Facebook: The Scourge of Modern Parenting?

Did you know that Facebook is the scourge of modern parenting – and modern motherhood in particular? There’s a new campaign that encourages mothers to turn off the social networking site and play with their kids. The campaign is called “The Log Off“, and it’s built entirely around a 47 second long YouTube video.

This is not the first example of backlash against moms who spend a lot of time on social networking sites. I’ve seen articles about parents ignoring kids in favour of their smart phones, and I’ve witnessed an uproar when a mother tweeted, asking for prayers as paramedics worked on her dying son. And while dads do face questions about balancing social media and family, I definitely feel that the censure is focused mostly in the direction of mothers. I think that Annie at PhD in Parenting would call this another example of blaming the mother.

In fairness, there are some extreme examples of parents who have let their social media use get in the way of sound parenting. The most egregious example is a mother who played a game on Facebook, leaving her 13-month-old alone in a full bathtub. The toddler drowned, and she was been sentenced to spend 10 years in prison. I think that pretty much any parent would agree that leaving a toddler alone in the tub for any reason is a phenomenally bad idea. And I would argue that this is an extreme example, which is not characteristic of the way most people use Facebook.

Maybe I feel a little bit defensive, though, because I am very active online, myself. I’m all over Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Flickr. But I also think that I am an attentive and responsible parent. And I’m not sure sure that social media is particularly unique in terms of its parenting impact. Much of the discussion surrounding parents and social networking is simply a re-hashing of old ideas. In the 1980s when I was a kid, for instance, we might have exhorted those mothers in that video to turn off their soap operas to play with their kids. But this argument is much older than TV, even.

I am a Canadian, and I enjoy historical fiction. This means that as a child I read the entire Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery about 17 times. There’s an exchange in the fourth book, Anne’s House of Dreams, that echoes a lot of the sentiments you might hear about social media. Anne, her best friend Diana, and the much older neighbourhood busybody Rachel Lynde talk as they prepare for Anne’s wedding. Diana tells Anne she couldn’t have had a nicer day if she’d ordered it from Eaton’s. Here’s an excerpt:

“Indeed, there’s too much money going out of this Island to that same Eaton’s,” said Mrs. Lynde indignantly … “And as for those catalogues of theirs, they’re the Avonlea girls’ Bible now, that’s what. They pore over them on Sundays instead of studying the Holy Scriptures.”

“Well, they’re splendid to amuse children with,” said Diana. “Fred and Small Anne look at the pictures by the hour.”

I amused ten children without the aid of the Eaton’s catalogue,” said Mrs. Rachel severely.

Anne’s House of Dreams was first published in 1917, approximately 30 years after the first Eaton’s catalogue made its debut. So when the venerable Lucy Maud wrote this exchange, it was from the vantage point of someone looking back and reflecting on long-dead concerns. By the time 1917 rolled around, no one would have thought that the Eaton’s catalogue was going to be the death of the modern family. But underlying that exchange between Rachel Lynde and Diana, we see a lot of the same arguments that we see today about social media use.

And that, to me, is the crux of things. Social media is not unique, it is just another innovation that we are learning how to use. Can it be used to excess? Certainly. Is it going to rip our families apart and destroy any actual human connection? I would argue that it is not, just as previous innovations have not.

But let’s come back to that whole “you’re ignoring your kids!” argument. Because this is the accusation that underlies criticisms of parental social media use, or the mothers of the 1980s who were too busy watching All My Children to watch their own children, or the mothers of 120 years ago who were using that new-fangled Eaton’s catalogue as a babysitter. It’s at the heart of pretty much every guilt trip we level at mothers who do anything other than gaze lovingly at their progeny all day long. Are we ignoring our kids? And if so, is it actually harming them?

Research suggests that we are spending more time with our children than our parents spent with us. A UK study found that fathers averaged 32 to 36 minutes a day on their children in 2000, but just three to eight minutes in 1975, and mothers averaged 51 to 86 minutes a day with their kids in 2000, but just eight to 21 minutes a day in 1975. And this makes sense, if you think about the way that we restrict our children’s freedom today. When our mothers sent us outside to play until it got dark, they weren’t exactly engaging with us.

