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Jen

Are Parents Online Too Much or Recharging Too Little?

Posted by Jen on June 23, 2010 at 8:03 AM in Media
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I'll admit, I am not that mother who skips around the house blissfully calling to her children to come do the next lovely family activity, carefully prepared and ready to go on the dining room table. I don't know if these mothers actually exist, but I know I'm not one of them.

No, in lieu of Maria from the Sound of Music, my kids got the workaholic mother who has to consciously close the computer and step away from the keyboard. I'm that mother with the kids who make big sweeping pointing motions to their open mouths while they silently scream in slow motion "Feeeeeed meeeee!" while I silently mouth back, "Hold on, I'm on a conference call!"

It's not that I love to work so much (I'm not sure that I do) as much as that there feels like there's so much work left to do. As a work-at-home mom, I can never quite get away from it. The next meeting, task or to-do item is only as faraway as that little tone on my iPhone. I don't feel great about this, but I'm also aware that if I went to work at an office every day my kids would see me about 50% less of the time. For all my phone calls and my appendage like attachment to the computer, at least it's me and not some babysitter mouthing back in silent slow motion, "Okay, okay!" as I make peanut butter and jelly for lunch or pour everyone a drink of their own.

Enter the New York Times which recently reported that researchers are concerned that parents are so plugged in that they're in danger of profoundly neglecting their children. I know I should have read it as a warning, but I mostly felt bad for the parents in the lead photo instead of the kids (one of which was surfing on an iPhone by the way). Most parents I know who can't let go of their iPhones during non-working times are plugged in because they desperately need some kind of escape to recharge and don't know how to take it. They, like me, salve their guilt, by telling themselves "at least I'm here" even when exhaustion, commitment and work-demands probably more accurately necessitate saying good-bye to the kids (and the iPhone) and taking a day or two to check into a hotel where no one--not the ringer or the five year old--can dare interrupt them.

While the researchers prepare the latest study to heap guilt on our heads, my guess is what parents really need is to read the research on the effects of parental burnout (not excessive use of technology) before they decide to do things differently. Every parent I know wants more time with their children; we just don't have the confidence or the willpower to carve out our own private recharge time when both the needs our kids and our work never really stop.

What do you think? What's the solution here? How do you monitor your own screen time when it comes to being with your kids, work and parenting?

18 Comments

Wendy writes...

Wow, you struck a chord here! I'm a former part-time university professor who has switched to working from home as a full-time freelance writer and editor for the past year-plus. I have noticed serious back and shoulder problems from my perpetual position hunched over my laptop, and my daughter, just turned 12, is convinced that my fingers are attached permanently to my computer. It tends to be the first position she sees me in in the morning (as I'm generally up working early when the house is quiet) and the last one as she goes to bed (as I'm generally up working late when the house is quiet.)

My 15-year-old son is a little less needy and thus a little less critical, but it's been a tough road. Being a freelancer means I rarely turn down work. So there are many times when I feel I simply can't get it all done, even if I were perpetually online. What I hate most is the feeling of being pulled on both ends: frustrated when my kids need food or rides or clean clothes or friends picked up when I'm on a deadline, and resentful that my summer days -- 'family time' -- is being colonized by a relentless stream of deadlines, e-mail and phone calls that need attending to.

I'm with you that what we really need is to unplug from everything for a few days of recharge, on a regular basis. It takes incredible resolve and discipline to do so. I usually have to leave home or leave town - ideally to a place with no wi-fi! But the difference - the relief - is palpable. I just need to do it more than once a year for a day or two!

Amber writes...

I am not very good at this, in all honesty. I'm working at home, and struggling to get it all done. I keep thinking that I should take the time to go on a walk by myself once a week or so, but it doesn't happen.

I am working on prioritizing, and making my kids one of those priorities. I'm trying, even if I'm not always succeeding.

Kate writes...

