Plugged-In Parenthood

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As someone who writes about motherhood, I spent a decent amount of time on my laptop. My daughter is used to me staring at a screen for a least a half hour in the evenings. I try to wait til she goes to bed, but I also have work to do. My husband has an iPhone. So seeing him zone out on Angry Birds is a familiar sight for our little one. One night, as we both stared at screens and our daughter played in between us, my husband and I started to wonder, just how plugged-in are we? And how is it affecting our parenting?

Computers and iPhones really aren’t even the worst of it. Our family’s biggest electronic culprit tends to be my car.  First, it has this nifty Bluetooth that lets me carry on conversations through the stereo speakers. I thought my daughter would really enjoy the opportunity to talk to her dad or grandparents as we drove home from the babysitter.  She loves these people!  Of course she wanted to talk to them!  Except Brenna didn’t want to listen to me talk to her grandmother, she wanted to talk to me.  She wanted to tell me about her day or what she had planned for our evening.  She wanted to whine about needing a drink and a snack and her Barbies.  She wanted me to interact with her. 

It got to be that she hated when the car chirped “Connection Complete”, letting me know that the Bluetooth was enabled.  To solve our issue, I’ve begun to ask my daughter whether or not she wants to talk to anyone on our drives.  Most of the time she says no, but every once in a while she’ll say, “Call Poppa.”  And then she’ll giggle in delight as the phone starts to ring.  The most important rule for me has been to listen to what she needs from me on our drives together.  Because those times, just before her day begins and on her way home, those are important times.  Those are conversations that I don’t want to miss, no matter how many time she asks me where all the other cars are going.

I’m not the only one who has an electronic vice in our car.  Our beautiful Sorento also came equipped with an entertainment system for my daughter.  At first, it was easy to kid ourselves that we would only turn the thing on for long car rides.  “Oh, when we go to visit relatives it’ll come in handy.”  Flash forward a couple weeks and my toddler has gotten pretty used to watching Toy Story 3 from the comfort of her car seat.  Soon, I missed our quality car time.  When the movie was on, I didn’t get to hear about her dreams from the night before, or what happened at daycare.  My talkative little girl would sit in the backseat, happy to be watching a cartoon on the go. 

So are parents too plugged-in to take care of their kids?  Are children paying enough attention to notice?  Really, none of us know how all this technology will effect our relationships.  But it’s something that mothers will have to figure out fast.  We have a balancing act to play.  Embracing technology has helped the youngest generation to grow and spread into new job markets and new possibilities.  But, like everyone who has ever perused their own Facebook friend list knows, internet relationships are the not the same as personal connections.  The fact is, our children know when they aren’t our main focus.  And lately, there’s a lot of distractions.

As we all work towards finding that special balance between our beloved iPhones and our even more precious little ones, I think the most important feature mothers will need is their ears.  The fact is, your kids will tell you when they need you to put down the laptop.  Or they’ll just start hitting all the buttons… my daughter has never been subtle.  She’s also slammed the top down on my fingers.  But I can’t blame her for that, too much. Sometimes, she needs my full and undivided attention. For a generation used to constant interruptions, unplugging might be the best thing we do for our families.  In our house, it might be time to call a moratorium on all electronic devices between 5 and 7.  That’s dinner and family play time. 

So, I’m obviously not the only mom struggling with.  What do you do to curb the electronic impulse?  How do you make sure that your children don’t resent your iPhone?

(Photo: Thinkstock)