But I don’t think that leaving kids to their own devices is so terrible. Ignoring your children from time to time may teach them valuable skills, like how to entertain themselves. Of course, we need to be ever mindful of safety, but I don’t believe that letting my kids play in my fenced backyard while I watch them from my computer desk and write is negligence. I believe I’m just doing what parents have always done – caring for children while also going about the business of living to the best of my ability.

So you’ll all have to excuse me if I fail to feel phenomenally guilty for my Facebook use. I have enough guilt on my plate already, and I refuse to accept any more.

I wonder what you think. Do you think that Facebook and other social networking sites are the scourge of modern parenting? How do you set reasonable limits for yourself so that you’re not ignoring your kids too much? And do you think that ignoring your kids a little bit is good or bad for them? Please weigh in!

The Walk Home from School

I make two round trips to my daughter Hannah’s school on the hill every weekday. I drop her off, and come home. Then I pick her up, and come home. There and back, there and back.

Usually the walk to school goes smoothly. Jacob sits in his stroller and Hannah’s excited to get to kindergarten, so we move quickly and efficiently. The walk back home, with just my toddler Jacob in the stroller is OK, too. Jacob and I have a certain routine that we follow while his big sister’s at kindergarten, and he kind of runs with it. This holds for the walk back to school to pick up Hannah again. I load Jacob up with a snack, I push him up the hill, and we generally make good time.

The walk home is a different story.

Playing in a dirty puddle
Stopping to play in a dirty puddle

I’m not entirely sure if problem with the walk home is really caused by my kids’ behaviour, or just my attitude. But whatever it is, it usually starts with the same question from Hannah every day: “Can we play at the playground?” Many days we do stop at the playground. But the school playgrounds aren’t really designed for toddlers, so I have to be really vigilant when Jacob plays there. By the time we leave, I’m really tired and just frankly not at my best. But if we don’t go, then the kids are disappointed and the whining starts. It’s a lose-lose situation.

One way or another, we eventually set off for home. My kids stop to throw garbage into a dirty puddle, which I find gross. Sometimes I provide dire warnings in response. Hannah decides to run off across the field because she sees a friend, and Jacob freaks out because he doesn’t want her to go. Or they just double-team me by running in opposite directions, leaving me standing in the middle and using my extremely unattractive yelling voice. Before we’re even off the school grounds, I’m generally totally frazzled.

The crosswalk button
The crosswalk button

The mayhem continues when it’s time to cross the street, and the kids argue about who gets to push the crosswalk button last. Apparently, if someone pushes the button after you push the button it is a great insult, and totally negates any button-pushing you’ve done. On at least two occasions we’ve had to wait for the next light to cross the street because the disagreement over the button left both children entirely too out of sorts to walk.

Once we make it into our neighbourhood I relax a little because there’s very little traffic, and therefore less chance that a child will run into it and be killed. I still try to keep my kids on the sidewalk as a matter of principle, but that doesn’t always go so well. Jacob likes to run on lawns, and Hannah likes to run ahead to display her independence. I’ve tried asking the kids to hold hands so that I can keep them together, and I do a lot of calling down the street asking Hannah to wait, but in general I’m struggling to maintain some kind of a handle on where both kids are.

Playing on a manhole cover
Putting sticks in water

There are also occasions where the kids stay together, but they’re both doing something that’s slowing our progress. Usually by this point I just want the walk to be over, and anything that delays that irritates me. I’m tired of chasing my toddler off of other peoples’ lawns or dragging him out of the street. I’m tired of yelling at my big kid to stay where I can see her. So when they both sit down together to throw little bits of fluff down a storm drain, I’m not at my most accommodating. I just want them both inside where I can more easily keep tabs on them, don’t they understand that?

(Hint: They do not understand that.)

Walking home from school
The kids in the home stretch – literally

Of course, we eventually make it home. Every day, we eventually make it home. Once everyone’s safely inside I ask myself what I was freaking out about, anyway. I tell myself that I just need to go with the pace my kids set, and that if I do, everything will be OK. But somehow, when I’m trying to wrangle two kids and point them in the same direction, I never maintain my cool, no matter how firmly I resolve to do so.

