Thursday, 10 February 2011

no children were harmed in the making of this blog

So my son has been fast asleep for a good hour, and the packed lunches were done before I started typing. Bear with me while I feel the need to tell you this, for tweeting/blogging/Mumsnetting mothers have just come in for a right pasting.
The excellent Liz Fraser has written an article arguing that too many of us are Facebooking with one hand while swatting away our wailing offspring with the other. Apparently ignoring your child for a computer screen can seriously damage their self-esteem.
Personally, I wish she hadn't made it all about mothers: fathers checking rugby scores on their smartphones at the swings are just as common.
And for many of us, tackling the odd email surreptitiously is the price paid for being there, not stuck in an office. Wireless internet lets me both work from home and on my 'mummy days', feign professionalism (for those clients who don't really 'get' part time) while in the playground.
But she has a point. The uncomfortable truth is that I do sometimes check 'just one' email while my son is playing and end up engrossed 20 minutes later. Social media is addictive and absorbing in a way that pottering around the kitchen or chatting to a friend while your kids rampage around breaking things isn't. I can't remember who described parenthood as the art of being interruptible when necessary, but it's a good rule of thumb.
Like many seemingly 'new' issues, this is however really an age-old one: the eternal dilemma over how much time is enough to give your children.
You're not supposed to give into their every whinge, or they'll grow up crazed with instant gratification. But they thrive on being talked to and played with, so they can't get too bored. How bored is bored enough? And how bored is bored enough for a parent to refuse to play hide and seek any more, and have a cup of tea instead?
When I'm kicking myself about this broader issue, as everyone does occasionally, I find this piece by Elizabeth Hartley Brewer terribly reassuring - it's now regrettably behind the Times paywall, but the gist is that you should be fully present in the moment for the important stuff, and not sweat the rest.
So for under-fours, the critical things are joining in their bonkers imaginary games (presumably unless you are asked, as I was by my volcano-obssessed son, to 'be a man choking on ash at Pompeii, mummy' at a supermarket checkout) and not multi-tasking by, say, tidying the bathroom while they're in the bath. From four to six, play board games and eat with them once a day. It's basic stuff: but then, surprisingly often so is parenting.


  1. I have difficulty being 'in the zone' with my son sometimes. I try to make sure the computer is off when he's awake, but I do also find that once he's a sleep I'm too shattered to do anything, so sometimes I do end up having those "just one email"-sessions while he really wants to show me how to whack a block and a flashcard together.

    I take comfort, though, that if that's the extent of his traumatic childhood experiences, we won't do too badly.

  2. I often find that it can be difficult as I work full time but have to leave the office by 5.15pm to pick my daughter (who is two and a half) up from nursery (my wife works as well, and can't finish until later). People rarely expect full-time staff to have left at 5.15pm and things sometimes come through that have to be looked at after I get home at 6pm, but by the time my daughter is in bed it is too late. Normally, all this involves is responding to an email or making a quick phone call, but earlier this week I found myself doing a live radio interview while my daughter, er, used the toilet. Really not ideal. But I need to work, and want to do it well, and I think that we make up for having to occasionally leave her to play on her own by making sure we pay her as much attention as possible at other times.

  3. I feel the guilt sometimes. I justify the guilt as I think that me being at home with the children while running my own home business and having to answer the odd email or make a phone call is better than me putting them in childcare and going out to work to pay for the childcare.

  4. Thanks for those comments - admit i snorted coffee all over the keyboard when I read about the live radio i/v with offspring on the loo as background (I once did a Sky live to camera at home, with the dog trying manfully and loudly to break through the door to 'welcome' the poor cameraman). i do think no child ever died of getting bored while you answered an email, so long as it's not all the time. guilt (within reason) maybe isn't always a bad thing - at least means you're conscious of what you do as a parent and try to do it better, even if you don't always succeed.....

  5. It is definitely bad for a child to be the sole focus of the life of a capable parent.

    And for fallible parents, it is easier to have another strong interest that adds extra priorities to life than it is to say "Well, you just can't, because letting you have your way too often is bad for you."

  6. Email, facebook, texts, it's all incredibly addictive and my 11yo checks his phone about every 30 secs for a new text or FB post. I just have to take it off him occasionally. I'm a little more well controlled and do usually turn off the laptop mid afternoon to pick up from school, chat and make tea. But it's not easy...

  7. sheet - just found your blog while browsing and breastfeeding... start as you mean to on!?