Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Parenting in the Digital Age: Let Me See Your Face

(I'm over at Catholic Exchange today embarrassing myself while I talk about trying to parent from behind a screen. And, an important disclaimer; as I sit here typing this introduction, my two year old is making noises like a cat in heat while trying to get me to shut the laptop, so clearly this was written out of a deep place of conversion and personal piety.)

“Mommy, make a happy face at me.”
I look up from the glow of my laptop, irritated, hearing for perhaps the tenth time, that day, my three-year-old son’s persistent request.
“Mommy’s working, honey. Please go downstairs and play legos.”
Tantrum, flailing, stomping, sibling pinching ensue. Consequences are meted out. Justice is served. Repeat cycle.
It has, of course, occurred to me that I spend too much time engrossed in screens and interacting with virtual characters when the very real characters in front of me are melting into figurative puddles of spilled milk and clementine peelings. But come on, who can give their full attention for 9 + hours a day without any kind of break? I deserve a little down time. I’m just going to check in, I’ll be quick.
All of which is true, of course. Parenting in twenty-first century America can be ridiculously isolating – particularly the stay at home variety. And even the most extroverted parent on the block (which I emphatically am not) needs a little mid-day recharge in order to finish the solo shift strong and at a pleasant speaking volume.
But that isn’t what I’ve been doing behind my screen for minutes stretched embarrassingly into hours, hiding in plain sight in the glow of a laptop or a smartphone, accruing bits and pieces of stolen “me time” whilst the kids flail about at my feet, begging for attention...


  1. Yeah, I know about this. Just this morning my three year old was in throwing the mother of all tantrums and because I was stressed out my an innocent Twitter exchange, I reacted unnecessarily harshly to her.

    So ridic.

    For me, the temptation to hop on line is an area where I need desperate self control and like you, I so often fail. Fasting has helped. As has cutting out much of the blogs I read. Social media in general is a huge distraction for me so I must curtail that as well. I find myself so much more at peace when I'm not constantly checking some stupid thing on the Internet.

    A good friend of mine and I have been discussing the idea of authentic leisure versus the American addiction to entertainment. We Americans are fully convinced we must be entertained all the time, myself included, and we are going to entertain ourselves to death. (Check the flocks of Catholics leaving the church...the big Protestants churches have a big screen tv and have you heard their music??? Sunday Mass is BORING and the priest...SNORE! Teachers must be "engaging", coaches must be "dynamic" and on and on and on...) Sadly, this desire to be entertained has removed our desire to silence ourselves and do God's will. To sit and just BE so we know how it is we should respond to the three year old...

    I'm not judging ANYONE because I'm guilty as charged.

    Scrolling compulsively through blogs is easier for me than engaging with my tantruming 3 year old. Numbing out on social media is easier than befriending my new neighbor or holding a conversation about Lego Star Wars with my ten year old, at least for me. But this ain't a way to live and it definitely isn't leisurely.

    I want to do better.

    1. And now we're going swimming. I'm leaving the cell phone in the car.

    2. I've also thought a lot about how we no longer have "pastimes" but rather just seem surprised by how much time has passed. It's particularly illustrative for me to see how many beautifully hand-sewn dresses and other projects my mom completed while I was a toddler, and yet I'm not getting nearly as much done (but logging plenty of hours online!).

      I've found that an all-or-nothing approach to internet/blogs/Facebook/etc (for me) hasn't been as helpful as setting clear limits for myself (i.e., I will not spend more than 1 hour online per day, and the computer won't come out of the office). When I try to cut it out entirely, I end up thinking the whole Internet and everything on it is intrinsically bad and should always be avoided, which I don't think is entirely true.

      This was a great reflection, Jenny. Thanks for sharing. It's comforting to know that we're all in this together, struggling towards holiness in our vocations!

    3. I'm not sure where I suggested an all or nothing approach or even where I thought the Internet is evil. Clearly, I read this blog and like I said was on Twitter this morning. I am saying that I struggle in my desire to be constantly plugged in as well as hearing Gods voice amidst the din of chronic white noise. For me, less is more but I fall and fall again

    4. I do what you do. Sometimes I just don't have my phone with me. That's that. In the car. Or tucked away in my purse hanging with my coat. It's a good way to be present. Taking breaks, and just doing our best.

    5. Forgive me if I accidentally post this twice, but it seems to have disappeared:

      Colleen, I'm so sorry if my response was confusing. I definitely didn't mean to imply that you had suggested the all-or-nothing approach or that the Internet is evil. I was just reflecting on my own experience, and how I've tried to manage the best balance. I probably should have added a new comment instead of replying to yours, but I wanted to agree with what you said about authentic leisure time.

    6. I'm laughing. Forgive me, Emily, for being so hasty in defense. :) Have a wonderful day!

  2. Great reflection! So hard to find balance. Colleen mentioned "authentic leisure". I definitely need to chew on that one. It struck me and I know I'll be thinking about what it means to me in our day (Thanks, Colleen!). If you figure out the balance thing, do share! Till then, I'm with you in trying to figure out how to best navigate our day-to-day vocation in a way that is good.

  3. This was exactly what I needed to hear, and something that's been on my mind a lot lately. Thank you so much for writing it. Granted, my excuse for "retreating" from real life via technology much more frequently right now is that I am due tomorrow with baby #3 and very stressed with some other stuff that's happening in the next couple weeks too. Not a great reason, but trying to distract myself from those stupid last waiting-game days of pregnancy. I know I need to back away from the Kindle more.

    But last night after a hormonally/exhaustion-fuelled tantrum (me and the kids) I asked my four year old how I can be a better mama and he said, "Make your face into a smile more" and I just about lost it especially since I had just read what you wrote earlier in the day. He also told me when I was feeling sad or mad to count backwards from four - thank you, Peg+Cat and Daniel Tiger.

  4. I, too, have been justifying my internet addiction by wallowing in a postpartum-survival funk. But once my twins hit 15 months, I realized it was time to give up the ghost. I don't have a Smart phone (because I would never be able to take my face off it if I got one), but we do own a laptop which I monopolize. As an experiment, I've had my husband take it to work with him the past two mornings so that I only have access to it after he gets home. I am embarrassed and astonished by how much more productive and pleasant I've been without it. I'm even contemplating getting rid of our wireless altogether, but the idea of going back to DVDs kind of exhausts me.


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