Do you face similar difficulties when trying to walk someplace with little kids? Are you able to maintain your cool as they run across other peoples’ lawns, stop to throw sticks down drains and head off in opposite directions? And if so, how? I could use some words of wisdom!

PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running my May review on Wednesday, June 1. If you want to play along, there will be a link-up, so write a post on or before the link-up date and come back here to include it.

Talking Technology with Kathy Buckworth and Ruth Morton

Let me tell you a story. Sometime back in April I received an invitation to an event here in Vancouver called Hotmail and Cocktails. The event featured Kathy Buckworth, mom of four and published author, and Ruth Morton, mother of two-year-old twin boys (bless her soul) and Microsoft Evangelist.

Kathy Buckworth

Kathy

The event sounded cool, but it happened on a Wednesday night, which is when I get my yoga on. Since my yoga class is often the only thing that’s keeping me from going totally around the bend, I politely declined.

It turns out that many very cool people went. I read all about it on Twitter and Facebook. I felt jealous. I wanted to sip cocktails and hear about how awesome Hotmail is now, too. But I was feeling pretty zen after my yoga class, so I reigned in the jealousy and decided that if I couldn’t see Kathy and Ruth, I could at least talk with them. And so I did.

We talked about parenting, ER visits, email management, technology holy wars and a whole lot more. It was actually talking to Kathy that gave me the impetus to tame my own inbox. I had a really great time chatting with them.

Ruth Morton

Ruth

I think the key take-away from the conversation, for me, is that technology should serve us, we shouldn’t serve technology. If something isn’t working for you, then you can find a better solution. And if you do a little digging, you may even discover that a tool you haven’t tried in a while has improved dramatically in the past decade. So keep an open mind, be flexible, and see how technology can make your life better.

I really enjoyed chatting with Kathy and Ruth. Listen to our conversation here:

What about you? How do you keep your own email under control? And do you feel like a slave to your technology, or does it work for you? I’d love to hear!

Home Sick from School

I remember the first time that my first baby, Hannah, got sick. Which, if you’re following me, was the first time I ever dealt with a sick kid in my role as a parent. She was three months old, and I was still getting my motherly bearings. I remember that I knew something was up a full day or so before anyone else clued in. I remember how much it sucked to listen to her cry and not be able to do anything to make it better. And I remember that it was the first cold of many that would infect my child during her early years.

I’m six years into the parenting gig now, and I’ve been through the ringer. We’ve had colds, bouts of flu, coughs, vomiting, visits to the ER and I’m pretty sure we even had H1N1, although thankfully our cases were all mild. And lest you think my children are selfish, let me assure you that they absolutely are not. They share each and every germ they encounter with their parents, so that we can spend several weeks going out of commission in turn, like some kind of twisted family bonding ritual.

Big yawn
Hannah had her first cold when this photo was taken

I returned to work just after Hannah’s first birthday, and she started daycare. Since that time she’s been in childcare, activities and school, which means that when a bug strikes, we have to make The Call. Is she contagious? Does she have a fever, or is she emitting any excessive ickiness from her body in any fashion? What would I think if someone else sent their kid to daycare / school / soccer / swimming lessons like this? What does Hannah say when I tell her that if she stays home from school she can’t spend the afternoon watching TV?

In many cases, the decision is clear. My kid is really sick, and I need to be a responsible parent and keep her at home. But in most cases, it’s far more ambiguous. Maybe she’s a little sniffly and kind of clingy, but is asking to go to the park because she wants to run and play. Maybe she’s had the same low-grade cold for two weeks and is slowly on the mend, and I don’t think I can keep her at home indefinitely. Maybe she’s telling me her stomach hurts, but I’m pretty sure it’s just because she hasn’t eaten anything yet this morning and she’ll probably feel better soon.

Poor sick Hannah
Hannah during her most recent cold (I lost count of the number a long time ago)

I remember my own childhood sick days very well. I remember the days when I was actually sick, and I remember the days when I was a little bit under the weather, decided to stay home and felt bored out of my tree. I also remember the days when I seemed OK and my parents had to come and pick me up because I took a sudden turn for the worse around lunch time. And I remember the days when I didn’t want to go to school for some reason, and played up one phantom pain or another.

