Is it ok to ignore your child just a little bit, sometimes?
Parenthood is riddled with guilt. In fact, it should be renamed guilt-trip-hood, because there seems to be an inordinate amount of it weaved into the journey from conception to birth to childhood. It even continues when your children have grown up into adults, moved out and have their own kids.
It’s rare that I step back and applaud myself for the job i’m doing with Joni. Like most parents, i’m highly self-critical, anxious that i’m doing the wrong thing and am constantly making adjustments in an attempt to provide the safest, happiest, most stimulating environment I can.
However… there’s this little thing that keeps popping up and I thought it was time I addressed it. Since launching The Early Hour (a culture and lifestyle magazine for parents), I’ve spent a large part of my time interviewing mums and dads. One piece of advice I hear time and time again is: when you’re with your children, put your phone away and give them 100% of your attention.
I can’t argue with this: of course you should interact with your kids rather than scrolling through photos on Facebook, but I’m beginning to wonder (read: am desperate to prove) that ignoring your kids, just a little bit, might actually be quite healthy.
When I was young, I distinctly remember my mum, probably aged about 34, hopping onto the kitchen counter and calling her friends from the phone attached to the wall. It was so long ago that you actually had to pull the circular dial around to each number with your index finger. She’d then spend what felt like HOURS chatting away to her pals. We’d have to write notes to get her attention. (Sorry mum).
At the time, I didn’t understand why it was so important for her to communicate with her friends, surely we were SO MUCH MORE FUN AND INTERESTING??? But I now completely understand. When you spend all day with your children, you need a break; you need adult company – and whether that’s in real life, on the phone, or on Facebook messenger doesn’t really matter.
But not just that. When you ignore your children, as long as you know they’re safe, you’re giving them the opportunity to use their imagination – to make up their own games and stories, to play with toys in new ways that they’ve discovered, to get bored and have to creatively find a way to fill the time. (Like writing notes begging their mum – who’s on the phone – to let them have a biscuit).
At the moment, i’m caring for 17-month-old Joni full time while working nearly full time hours during her naps, in the evenings and on the weekend. Perhaps if I went out to work during the day, I’d be more inclined to dedicate the smaller amount of time we had together to fully-focused play. But as it stands, we have eight waking hours together – so if a proportion of that time is spent with me on my phone or computer: replying to emails, editing an article or liaising with advertisers – it shouldn’t be too great a loss.
Writing this article has been somewhat cathartic. I now feel a lot more at ease with the fact that Joni is playing, alone, with her Play-Doh balls in front of me as I tap my thoughts into my iPhone. YEAH RIGHT. I think there’s no escaping the guilt-trap you fall into as soon as you realise you’re pregnant (can I have a ‘drink’? Is a tiny slice of brie ok…), which gets worse after the birth (is she too hot/cold/hungry, should I cuddle her more/less, is she napping enough, should she still be breastfeeding…).
All we can do is make sure the child is happy and loved – and that we feel happy in ourselves too. If that means averting your attention every now and again to check-in with a mum friend or to get a bit of work done, it’s not going to ruin your child’s upbringing. It will help them to become really good at entertaining themselves – honestly, I love my own company. (Thanks mum).