Saturday, April 28, 2012

Stop Shutting Out Our Children

I was at the doctor's office with my son the other day, and while I was sitting in the waiting room I witnessed something that has become all too commonplace in my opinion, and we all need to do something to change it.  If we don't, I don't know what kind of people we will have in the future.  I see it all the time and sadly, I have been guilty of it to a degree myself.  But for the first time I was overwhelmed by what I was witnessing and it made me extremely sad.

There are two sections to the waiting room in our doctor's office separated by a wall - an attempt to keep the sick patients separated from the well patients.  I was sitting on the one side with my back to the separating wall and I could hear the interactions between a mother & her child.  Until this point I had not seen either of them, and had no idea the age of the child or what was really happening.  Honestly, I wasn't paying much attention to them at all until I head the mother scream out, "Get over here right now or I'm going to beat your ass!"  Well, now they had my attention!

I could hear the distinct beeps of typing/texting on a cell phone.  A few squeals of joy from a child.  Some quick and small foot steps.  Laughter.  More texting.  Message beeps.  All broken up by, "Get OVER here!  Now!"  We've all been there at some point I'm sure - We're out in public & our child is behaving in a way that we wish they wouldn't.  I really tried to put myself in this mother's shoes before jumping to a judgement of her.  I remember when K was about 11 months old and had just started to learn to walk.  I went to one of my first Holistic Mom's meetings and there was a guest speaker giving a presentation about water.  K, having just learned to walk, wanted to run around the entire room and explore every crevice.  She writhed & wiggled to try to get down off my lap.  And when I did put her down, she was off!  Getting into everything that she "shouldn't" have.  Stacks of hand-outs about water.  Women's purses.  The giant bin of pretzels offered as a snack to attendees.  Me, being new to the group and the only person who actually brought a child to the meeting, had no idea what was appropriate for the situation. I certainly didn't want to be that parent, with the unruly child who ruined the meeting.  But I also didn't want to reprimand K or keep her from exploring her world, which had just expanded tenfold to her since she could now walk.  So I did what I thought appropriate for the situation - I stayed near her and when she grabbed things that I thought were off limits (keys from someone's purse), I took it out of her hands, gently said, "no", and moved her to another part of the room that was "safe" for her.

But my attention was on my daughter.  I shifted it from time to time to the guest speaker's words, but overall the point of his presentation was lost to me as I was making sure my child was safe and not disturbing anyone else to the point of annoyance.  And just as I was thinking of this night that happened over two years ago, a little girl comes waddling around the wall.  I make eye contact with her, smile, and say, "hi!".  She can't be more than 13 or 14 months old.  She lights up & screeches with glee!  She is so happy to just be there!  To be walking and seeing people and finding things.  She waddles towards the door, stumbles & falls as new walkers do.  But then she gets back up & claps her hands in delight and smiles.  She sees a bin of books and runs towards it.  Of course, stumbles & falls again and gets up with delight.  I'm offering her words of encouragement, things like, "Great job!", "Yay!  You got back up!", all the things I would say to my own kids when they start walking.  And then the girl's mother stomps around the wall.  She is young, easily 10 years my junior.  "Get over here, NOW!" she yells as she keeps her face tuned to her phone, fingers moving madly, never missing a beat.  "You LEAVE that baby ALONE!"  And with that, she picks up her daughter and gives her a smack on the bottom. 

I have several problems with this scene happening before me, but I am trying to relate to this woman and give her the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe she is concerned that her daughter is bothering me.  Maybe she doesn't want her child near my child because mine could be contagious and she doesn't want her daughter getting sick.  And I should mention that at this point we are the only people in the entire waiting area.  So I say to this mother, "Don't worry about us, she's not bothering us at all!  She's adorable!"  And I proceed to try to make small-talk, trying to talk this mom down from wherever her rage is coming from.  Maybe she's just upset because her daughter isn't listening to her.  Maybe she's been at it all day & the repetition is getting old & wearing on her last nerve - I get that.  We've all been there!

But this mother never looked up from whatever was happening on her phone.  She had this wonderful daughter, this beam of light who was so happy, who was learning right in front of us, and she was missing it.  And she was angry.  And she was shutting out her own daughter.  Why?  Because she had to text someone?  She had to update a Facebook status?  It killed me that when the nurse came to call them back into the room, this mother never acknowledged the nurse at all and remained focused on her phone, never looking up.  To me, that's just rude.  And many of us are doing this.  With all of the technology that exists now, we feel the need to "stay connected" and consume whatever is thrown at us.  Mothers are choosing status updates over watching their children learn.  Fathers are watching videos instead of what is right in front of them.  And the result is that we are actually LESS connected to what is happening in our own day to day lives.  We want to stay up to date on everything that everyone else is doing, but we are losing sight of our own world, of what is REAL.  We are distracted from everything because we want to miss nothing.

We are all guilty of this to an extent, myself included.  And in this day & age it would be almost impossible to avoid technology completely.  Sometimes we have to take phone calls, we have to answer a text, we have to go online for something.  It's unavoidable.  And if your kids are like mine, the second I put the phone to my ear is when they become the most needy.  Sometimes we have no choice - we have to pay the bills and call customer service, and wait on hold indefinitely, and a whining child in the background can make you want to scream.  And sometimes we do.  Sometimes we have to shut out our children so that we can keep our lives moving forward.  We tell our children to hold on for a minute while we make a phone call.  We say we'll do something later, just as soon as I finish filling out this form.  But we have to find a balance.  Otherwise we'll all be rude zombies walking around, eyes glued to a small screen and not even taking note of the people surrounding us.  What to you have to tend to right now and what do you want to focus on?  For people with children, especially the young ones, your answer should be your children.  Yes, there are times that our focus needs to be directed elsewhere, but every time we shut them out we are telling them that they are not important.  Every time we don't include them in what we are doing we are sending the message that they do not matter.

I came across a quote yesterday & it made me think about this mother in the doctor's office: 
"Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what.  If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big.  Because to them, all of it has always been big stuff." ~Catherine M. Wallace
In the end it's the relationship with your children that matters most, not the Tweets or latest viral video.  I assure you, life goes on if you do not answer every single text you receive.  Take steps to ensure that your child knows that he or she is the most important thing in your life.  A few months ago we implemented the rule that there is to be no non-essential internet usage while the children are awake, unless the other adult is there to tend to the children.  Yes, we can look up directions or weather or things like that if we have to because there are things we need to know on a daily basis.  But Facebook?  Blogging?  Right now Laura is lying on the couch covered in children so that I can post this blog.  If she wasn't, it would sit here as a draft until the children are napping or asleep for the night.

They are only small for a short time.  Make sure you are invested & present in every moment that you are with them.  Make it matter.  They will remember it.


  1. This touches home in every single way. I am all too aware of my own faults in this type of thing, but also know that because I am aware, I am more attentive when needed. My heart breaks for the kids who don't have parents involved and I do see those situations like you mentioned way too often. I read a father's blog about this very thing not too long ago. I can't member the blog, but the post was titled, "congratulations. You just broke your kid." it's all equally heartbreaking, and find a balance we must. With that, I will go, as tobin is about to walk through the door. Baby is sleeping. ;)

  2. Yes, I read that as well a while ago. I am sure that you're a tougher critic of yourself than needs be. We all have our moments & that's OK, as long as we're aware of it & at least make an effort to change for the better :)