Those memories really are the crux of it for me. There is just no clear answer when your kid tells you that she’s feeling sick. If you err on the side of caution she’s going to miss a lot of school. If you don’t, you’re possibly putting other kids at risk and setting yourself up for some pointed questions from a preschool teacher. And so I kind of wing it, do my best to figure out what’s an actual illness and what’s something else, and trust that a couple of missed days at kindergarten aren’t going to destroy my child’s educational future.

I wonder how you decide whether to make your kid suck it up and go to school, or keep your kid at home. Do you have some hard and fast rules you use? Do you allow your kid a certain number of sick days, no explanation required? And what do you do with the kid who’s just sick enough to be cranky, but not sick enough to actually be incapacitated? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Playing at Being Grown-Up

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! This year, I’m just writing about whatever is currently on my mind. And if you would like to chime in and contribute a guest post about your own journey, please drop me a line and we’ll chat.

My husband Jon and I went away overnight this weekend. It was only one night, but it was our first kid-free night in a hotel since before our daughter Hannah was born in 2005. It also happened to be our first night away from Jacob, ever, in the nearly three years of his life. We were belatedly celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary and twentieth dating anniversary, and as you may have been able to deduce, this trip was a Big Deal.

We opted to buy a package, which included a fancy-schmancy room, a couples massage, dinner and dancing, a bottle of champagne and a buffet breakfast. (Aside – buffet breakfast is one of my most favourite things in the world.) Plus, the resort we stayed at has this great pool filled with water from the local hot springs to soak in. It was all very lovely, indeed.

View from our hotel balcony
View from our hotel room balcony

As we sat down for dinner, all dressed up and looking our best, Jon told me that he felt that this was a very grown-up thing to be doing. That is, wearing fancy clothes for a four course meal and an evening of dancing. I replied that it felt as if we were playing at being grown-ups. We were putting on a slightly contrived role along with our nice shoes.

When I thought about it, I decided that maybe this is really what I’m doing all the time. When I moved away from home I played at being independent, until I got so good at pretending that it became second nature to me. When I got married, I played at being a wife, until the game of make-believe became part of who I am. And when I had kids I played at being a parent, until I couldn’t stop playing at being a parent even if I wanted to. I also played at being a university student, an engineer and a blogger. Maybe life is just a series of role-playing games that never really end, and tend towards the mundane.

I feel the least grown-up when I fall short in my little game of make-believe. I forget to leave a tip for the hotel cleaning staff, or I let my kids eat too much junk food, or I don’t wash my dishes promptly and end up having to scrape off crusted-on crud. In short, I fail to act in the way that I expect a person in my adopted role would act. I am lifting the curtain on all the pretending I’m doing, and I let everyone (and especially myself) see that maybe I don’t really have it together after all.

I suspect I’m not the only one who feels as if they’re playing a role. I bet that we all feel this way from time to time. After all, it’s not as if anyone wakes up one morning and suddenly feels like a grown-up. It’s only time and practice and lots of playing at being grown-up that makes us so. In short, we need to fake it ’til we make it. Sometimes less faking it is required than others, but somewhere inside we’re all still the little kids who feel like intruders in the adult world. When I realize this, I feel less alone, and maybe even a little bit vindicated.

So, this weekend Jon and I played at being grown-ups. We played at being a couple who can eat dinner with two hands while it’s still hot. We played at being able to get up whenever we feel like it, and at taking a walk without stopping to look at every rock, flower and car. It was fun. And sometimes, we almost forgot that we were pretending.

Do you ever feel like you’re just playing at being a grown-up? Tell me all about it!

Ten Hopes for my Children

When we have children, we hope for good things for them. When you’re going through pregnancy and childbirth and night wakings and the toddler years you become somewhat invested in the outcome. Which isn’t to say that I expect my children to pursue a certain profession or undertake specific hobbies or marry certain people. I love my kids unconditionally (which is why I haven’t run away screaming during dinner hour when I often feel like it), and nothing they can do will ever change that. But there are, nonetheless, certain hopes that I hold for my babies.

Because, you know, they’re my babies.

