The other day, a friend posted an article on Facebook which defended parents who *GASP* dared to use their smartphones while their kids were playing nearby. Apparently, if you’re a parent, the expectation is that you will devote 100% of your attention, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to everything your children do.
To which I say, Um, nope.
Here’s the thing: Love ’em to death, children are not the center of the universe.
*dodges rotten fruit, rocks, parenting manuals that admonish you for telling your kid no*
Children are an important part of the universe, to be sure. Raising them is an important job, one that requires a great deal of time, patience, and willingness not to apprentice them to the next chimney sweep who knocks on the door. I love my kids. I would do anything for my kids. I will do my best to set a positive example for them. But what I will not do is give up who I am simply because I am a parent.
Being a parent is one facet of a greater whole, that greater whole being me the individual. My individuality is enhanced by parenthood, not diminished. I did not lose my identity when I had kids. In fact, I’d argue the opposite is true. I wanted to be a writer for a long time, but didn’t actually write my first book until about six months after my first daughter was born. Before kids I had time to waste, and essentially was under no pressure to do anything.
But now? Now I’ve got kids. And let’s be honest: kids are time-sucks. They are adorable, but they are demanding little turds. Because they require so much attention and care, they force you to prioritize and buckle down when it comes to ensuring you maintain some semblance of your own self. Only, I think a lot of people believe a parent’s sense of self should be cryogenically frozen until some indeterminate point in time when the kids are done being raised.
I am a parent, but I am still a person. Walking around regretting all the crap I want to do but feel guilty about doing so I wind up not doing it is only going to make me feel worse, which in turn will make me cranky, which in turn mucks up my ability to parent well.
(Here’s the part where I finally start tying all this rambling to smartphones.)
The longer I stay home with the girls, the harder it gets to do things like play Barbies, color, do crafts, watch cartoons, and take trips to the park. Partly it’s because I’m a grownup, and want to do grownup things. But mostly it’s because all the Barbies, crafts, coloring books, cartoons, and trips to the park are 24/7 of the same thing we’ve been doing year in, year out. Everything my kids do does not have to be recorded, remarked upon, or otherwise acknowledged. Sometimes, it’s okay for me just to be there in case they need something. Sometimes, daddy needs a break.
(Okay, lots of times daddy needs a break.)
So, I turn to my phone or iPad. I don’t play games. I don’t watch shows. When I’m tapping away, apparently ignoring my kids, I’m usually on Facebook, twitter, or refreshing my email 300,000 times a day. What am I doing on all those sites? I talk to friends who live in the states. (Most of my friends here work, so most of my day is spent interacting solely with children.) I talk to other writers and beef up my online profile, because like it or not, a social media presence is a requirement for anyone who wants to break into, let alone make it in, the publishing world. I also try to squeeze in moments of writing, because I’m a writer, and that’s what I need to do to feel like a complete, productive human being.
I chose to have kids. I did not choose to lose my identity. Do things I want get back-burnered? All the time. Does that drive me crazy? All. The. Freaking. Time. But that’s life. You figure out how to fit in what you need for one very simple reason:
It makes you a better, happier person, and, by extension, a better, happier parent.