Our household is full of distracted parenting. By that, I mean that Little L doesn't always get 100% of our attention because we also have our smartphones in hand, and are busy doing the social media thing or playing games or checking our email.
It started out innocently enough; she was a newborn who hated sleep and the phone kept us awake and entertained while we rocked her or fed her. And at age 0 months, she neither realized nor reacted to having us be on our iPhones. Fast forward 18 months, however, and we now have a full blown walking, talking toddler on our hands. She knows what she wants and she understands what is happening. She knows when she is getting our undivided attention and when she is getting that leftover time when we are waiting for something to load on the phone. And inadvertently, our actions are hurting her heart and leaving a negative lasting impression.
As I've read about this new "distracted parenting" thing, I have become quite convicted in my own failings in this particular area. Apparently, preventable childhood injuries have also been on the rise, coinciding with the time when smartphones became more popular and accessible. Though correlation doesn't necessarily imply causation, the link is certainly significant enough to warrant further study.
Furthermore, as I've been learning more about attachment theory and the importance of attachment in shaping our kids' value systems (read Neufeld's Hold On to Your Kids!), it has become all the more clear to me that my distracted parenting erodes my relationship with Little L, reducing the quality and strength of her connection with me. And this can have severe, negative consequences down the road, when peer groups threaten to replace us as her emotional and moral anchors.
It makes sense, right? Because, even at 18 months, her little brain is sophisticated enough to understand when she is being ignored or playing second fiddle to our technology. It doesn't take much for a social creature like a child to "get" that they are being considered as less important than whatever Mommy or Daddy is doing on the phone/iPad/laptop. The result is a slightly more desperate bid for our attention, or giving up in futility. And the message we are inadvertently sending is this: "you are not as important as we are or as X is. You are a nuisance and an interruption to whatever is on my phone. You are less interesting than something or someone else." Not exactly what we want to be saying to an impressionable youngster who never asked to be born in the first place.
That's not what I want Little L to think or feel. Nothing on my phone is as important as her; nothing else even comes close. And so, in owning up to my own distracted parenting, I am putting my phone away when Little L is awake. Sure, I will keep it on me sometimes so that I can take a picture whenever there's a Kodak moment that I need to capture, but I won't be logging into my social media or reading texts unless someone else is watching Little L or she's asleep.
I want to be 100% present when I'm with her, and I want her to know that she is not a bother or a pest, but entirely welcome in my world. Someone once said that babies don't keep. I tend to agree with that. Soon Little L will be older and won't be so clingy, and I will have much more time to read my emails and tweets and texts. Until then, I need to get my priorities straight, and remember that even in the boring "lull" moments with her, Little L is worth giving all of my attention to!