I couldn't agree more...the face of parenting has changed entirely over the last few generations. As much as I'd love to win "Mother Of The Year" someday, helping with the household bills by working from home and being a stay-at-home mom don't always help me secure the nomination. My kids are happy and healthy, and as far as I can tell, they aren't much worse for the wear. I don't think they recognize me quite as well without my computer in front of me though. :) But the best compromise I have found to help me cope is to get the kids out of the house and involved in a family-based activity as often as possible...a trip to the park, a walk on the beach, an adventure at the zoo. Hopefully this will help them have good memories to carry with them, ones that don't involve mommy freaking out because the home internet connection is on the blink again.

Adeah writes...

Wow, I am seeing this discussion more and more from mother's who are business owners (specifically who have a home office). I am in the middle of reading "Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself" by Amy Richards. Richards identifies these challenges as the new feminine struggles.

Just tonight I was tucking in my 5 year old daughter and she said "Mama someday can you have a no work and no computer day with me?" Thump...I picked up my heart and smiled back.

Yes, I too work from home in order to be with my children and wonder if I am making the best choice for my family. Then I remember the women a few generations ago who made a choice to be more than just a mother by going to work outside of the home. Now women like us are forging a new model of feminism. We are attempting a holistic approach by combining our home/family life with our businesses. All without a model of success to replicate.

Adeah writes...

Wow, I am seeing this discussion more and more from mother's who are business owners (specifically who have a home office). I am in the middle of reading "Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself" by Amy Richards. Richards identifies these challenges as the new feminine struggles.

Just tonight I was tucking in my 5 year old daughter and she said "Mama someday can you have a no work and no computer day with me?" Thump...I picked up my heart and smiled back.

Yes, I too work from home in order to be with my children and wonder if I am making the best choice for my family. Then I remember the women a few generations ago who made a choice to be more than just a mother by going to work outside of the home. Now women like us are forging a new model of feminism. We are attempting a holistic approach by combining our home/family life with our businesses. All without a model of success to replicate.

Ida writes...

I work in retail and am amazed at the amount of parents that are so plugged in that they completely ignore the kids that they are dragging around with them.
How about turning off the cell phone, laptop and whatever and instead of complaining that you need a vacation, why not pay attention to your child. You'd be amazed at how much better they behave.
Yesterday alone I witnessed at least 3 "misbehaving children" that had their parents only been paying attention would never have been a problem. One was a 6 month old, screaming his head off. Mom was so busy talking on the phone and complaining about her 'brat' that she never noticed that the poor kid's diaper needed changing. Mind you, everyone else could smell it.
A pair of little boys that were left behind in the glassware department while Daddy was 5 rows over texting pictures of a bedding set to Mommy to make sure it would match the bedroom set. The little boys reached up to grab the pretty glassware and dropped it on the ground. Lots of glass for maintenance to clean up, but thankfully the boys weren't hurt. Oh and Dad never stopped talking to Mom on the phone.
But my favorite was the kids dropped off in the toy department to play while Mom was shopping (on the phone and taking pictures to get friends' opinions) She was so distracted, she forgot her kids and actually drove halfway home before realizing they were missing from the back seat.
Each one claimed to be stressed out and needing a vacation. I say the only vacation they need is from their phones. Instead of taking pictures and asking a friend in the next state if a sweater looks good on you, ask your kids. Talk to them. Listen to them. You'll be raising better behaved children and you might discover that spending time with your kids is fun.

sher writes...

Do you find it as interesting as I do this article is posted "online" ? I found it ironic. Great read though with good thoughts. By the way, I'm reading it during my "quiet cup of coffee" in the wee hours of the morning before the hectic day begins.

Maria writes...

