of knowing this.
At any given moment, there are better parenting choices and worse ones. But being a mother is not the only role I, or other mothers, inhabit. We are daughters and wives and partners and professionals and students and people who sometimes need to be none of these things to anyone else and simply take five minutes to just be ourselves. (Which usually happens when we are peeing or showering. If we’re lucky.). I spend much of my time and energy struggling to balance my responsibilities to the various people in my life, and sometimes I make the right choice. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes there is no right choice, and I do the best I can to muddle through a crappy situation.
We are mothers in an age of mobile technology, which means that there are times when we are, undeniably, staring at a small screen when perhaps we should be talking to our children. But it also means that my daughters got to spend a beautiful morning playing outside in the sunshine with their friends, instead of sitting inside our house so I could make some crucial phone calls.
It is so easy to judge other mothers for the choices they make, and we all do it. I take refuge in judgment in my moments of insecurity and doubt my own parenting decisions; yes, I feed my kids nuggets and let them watch TV, but they are organic nuggets and I don’t take them to fast food restaurants like that mother, and they only watch one show a day, unlike those kids. But the reality is that I have barely a snapshot into the daily lives of even my closest mommy friends, and I would hate for them to judge me based on the same amount of information.
At any given moment, someone peeking through our living room window would see me snapping at my girls (which might range from stern speech to straight up yelling), putting them in time-out, hiding from them in the bathroom, and plopping them in front of the TV so I can space out in front of the internet for a few minutes. But they would also see me reading Fancy Nancy over and over again, swaddling baby dolls, soothing my girls after they’ve fallen, eating dinner with them every night, and tucking them in with stories, songs, and the Shema at bedtime. They would see me researching ballet classes, creating Passover crafts for 12 preschoolers, and reading endless books on how to minimize the likelihood that either of my daughters will develop an eating disorder as soon as they hit puberty. At any given moment, a curious observer would see me as an amazing mother, a pretty crappy one, or most likely (and hopefully!), just good enough. Either way, I sure hope that observer wouldn’t write a post about me without knowing me.
The wave of judgmental posts flooding the MommyWeb is problematic for a few reasons. First, these posts perpetuate the myth that there is a Right Way to raise a child, and that someone out there knows what that Right Way is, and has successfully implemented it in their own parenting practices. Needless to say, that’s bullshit. Now, perhaps I should spend less time on my cell phone or yell less or cook more, but the flip side is that my daughters know that there are times when they just don’t get Mommy’s attention, and they will be ok playing on their own. My girls are learning that their behavior impacts other people (and not always in a good way!), and they also know that people can get mad at each other and still stay connected in a strong relationship. These aren’t excuses for my less-than-perfect parenting; they’re just the reality of my style and my family’s dynamic.
The other problem with the finger-wagging posts is that the vast majority of them don’t acknowledge the real problems that many families face, and they totally dismiss the context in which parenting occurs for many of us. Not only are we imperfect people, but we venture into parenting carrying the weight of our own histories, both good and bad, with us as we try to navigate the constantly changing and quite bewildering challenges of raising children. As a social worker, I have worked with endless families who are struggling to feed their kids, to connect with them on a basic level, to end cycles of violence, abuse, and addiction, or to manage the complexities of family life while dealing with a chronic illness or child with special needs. As a child of no fewer than five divorces and a fairly chaotic childhood, I know how resilient children are, and I know that it takes a lot more than being ignored for a few minutes in favor of a cell phone to change that.
I’m not saying that these judgmental posts are wrong, or that as parents, we can’t do better. From putting down our cell phones to controlling our tempers, every single one of us can. But the thing is, most of us already know that. We don’t need to be reminded. What we do need is the faith, compassion, and support of our fellow parents, and an acknowledgement that we’re all in this mess together.