Jacob and Hannah at the park

I was thinking, recently, about what exactly it is that I want for my children. What are my hopes for these little people that I’m trying so hard to raise into respectable adults? I got a start in listing them here.

Ten Things I Hope for my Children

  1. That they always feel free to pursue their dreams, even if only in some small way.
  2. That they learn to consistently place their dirty clothes in the dirty clothes hamper.
  3. That they are always able to depend on each other, because theirs will likely be the longest relationship in either of their lives.
  4. That they develop a love of reading, just as they already have a love of books.
  5. That they stop picking their noses and eating their snot when out in public.
  6. That they never feel as if they have to hide who they are.
  7. That if and when they find a partner, it’s someone that they share a deep mutual respect with.
  8. That they learn to take responsibility for their own actions.
  9. That they find meaningful work.
  10. That they look back on their childhoods fondly, because I’m really trying here.

Me and my babies

What about you? What are some of your hopes for your children? Rampant sentimentality and/or outright sarcasm are welcome!

When is a Bribe not a Bribe?

I have two kids, and I try to have a life. As any parent can tell you, these two things are not always compatible. Say, for instance, that you fancy the idea of going to the grocery store. It’s not what I would call a radical idea. I doubt that most people would call it a radical idea, in fact. And yet, by the time you push that cart filled with food and two unruly children out of the store exit, you wonder what you were thinking when you decided that you needed to buy food.

Long before I ever had children of my own, I knew that I didn’t want to use bribery to motivate my children. And then when my daughter Hannah was little I read about the evils of bribery, rewards and praise, and my decision was confirmed. I would not say “good job” or promise candy in exchange for good behaviour. Instead I would … well, I wasn’t always entirely clear on what I would do, but knowing what I wouldn’t do was a start, right?

Just as any parent can tell you that having children is not always compatible with having a life, any parent can also tell you that the decisions you make when your first child is still an infant may not hold up once that precious little angel learns how to run and use the word “no”. Parenting is a journey, and you will be tested every step of the way. No matter how strongly you feel about bribery, your resolve may fade when you just want to finish checking out these groceries and you need a way to keep your kid still and quiet and away from the store exits.

It starts small, bribery does. For me, at first it sounded something like, “Mama really needs to finish paying for the food. If you can wait quietly I’ll finish up faster and we’ll have time to go get something to drink.” It’s fairly innocuous, right? I only have so many hours in my day, and the more time that I spend at the grocery store, the less time I have to do fun stuff with my kids. It’s just basic math. And I’m good at math, I would know.

Gradually, I’ve moved from a desperate ploy at the grocery store to more strategic positioning of fun vs. not-fun activities. Say, for example, that my kids ask for cookies, and I’m generally OK with them having cookies right now. But now let’s also imagine that in about five minutes I need to get the kids into shoes and coats and buckled into their car seats to go someplace. I could give them the cookies right now, and then get them dressed and loaded up. Or I could say, “We need to leave in a few minutes, and you can have the cookies in the car. For right now I need you to go pee and put on your shoes.”

If I give the kids the cookies now, I’ll end up with two sugared-up kids who will be too busy running in circles to get out the door in a timely fashion. If I save the cookies for later, they’ll be faster getting out the door and quiet in the car. Plus (I tell myself), it’s not even really a bribe, since I’m not offering the cookies to them in exchange for good behaviour. At least, not exactly. I’m just telling them that they can have the cookies at a time that’s more convenient for me, and in return garnering more cooperation as I go about my day.

I still believe that bribery is not the most effective form of parenting. Sooner or later you’ll have to remove the bribe, and then what? I steer clear of sticker charts and I’ve never given my kids a toy for using the potty. But almost every day I do ask my toddler to use the potty before he gets to do something he enjoys like going outside, dangling the fun he’s going to have in front of him as an incentive to gain compliance. I justify it many ways, but I’m not so sure where the line between working things in my favour ends and bribery begins. Can you really say that I don’t use bribery when I’m constantly placing tasks like peeing or cleaning before tasks like playing at the park or watching TV?

I wonder what you think. Do you use bribery? And how do you distinguish between bribery and basic common sense in getting through the day with kids? And if we all use bribery in some form or another, how bad can it really be? Please weigh in!

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