A few weeks ago Little Ored and I were travelling by bus en route to our Monday morning baby class when I was approached by an elderly woman. “It’s so nice to see a young Mum playing with her child instead of staring down at her phone.”
I was taken aback. Firstly by the apparent compliment on my parenting skills and secondly by how old she actually thought I was (I’m a few months shy of 30 and let’s face it that’s not that young).
All joking aside, I’ve always made a point of putting away my phone when I’m with Little Ored but even more so when we’re out and about. What would be the point of taking him to soft play, for a walk along the beach or out to lunch if I then spent the entire time ignoring him? We treat Little Ored as we would any adult, and if I wouldn’t sit on my phone for the duration of dinner with a friend then I’m not going to start doing it with my son.
Of course I’m no saint. There are occasions when I reply to a text, listen to a voicemail or check Google to find out when the next train is due. Or the more obvious and frequent reason I reach for the phone- to take photos. But I’d honestly say that for about 80% of the time when Little Ored is awake my phone is either hiding in a coat pocket or buried underneath a mountain of toys and baby wipes on a tabletop/kitchen counter.
Having a one year old means that for the most part, I’m too busy to even have my phone in hand but of course there are occasions when I have to remind myself to put it down, and that’s because I’m actively choosing (and trying) to be present in my son’s life. Screen time- specifically social media- is a BIG distraction from real life relationships and I don’t want my son or any future children growing up with the feeling that Mama isn’t really listening. I don’t want them ever feeling as if they have to compete for my attention. Likewise I don’t want to miss out on the funny/cute/ new things Little Ored does because I was too busy thumbing through Instagram.
And Little Ored loves that I’m right there with him, building blocks just so he can knock them down later. Chasing him into the tipi as he squeals with delight or dancing with abandon when his favourite song comes on the radio. Or, as is always the game of choice on any form of public transport, playing ‘ticket inspector’ on the bus.
But I can’t help but wonder how fully present any parent can really be when it’s almost impossible to shake off our responsibilities, be it work, running a household or both? So whilst my phone may lay untouched for hours on end, that doesn’t mean I haven’t found myself promising repeatedly that “I won’t be long,” whilst unpacking the third machine load of the day.
I always thought my phone was the enemy but now I realise it plays just a small part in the day to day demands on my time. For there will always be dirty dishes in the sink. Clean clothes that need folding. Errands to run. It’s a juggling act for any parent and I’d argue that no parent can be 100% present, 100% of the time.
Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t strive to be the best I can be, but it’s all about finding the right balance that works for me and my child and that’s all anyone can do as a parent. I guarantee they’ll be moments when sitting in front of the TV for an hour or two is the only way to appease a grumpy one year old. Other times I’ll need to hoover or cook lunch leaving Little Ored to amuse himself for longer than I’d like.
But if I can eliminate the unnecessary distractions (I finally deleted my Facebook account two weeks ago and I’m still basking in the glow of freedom) then at least I know that for the most part, Little Ored is getting the very best of me.