Last week, I only shared with you the somewhat-less-humiliating half of my phone-drowning experience. Here is the full version: I read one too many of the guilt-tripping articles and mommy-blog posts and Facebook confessions about missing your child’s childhood all because of your darned smartphone. I lost my temper. I was visiting at a dear friend’s house on a grey, rainy Thursday afternoon, and I gave in to a royal rant against the lovely, well-intentioned “Hands Free Mama
Such is the love of my Savior for me, and such is His equally irresistible love for irony, that upon leaving said-friend’s house after the storm had passed, I dropped my iPhone into a big puddle next to the car, saved it narrowly, only to flick it into a half-empty glass of water in my driver’s seat cupholder. Which is why I adamantly believe “God made me do it”.
I wish I were exaggerating any one of these embarrassing details, but I cannot tell a lie. I also have to give God a hand in this story. Credit where credit is due, so to speak.
So it was a quiet week. I was sufficiently humbled, and I learned a really important lesson. But it may not be what you might think. Honestly, being without the Internet everywhere I went was, disappointingly, not a big dramatic deal at all. Before the terrible Puddle Incident, when I read some of the “Hands Free Mama” articles, I had wondered morbidly if I was addicted to my phone, or if I’d be a more attentive parent without it.
I’m not and I wasn’t.
Verdict after my week of no phone: I spent the same amount of cuddle and giggle and dance time with Mr Baby as with the evil iPhone. I usually found myself reading or making lists or cleaning while he contentedly drove his cars up and down the long-suffering Max’s face. I didn’t miss the phone at all, but it’s disappearance did not magically turn me into an endlessly-entertaining babysitter.
(The hardest part was not being able to text my best friends. That stunk. I can see how the invention of texting has been the bane of the parent of a teenager’s existence, but as a young mother, texting is genius for enabling sufficient communication with the outside world).
A Mother’s Guilt
It is possible there are indeed mothers who really need a wake up call. It is even more possible that I will be one of those mothers at some point in my glittering career.
But honestly, do we really think that a technological innovation (that has been over fifty years in its gradual evolution and implementation) is responsible for changing the dynamics of the parent-child relationship? A relationship that is among the most instinctive and primal of them all? I mean, do we all really, really imagine that before smartphones or cellphones or any phones mothers spent all their time staring like the Madonna at their precious babies? Read “Little House on the Prairie”. Baby Carrie was cute, she was loved, but her mama was way too busy with all the important necessities for their survival to spend her days baby-centered.
Why do we mothers need one more thing to feel painfully guilted about? I swear, I did not realize what I had signed up for when that first wave of Mother’s Guilt swept over me something like, oh, 3 days into my life postpartum. It is a real thing. I understood my Mom like I never had before after that little “Welcome to Motherhood” reality slap.
I have heard my Grammy sigh that she wishes she could’ve been a young mother in our day and age (instead of the smartphone-less sixties? gasp!) because these young moms have been taught and encouraged to be so much more attached and affectionate with their babies than she was. Mothers in her day were expected to be a bit distant and reserved with their children. She watched her daughter and her sons’ wives with a wistful, guilty longing as they snuggled and kissed their offspring, and did everything with their babies on their hips.
Why I Don’t Believe In “The Good Old Days”
“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again,
there is nothing new under the sun.”
– Ecclesiastes 1:9
I think every mother of every age and generation has needed little reminders to soak up her time with her little ones. Because it is just a fact of human nature that we get distracted. It takes very little time to take for granted the most wonderful miracles.
It happens with everything. You fall in love with the man of your dreams and get married on the most emotionally-exalted day of your lives and, in the blink of an eye, you’ve forgotten how stupendously exciting it is to wake up next to him.
No one ever has lost a loved one and not wished they’d spent more time just loving them.
You give birth to a sweet, dimpled, red-faced black-haired squinty-eyed and starving little baby, and then suddenly life fast-forwards and you don’t feel quite as if you’re revolving around that baby anymore.
I don’t think this is a sign of something unhealthy or wrong or generational, even though I know I just sound defensive. But I honestly think (and maybe I’m totally off here)… I think it’s just human nature.
“We slowly grow tired of the old, of what we safely possess, and we stretch out our hands again; even the most beautiful landscape is no longer sure of our love after we have lived in for three months, and some more distant coast excites our greed: possession usually diminishes the possession.”
– Nietzsche, aph. 14 of The Gay Science.
Mothers of “the good ole days” before ours were too busy watching out for the survival of their families to fret over the fact that they lost that complete attachment to their babies sometime after the first few months of sleepless adoration. Mothers before our time were probably just glad to be able to get back to kneading bread, reaping harvests, sewing quilts and keeping their children warm and fed when that beautiful newborn attachment wore off.
The Whys and Wherefores of How Mothers Are Wired
Having grown up in the large Catholic family bubble, I can say this seemingly-natural mentality is also present in mothers who have more than 3 children. The most attentive mothers of a large brood are able to devote a little bit of undivided time and attention to each individual child per day, but the rest of the day they have to be content with observing from a distance as they keep after the laundry and meals. And it works out perfectly as the children then have each other to entertain and enjoy.
Personally, I think this is how mothers were wired – for the survival of our families! We were wired to be completely absorbed with our infants, and then gradually (and healthily) to lose that attachment as the babies became self-sufficient, so we could get back to watching over the comfort and welfare of the entire family.
We weren’t wired to be attached at the hip for very long. We human beings can’t function on that exalted, in-love frame of mind constantly. I am grateful for little surges of love for Will throughout our busy days… I’m grateful to be able to act on them immediately, by a spontaneous reading of
“Brown Bear, Brown Bear” with enthusiasm,
or a dance sesh with Jack Johnson in the kitchen as dinner simmers,
or an epic hide and seek game in the bedroom when I’m trying to put away laundry.
And sometimes, even when I’m not feelin’ that surge of love, Will does, and I have to put down whatever is keeping me preoccupied, and indulge his need for me, as he tugs my pants leg with insistent vehemence. Feeling needed is a good feeling.
I do not feel guilty that for the majority of the day I am consumed with the meals, or my marathon training plan, or my husband, or Mitt Romney’s military defense policies, or Fresh Air podcasts (especially if they involve Jimmy Fallon, Aaron Sorkin or Meryl Streep), or tub-scrubbing. Maybe I am being really prideful, but you know what, I believe this is natural and healthy.
Finally, if you still can’t help feeling guilty and fretful for not being able to be your child’s constant playmate as well as caregiver, my expert prescription would be to just have more babies! I understand that fear and anxiety disappears quite naturally. 😉
(This picture is way too blurry for a blog – but I adore that happy face!)