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.