Today, I decided to take my kids to the park. Benjamin’s the only one old enough to really enjoy the playground, but I’d like to think that all three of them like the change of scenery and being outside. So I loaded up Wyatt and Ivy into the stroller, got some snacks for Benjamin and I, and I sat on a bench, just like several other moms who had the same idea as me… probably because we got a beautiful day in the middle of February. 70 degrees out, cloudless sky? No way does anyone want to waste that kind of day locked up inside.
One mom sitting near me kept looking at me, making that annoyed sigh sound, and rolling her eyes. After this happened for the fourth or fifth time, I finally asked her if there as a problem. She made her exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes again, and said, “Well, I just think that maybe you should be paying attention to your kids, and not your phone.” She then glared at me, presumably to drive home the point that I am a terrible, terrible mother. Because, yes: I am that mom who sits there on her phone while her kids play.
What it brought to mind was this post — Dear Mom on the iPhone — that went viral quite some time ago. Maybe you read it. If not, here’s a little except.
Put your eyes back on your prize… Your kids.
Show them that they are the priority. Wherever you are, be ALL there. I am not saying it’s not ok to check in on your phone, but it’s a time-sucker: User Beware!
Play time at the park will be over before you know it.
The childhood of your children will be gone before you know it.
That’s just a small sample of the sanctimommy over there, and let me tell you — there’s a lot. After being absolutely excoriated in the comments and by countless other blog posts coming to the defense of the “mom in the park”, the blogger ended up admitting that she made up the entire situation of a mom being on her iPhone at the park because God called her to write about this. She wasn’t being a judgmental sanctimommy you-know-what, because God told her to write about it, and if it made you feel guilty, then clearly you’re one of the moms attached to their phones she was trying to reach. She’s only thinking of the kids, y’all. You’d think she might take a hint from all the blowback she got, but she went the exact opposite route and dug her heels in even further.
Well, to the sanctimommy at the park and to the sanctimommy on the blog, here’s my response. The short version? Shut up and mind your own business.
I’m a stay-at-home mom of three kids under three. And even though I’m on my phone with my kids at the park (or maybe at the play area at McDonald’s, or at the mall, or wherever), I’m actually quite an attentive mother. In fact, just about my every waking moment revolves around my kids, because they have to. They’re all young, and one of them has special needs. So I’m constantly bouncing from one kid to the next. One needs a bottle, one needs a diaper change, then another one bumped their head and needs to be cuddled, and then one spit up all over their clothes and needs to be changed… it’s basically never-ending. Add in the fact that I work from home, and my time for myself? Ha! It doesn’t exist. There are times that I go days without showering, mainly because by the end of the day when all the kids are asleep and the work is done, I’m so exhausted that I don’t even feel like doing anything beyond falling into my bed and passing out. I don’t get to read much anymore, even though I love it. I don’t really have many hobbies at the moment, for many reasons that I don’t need to get into right now because it’s irrelevant. Basically, my entire life is my kids and my work right now.
But some days, I take them somewhere like the park. Benjamin can go run and play with other kids and get some energy out, and Wyatt and Ivy are usually pretty happy to just hang out in the stroller with me. And because it’s an hour or so that none of my kids need me, yep — I’m on my phone.
Maybe some moms, like the mom at the playground and the Sanctimommy Blogger Extraordinaire are perfect mothers who don’t need time to themselves. I’m not. I’m a mom who needs to ignore my kids sometimes. I need to occasionally do stuff for me. If that means doing something on my phone for an hour while they play at the park, then fine. But you know what? I don’t think that makes me a bad mom. As a matter of fact, I think it makes me a good mom.
First, no mother can go forever without ever taking time for herself. They just can’t. I know this goes against all that is holy in the worlds of attachment and helicopter parenting, which are both insanely popular right now, but I believe that wholeheartedly. It’s hard to find the time to do it, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. A lot of the commenters on Sanctimommy’s blog post mentioned that she didn’t know what the imaginary mom on the phone was doing, which is of course a good point, but I don’t feel like it matters. Most of the time when I’m on my phone, I’m surfing the internet or browsing Facebook. It’s good for me to have a little bit of time to mentally check out, to relax and not have to really be doing anything for a half hour or so.
I see my kids all day, every day. I don’t think I’ve ever missed any kind of significant moment of my kids’ lives. All of the things that people think I might be missing out on because I’m on my phone? Well, guess what? I’ve seen it a thousand times. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still adorable or make my heart swell a little, but it isn’t the new, wondrous thing to me that it is to you. I know what all of their different cries mean, I know that they have different ways of laughing that are caused by different things. I know that Benjamin is a lot more daring when there are other kids around, and especially so if they’re girls. I know that Wyatt loves to stand and that they both love the songs from Frozen. I know that Ivy is finding her smile and her voice. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, that anyone could point out to me about my children that I do not already know. The chances of me missing something because I took an hour to tune out and mentally recharge is slim to none. And even if I did, what does that mean? We cannot spend our entire lives with our attention on nothing but our children because of the off chance that we might miss something. That’s extraordinarily unhealthy.
The other part that I think about? I don’t want my kids to be glued to my side 24/7. I don’t want them to learn to not be independent. I don’t want them needing me to play with them on the playground or to climb across the monkey bars. I want them to grow up learning to explore and be adventurous. I want them to make friends on their own. And while I’ll of course push them on the swing if they want me to, I’m not going to be holding their hand as they navigate everything on the playground. That’s doing them a disservice (and it’s a hallmark of helicopter parenting, which I despise). But what if they fall??, some people will ask. What if they do? That’s how kids learn. It’s how they figure out their limits and what they can or can’t do. I’ll be there to comfort them when they fall, to mend their boo-boos and wipe away their tears, but I won’t be there their entire lives to hold their hands through everything. I’m not going to teach them that lesson. I’m also not going to teach them that the entire world revolves around them… because, you know, it doesn’t. I’ll always hold their hands if they need me to, but I want them to at least try for themselves first — and I’m certainly not going to intervene when they’re perfectly happy playing independently, conquering new things and experiencing new adventures, without me. What kind of childhood would I be giving them if I did?
So you know what? Next time you feel like being a Judgey McJudgerson yet again, telling moms all the ways that they’re screwing up and doing it wrong, why don’t you take a second and remember that, oh yeah — it’s none of your business. That the mom you’re criticizing is obviously doing a good job raising her kids if their smiling faces are looking towards her with love. Maybe instead of trying to tear another mom down because you’re just so sure of your obvious parental superiority, you should try to remember that all of us are just doing the best that we can. Maybe instead of giving another mom yet another reason to feel like she’s not doing a good enough job, you can rest assured that society is doing a fantastic job of that already.
Most moms spend their every waking moment obsessing over their kids. But if she wants to take five, ten, or thirty minutes to herself, you know what? Let her. Get over yourself, and give her a break. We don’t need another thing to feel guilty about.
(And you know what? When God was talking to you, I’m pretty sure He wasn’t telling you to shame and guilt mothers for daring to take five minutes to themselves. Maybe He was telling you to get over your judgmental streak. Just a thought.)