Thursday, April 24, 2014

To unplug or not to unplug?

I don't know if you've noticed but parents are under a lot of pressure. Not only are we spending our days keeping our children alive, but we have to make sure their childhoods are happy ones. I know that might sound horrible or overly simplified..or dramatic depending on your personal life journey and current situation but it's true. This job we've committed ourselves to is relentless. My kids see me at my absolute worst. I am constantly trying to improve the way in which I deal with the emotions that come barreling out when I'm pushed to my limit. There are times when I feel I'm improving and times when I feel I've lost my grip on every skill I've crafted since giving birth for the first time 6 years ago. In other words, I am nowhere near perfect and my kids could be the first ones to tell you that.

This truth is hard to grapple with sometimes because I hate the feeling I get when logic is kicked to the backseat and raw emotion and knee jerk reaction take the wheel. At the same time I know these moments, as long as I take responsibility for them and apologize when I need to do so, are important to the emotional development of my kids. I know without showing them my imperfections and modeling owning them, they would probably grow into people who bury their emotions and have difficulty dealing with adversity.

If I were more well read and professional, I would start this paragraph with, "Research shows..." but I'm going to choose to be perfectly honest and admit I'm too tired and short on time to find any articles supporting my argument. Instead I'm going to fess up that my "research" is what my therapist tells me she has seen in her professional experience. I not only believe her because she's awesome and really smart but because this "perfectly imperfect" angle on parenting is the one I've believed in even before my therapist validated it for me.

Anyway, that wasn't the point I was going for when I sat down to write this. What I really wanted to talk about was on top of all this built in pressure the job comes with, why do we all (fellow parents, friends, family, society, our own damn selves) insist on finding ways to add more pressure to the mix? Breastfeeding (or not) and all the scrutiny that goes along with that...vaccinating (or not) and all the scrutiny that goes along with that..."screen time" or "media" (or not) and all the scrutiny that goes along with (or not) and all the scrutiny that goes along with that...the list goes on and on and on and on and....

The most recent thing to get my goat in this respect is all the judgment surrounding how much parents use their phones. I know, I know...and I kind of agree but I wish we could all lighten up about it just a little. Don't get me wrong, I know plenty of folks who could benefit from a smartphone intervention. As soon as I'm done with my current "20 hour a week" resident manager job (aka "you must be available to your residents 24/7"), I plan to put it far out of arms reach or even turn it off once in a while in an effort to break my habit of checking it every 3 minutes.

Like my love affair with chocolate though, I will never strive for a life without my phone. Yes, once in a while I'll need to work a little harder to scale back on the amount and frequency but in the grand scheme of things, these "vices" are part of enjoying life and I think that's okay.

I feel sure there has been more than one time when a stranger has walked by me and my kids at the playground and silently chided me for staring at my phone but you know what? That stranger probably kept walking and missed the part when I put my phone in my pocket and resumed the endless "Ice Cream Store" game I was fully engaged in 2 minutes before they walked by. I can also admit to more than once waving my kids off as they pleaded with me to watch them on the monkey bars so I could text my sister. You know what? I watch my kids on the monkey bars every other day for as long as we are able to stay at the playground. I lift them up when they can't reach and coach them through their fear almost every time they ask. I talk to my sisters at most every other month so yes, when I find a moment to exchange a few quick texts with one of them, I jump on the opportunity. Once in a while as I'm sitting quietly watching my kids play together, I might take a minute to read an article on my phone that caught my eye. I didn't have time to sit down and do so quietly over a cup of coffee because someone was tapping my shoulder at 5am expecting me to spend the morning making breakfast smoothies and wiping butts.

So if you wouldn't mind I'd like us all to agree on a few things: 1) let's put our phones somewhere we can't see or hear them when we are driving 2) maybe we could stand to put the phones away during family dinners and 3) leave us overworked and overtired parents alone about how much we use our phones. We'll work on it if we think it's becoming a problem for our families but in the meantime we're just doing our best to keep our kids alive and happy.

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