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Dublin: 16°C Thursday 23 September 2021

We were better parents before smartphones

There’s something slightly tragic about the sight of a two -year-old tugging at his mother’s trouser leg as she scrolls or the kid who is perilously close to falling off the high bars as Dad checks the latest score, writes Claire Micks.

Claire Micks

I ONCE ASKED my mother if there was anything she regretted about how she had raised us. It was the kind of conversation you only really start to have when you know you may not be afforded the luxury of too many more.

Her answer was startlingly simple, and quite sad in a way.

She said that she wished she’d played with us more. Said with a wistful look of regret that you often see in the faces of those whose children have long since grown up, and extended themselves beyond their reach.

She didn’t wish she’d gotten more Vitamin C into us. She didn’t wish she’d checked our homework more thoroughly. She didn’t wish she had conducted head lice checks more vigorously. She just wished that she had played with us more.

Opportunity to undo the ‘mistake’ with my children

The conversation was made all the more poignant by the fact that by the time we had it, we both knew she was unlikely to meet any children I might be lucky to have in the future. That she would not be afforded the opportunity to undo the ‘mistake’ with my children, that she felt she had somehow made with her own.

And on midweek afternoons, as I continue my determined, seemingly endless, battle to the bottom of the laundry basket, whilst making dinner from scratch, her words often echo around inside my head. The knowledge that now, years later, despite that admission, in spite of her advice, dispensed with the benefit of a very unique kind of hindsight, that I am making exactly the same kind of mistakes with my own children that she felt she had with us.

That I often get caught up in the detail, the huge number of things we put pressure on ourselves to ‘get right’ as parents, and I entirely miss the bigger picture. That actually, oftentimes all they really need and want is our undivided attention.

And how often do any of us ever really manage that?

Playing with young children is hard work. It really is. Or at least I find it so. It can be monotonous, and ridiculous, and not particularly intellectually challenging. And always seem to feel that there is invariably something more important to do. It’s hard to prioritise time Just With Them.

The endless jobs that take up time 

The endless jobs just seem to always get in the way. And I suspect many other parents feel the same.

Which is why, when I look around the playground, around the designated kids-space that many parents feel is their ‘quality time’ with their kids (myself included), I always feel a twinge sadness when I see most of us buried in our phones as we push the swing, or play ‘house’ or ‘horsey-horsey’. And I think my mother would probably be turning in her grave if she could see the way the world has gone.

Suddenly her own parenting wouldn’t seem all that bad after all, because at least when she was with us, she was, well, actually with us.

It is hard to remain engaged in a game of Let’s Pretend, or listen to your four year rabbit on about her princess castle and what your ‘role’ is. Communication with them can be somewhat tortuous at times, so the allure of the all purpose, omni- present entertainment vehicle in your pocket is an easy distraction.

Why not multi-task, and have a quick glance at the email whilst mid-play? I do it myself all the time. But it’s only on the odd occasion that you actually look around the playground, and notice close on fifty percent of the parents within it with their heads in their phones that you feel there’s something wrong. It’s only when you become aware of this habit, that you consciously put yours back in your pocket (heaven forbid you might actually Turn It Off).

Distracting from children 

There’s something slightly tragic about the sight of a two-year-old tugging at his mother’s trouser leg, as she obliviously continues to scroll. Or the kid who is perilously close to falling off the high bars as Dad checks the latest score, or chats on his phone oblivious to the needs of his toddler.

Years ago, time with the kids was time with the kids. We didn’t have access to that wondrous distraction in our pockets. Our parents, on the few occasions they could spare to have family time, at least gave us all of themselves, because they didn’t have any choice.

But these days it’s information overload, and there’ always something or someone who wants our attention dragged away from our kids, if we’ll let them. And let’s face it, any ‘necessary’ distraction, is often to be secretly welcomed if it means a break from playing Fireman Sam beneath the swings.

But, by definition, it does that mean our kids are constantly made to feel second best to the soul-less piece of technology in our pocket. And I’m pretty sure that’s not the stuff of a solid foundation to parent-child relationship in years to come. How are we supposed to teach focus and concentration and attention to our kids, if we can’t even give them a half an hour of our own?

My daughter has banned the use of mine on the bus, and invariably gives me a hurt look whenever she twigs that I’ve been getting a sneaky fix of Yahoo ‘mid play’. Which invariably makes me feel lousy and overcome with guilt, and immediately causes me to put it away.

Yes, the arrival of the smartphone has made it virtually impossible to devote our undivided attention to our children. And no doubt in years to come, when we are only dying to chat to them and hear about their day, they will return the favour in spades.

Read: ‘You’re an adult and your parents are fighting, but it’s not your job to fix their relationship’>

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About the author:

Claire Micks

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