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Baby Matters

This Year, Let’s Try to Put the Phone Down

January 1st, 2016

By Delaine Dew

I’ve never been one to set specific “New Year’s Resolutions”, but I have always loved the idea of reflecting on the events of the past year and looking forward to the many wonders the New Year may bring.  As a mom, I am constantly scrutinizing my parenting skills – am I doing the right thing, am I doing enough of the right thing, is there something more I should / could be doing?  How did my mom do it and how can I be more like her?  Of course, parenting styles have differed over the generations, each era with their own superficial stereotypes.

Three eras in particular jump out at me – the 50s and 60s “hands off” parenting, the 90s and millennium “hands on” or “helicopter” parenting, and today’s parenting, which is kind of a balance between the two although I would argue much more self-centered than ever before because of social media.

In the 50s, with the advent of televisions and modern appliances in households, a stereotypical mom would kick the kids out of the house to play and occupy herself with her new modern appliances.   Perhaps  a hallmark image flashes before you of a housewife dancing around her kitchen in a fantastic dress and apron, cooking roast and washing the floors at the same time, and the kids are either nowhere to be found or are outside, exploring completely unsupervised.  This is obviously entirely stereotypical, but I think there is some reality to it.  Kids “back then” were always encouraged (or told) to entertain themselves and go explore as long as you were home before dinner.  The stereotypical mother of that era probably favoured a more “hands off” style of parenting, letting the children run relatively free.

I recently asked my mom what it was like growing up in the 50s and what she remembers about her mom’s parenting.  Of course she has happy memories, but one stereotype did ring true for her.  My mom has vivid memories of watching Romper Room and playing in the basement by herself almost every day while her mom spent the morning chatting on the phone with her sisters.  Even typing this right now I have an image in my mind of what my grandmother may have looked like back then, sitting at one of those awesome telephone table-chair-record holder contraptions (why don’t they make these anymore?!?) with her legs crossed, gazing out a window, twirling her fingers through the wire of the rotary phone and talking, my mom watching TV and playing completely unsupervised.  Is that entirely bad?  Maybe not, but I’m certain my mom would have loved for my grandmother to hang up the phone and play with her.

The next stereotypical era of parenting that comes to mind is the 90s or millennium parenting, where computers brought a host of never before encountered security and privacy issues and true crime television programs like “America’s Most Wanted” frightened the pants off any parent and (I think) greatly reduced the occurrence of kids being told to go play outside somewhere as long as you’re back before dinner – it was just too risky.  Crazy people lurked in the computers and behind every dark corner.  The stereotype of that era seems to be the “helicopter parent” or the “super parent”, both highly involved in every aspect of their child’s life and highly motivated to ensure their child succeeds at life – often by being pressured to be “the best” at everything they do.

Perhaps as a backlash against the “helicopter parenting” or “super parenting”, it appears as though today’s parenting style is shifting back toward the 50s era “hands off” parenting in the sense that we are more likely to encourage our kids to get outside and play, to rely less on the parent to “create” the fun, and spend less time in front of a computer, gaming system or TV than the 90s/ millenium era stereotypical child.  However, I fear that our generation of parenting is going to be known as the self-centered “social media” or “smart phone” parents, where our stereotypical image will be of a parent, sitting in the corner of a play canter, head down, looking at the screen of a bejeweled iPhone, engrossed in a news article or social media account, while the child is alone and crying on the top of a play slide because his parent is too busy reading texts to notice that he needs and wants help getting down the slide.

Is this what we are becoming?  Are we justifying our time spent on our smartphones with the argument that we’re letting our kids be independent and imaginative by just “letting them be”?  Will their memories be riddled with images of their parents, engrossed in their smartphones rather than watching them with pride?  Admit it – we’ve all done it.  At one time or another we have lowered our heads down and took some time to read and respond to a text or email on our phone, only to miss something (anything) that our child did – insignificant or not.  While I am not suggesting we keep our eyes constantly focused only on our child, as that is an unrealistic and crazy expectation, you have to admit it is quite sad when you see a child playing and he or she glances back at the parent for reassurance, encouragement or otherwise, only to see the parent, head down and fully absorbed in their phone.

This year, let’s try to break that image and stereotype emerging of our era of parenting and try as much as we can to stay off our phones while we are with our children, and to engage with them as much as we can - without being helicopter parents of course.  Let’s get down on the ground and play with our children, worry less about capturing the perfect Pinterest-worthy picture and more about creating memories, and walk with them to the park and watch them with pride as they complete the monkey bars or slide down the slide solo.  And when they gaze back at you with wonder in their eyes, let’s ensure we’re looking right back at them rather than at our smart phones.

Delaine is a mom to a beautiful little girl, a wife and lawyer in Edmonton. She enjoys running, reading, watching bad TV with her husband and most importantly, being a mom. Delaine recently started a blog “Moms of 1” (www.momsof1.com) with a friend of hers and is having fun blogging and connecting with other moms.

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