Ida is right! a vacation isn't the answer. Rearranging your life to put your kids first is the answer and if that means time management skills blah blah blah then that is what it means but the bottom line is to pay attention to your children or go back to the office, the kids may miss you but at least when they see you it will be quality time. Why do stay at home working moms think they can have it all? Work always comes first and family second when you work at home or outside of the office. Structure is off. I know from personal experience. We sold our house and i quit my job to become a parent to my child when he was 4 or 5 after having worked full time. We decided the big expensive house we were supporting by working took us away from our goal of raising our son. Tough decisions but worth all of it!! Sorry but you can't have it all without sacrificing your family for work. This is why we have these dumb articles on balancing work and family.

Amy writes...

I, too am a mother plugged in. I, too, sometimes feel as though my kids pay some cost but who doesn't? I think it doesn't matter who you are, guilt just comes with parenting and, for mothers, it comes in triplicate.

I love that I am home with my children. I was a fulltime student, founded a virtual world organization and stayed home with my kids instead of putting them into daycare. There were many mornings that I felt like "loser mother of the universe" but my kids, with their behaviors, their smiles, their self confidences and their successes remind me that I'm doing the very best job as THEIR mother. Less guilt means more time.

I think that the most important thing is to keep those lines open with your family. Gauge your abilities by how the home is responding. If your kids feel neglected, they'll act that out. If they do, prioritize. Money should never come before kids...not ever, but I'm sick of feeding the whole guilt thing. We are mothers in a changing world. If we are plugged into our children, it doesn't matter how long we're plugged in to our puters.

Darla writes...

For the last two days I've felt like I haven't "seen" my 4 yr old son even though we live together and my mate and I both work from home. Working from home means you aren't at some office all day but it also means you are at the HOME OFFICE all day. Which means juggling home duties and work duties until well after everyone else is "off work." While I recognize I am lucky to be at home working from home I also recognize that it means I'm here but I'm not really here. I cannot read studies that call me a bad parent anymore. I think we all beat ourselves up enough without someone writiing generalizations telling us how we are doing it wrong.

Sarah writes...

Thank you for having the courage to post this! It's such a vitally important topic that we all need to think about, and one that is uncomfortable for us to discuss or even acknowledge. I can't think of a single parent who doesn't need to recharge more, and who couldn't benefit from a little less technology!

Stacie writes...

I think that the situations that Ida is describing are extremes. I am a stay-at-home mom whose friends and family all work. It's a choice that we made for our children but without the computer I am totally out of touch with life. Much of my family lives great distances from us and the computer and phone are the only ways to keep in touch. We also live in a rural area where there are not many services (as in, not even a public park) and we can't afford to be constantly going in to the city to entertain ourselves.

I am on the computer too much? Yes, some days that is absolutely true because I use it as an outlet. And I absolutely agree with the, "needing to recharge". Some days I find myself at the computer more because what I really need (and want) is some quiet time for myself, even just read a book or something, or go out with my husband. At the core, this article is about not forgetting to take care of yourself. "Me time" is not something that some pampered whiny parent made up because they didn't want to take care of their kids. Kids need time away from parents so that they can learn how to deal with life without their mom and dad. Parents also need time away from their kids so that they remember why they love themselves and subsequently love their kids. I think this is even MORE true if you are working from home while your children are at home because then you are multi-tasking your entire life from your living room. At least if you work in an office you have some semblance of a break between "work" and "home".

Saying that parents don't need to recharge and get away because you have some examples of clearly bad parenting is judging technology and parents in general unfairly. Parents who would allow their children to behave badly in public would let them do that whether they were on the phone or not. There were terrible parents and misbehaved children, or forgotten children in stores long before there were cell phones.

Parenting is hard. There is no one right way. Parents were people before they were parents and every now and then we need to remember that, it really does help.

Adriana writes...

A) Your kids are not judging you, even if everyone else is. Oh, they will push you and aren't above making you feel guilty to get what they want or what they think they are entitled to (they plot like seasoned strategists, I know because that's what I did with my mom and decades later, she still isn't any the wiser).

