Another day, another “bad mom” meme or rant.
Oh look, this one’s about how she’s always on her phone. How original.
What is it with our obsession with moms and their phones?
If a dad popped out of a school performance to take a call we’d be fine with it. We might roll our eyes and mentally give him an “oh you rascal” head tousle, it might even annoy us, but our greatest disdain would be reserved for a woman doing the exact same thing.
Dads using their phones at the park, at a restaurant or during birthday parties are all somewhat acceptable to us. But a mom on her phone in the same situation? Cue the pitchforks.
This is not a knock on Dads. It’s a knock on all of us who think mothers must be accessible and available to their kids every minute of the day. Because that’s what’s really behind our disapproval, isn’t it? We feel like she’s ignoring her kids and that makes us angry. We believe her children’s needs should take precedence over all else, regardless of the fact that she might be negotiating a deal that brings in income or filling out an online waiver for the trampoline place her kids have been begging to go to.
We judge women who dare give their device more attention than their children, which isn’t fair or realistic in 2017 when moms are using their phones to work, coordinate, plan, or schedule (and yes, to play Candy Crush on a well-deserved break. Or so I’ve heard.)
My question isn’t why does this bother us because I think the topic of unfair expectations of a mother has been sufficiently covered. My question is this:
Why do we think this is any different from the way our own mothers and grandmothers behaved?
Every generation had a means with which to ignore its children. Fathers hid behind the evening paper, mothers hosted bridge club. Dads tinkered in the garage, mom locked the kids out of the TV room when her soaps were on. In addition to being the primary way we work and communicate, smartphones are the 21st-century parent’s version of “me time” and we need to stop getting so worked up about it.
In 2012, four women wrote a book called Sh*tty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us.
The image they chose for the cover was a woman on her phone lying (or hiding) at the bottom of a children’s slide. Why? Because that’s the epitome of being a bad mom: being on your phone when you’re supposed to be watching or playing with your children.
Yes, there are reasons like safety and other very compelling arguments for keeping a close eye on our children. I’m certainly not advocating we let them run wild (much), but the judgment and vitriol that’s often directed at women who would rather scroll through Instagram than build a mud pie is vicious and unfair.
I think I’m a pretty good mom most days, but I’m not good at playing with my kids. Make-believe and “then you say this mommy and I’ll say this” and, “let’s pretend we’re in a forest and the prince is looking for us” are not my favourite activities. I know one day when I’m old and grey(er), I will regret not doing more of this, but it is what it is. And whenever I’m engaged in something that’s not absolutely (or even partially) stimulating, I reach for my phone. Maybe it’s a character flaw but scrolling through social media or a news website gives me the mental break I need; it’s a way to reconnect with the adult world after spending 20 minutes discussing whether or not Barbie should wear the blue dress or the pink one.
Sometimes this happens at home, sometimes it happens in public: at the park, in a restaurant or at the library. So when you see me out and about, I might be using my phone to set up a dentist appointment or confirm a meeting. Or maybe I’m playing Word Soup. The point is, it shouldn’t matter. If I’m not giving my children 100% of my attention it’s because I needed a break, not because I’m a bad or neglectful mother.
We all saw what happened when we jumped to judge an Illinois mom who checked her phone at the airport while her baby lied on the floor. And didn’t we all feel red-faced and guilty when she later explained that both she and her two-month-old daughter just needed a break after hours of waiting for their delayed flight?
For my mom it was sewing or taking a bath, for my grandmother it was bridge club. If she’s lucky, every woman since the beginning of time has found a way to carve out time for herself, to give herself a break from motherhood. Let’s cut her some slack.