B) FORGIVE yourself for not being a deity. Your kids don't need you to be a deity. The only person who has enough endurance to be calm, collected, and all-around compassionate is a deity. We are not them, so it's ok to let yourself not be one.

C) Kids are actually going to learn more from a parent who makes mistakes than from one who is perfect. Mistakes build resiliency (a trait that can really only be learned when someone faces trying situations). When did you learn more, when you did something right, or when you made a mistake? Now, literally give yourself permission to allow your kids to learn that lesson themselves.

D)Being a general is not a bad thing. Sometimes kids need the boundaries a ruthless leader puts in place. You can't be cute, cuddly, and happy all the time, so let yourself off of that hook too (see deity comment above). Think of good leaders and the qualities that make them top notch. Good leaders recognize that sometimes, in order to get the job done, they need to turn a blind eye to what's being chatted about, and make tough decisions that they think is right for their people. Don't think your qualified to be a mom? I bet everyone in your inner circle does, even if they've never said it. So chances are, you ARE a good mom, you just refuse to legitimize yourself by thinking that. In order to have the energy to do your mom-job, you have to legitimize yourself. However, sometimes even with people telling you your a good mom until they're blue in the face, it ultimately it won't mean a thing until you internalize it and allow it to be true. And, as we all know, chances are, it's really rare that someone will tell you you're a good mom, so it's even more important that you learn how to tell it to yourself.
Colin Powell likes to say that he lives his life looking through the front windshield. He acknowledges things that happened in the past, but he refuses to play the Blame/Shame Game with himself, no matter what the criticism. Think of the pressure he was under to play the Blame/Shame Game. Akin to the pressure I think parents feel from society to be perfect. Powell recognized that the Blame/Shame Game wasn't going get him anywhere useful. For moms (and dads) playing the Blame/Shame Game robs them of the necessary energy they need to move on after what they feel is a mistake.

Maybe its time the kids fed themselves with food you leave out for them. You're the leader, you decide. Make the decision, then look out the front windshield. You're a good mom. Don't forget it.

Veronica writes...

Wow, thanks, Adriana. I think what you said needs to be said over and over again until we all give ourselves a break. Every time I bat down the guilt enough to take a small break - going to the gym, out for coffee with friends, whatever - I am a much more patient and engaged mom when I get back.
Good advice from you and Colin Powell.

maxxi writes...

Have a zen-like sense of presence in the moment when you are with your kids. Although it doesn't seem possible at the time, it will be over so quickly, you won't know what happened.

Beth writes...

Great post. I do think it's more a matter of needing time to recharge than being plugged in too much. I chose not to work at all when my kids were little. At the time, I read about women working at home (this was 15-20 years ago) and they seemed to have a very hard time separating the two. It seemed to me at the time that there wasn't much difference in me working at home and me working away from home if I had to plop the kids in front of the TV most of the day while I worked. So I just didn't work. It was hard financially, and it was hard to restart my career, but in retrospect, or hindsight, it was the right thing to do. I actually just wrote a blog post about a very similar topic - unstructured time - at http://bethstake.blogspot.com. There are no easy answers, but it's good that we're still asking the questions.

naqueen writes...

"Aww man you found me" I am saying in a whining but happy voice that my four year old son says to my 2 year old daughter when she finds him hiding.

Although I work from home as well, sometimes I feel that I use the computer to "hide" and get away from my parental duties because I am so overwhelmed by the recession, bills and deadlines on top of the necessity to read and play with my children.

Sometimes you feel like there is not enough time in a day even though 24 hours truly is sufficient.

My guilt is upon me.

Martina writes...

Parents need to learn to manage their time & energy. In my experience, working focused hours helps a lot. For example, working for 60 minutes and than taking 20 minutes break doing something that REALLY rests me like dancing to music and so on.

I think it all comes to managing your time & energy. The internet is really addictive and you can stay up to 5 hours in front of the monitor...of course you would be tired then!

Hope this helped.

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