As far as parenting goes, you might say I’m a bit of an expert. Being a parent for the last five years, I learnt a thing or two, or should I say one hundred and two? One of the things I know for sure is that watching my five-year-old daughter Poppy play on the swings, monkey bars, or whatever you call those kiddie contraptions is one of the most boring events you will to pretend to enjoy as a parent.
A simple and straightforward remedy to the tedious and mind-numbing drudgery of being at said swings is our trusty smartphones. As humans we are evolving, and smartphones and our obsessive, bordering-on-compulsive use of them is evidence of this. The moment my kid hits the swings I take out my Samsung S4 and check my Facebook. OK, I checked it five minutes before I left, but who knows what important status updates may have been posted that desperately crave my likes. OK, my child also desperately craves my likes, and she yells, “Mummy, mummy look!” as I begrudgingly look up and pause my awesome run on Minion Rush, fake a smile, and force a “That’s great, honey.” Kids are so selfish; do they think my minion will collect bananas all on its own? Come on, going up and down on a swing takes little brains and little skill, yet she yells out for me to look at least fifteen times over a fifteen-minute period of doing the exact same activity. “OK, honey, I get that you are on a swing, but get over it,” I resentfully think as I make an awesome Zumba playlist on Spotify. Can’t she see I’m busy? Can’t she deduce that my complete lack of attention and focus in her play time means I have more important things to do? If crushing her heart is the price I have to pay for crushing on Candy Crush, then what can I say? So be it. I am not alone in completely feigned interest in my children being joyful and living in the present. When I look around, my parental peers are also absorbed in their smartphones, looking as busy and disinterested as myself. Whether chatting, updating, or playing games, they feel my pain.
Of course, there is always the stuck-up faker who must have forgotten to charge her smartphone before setting off for the swings, and who disguises her poor planning skills as engaged parenting. Staring at your kids as they play with keen loving interest and attention and not staring mindlessly at your smartphone means either you have no life, you are too poor for a phone, or you’re a paedophile pretending to be a parent. There is no other explanation.
People keep telling me that I need to enjoy these moments with my child because they pass so quickly. Christ, I wish! These years of her being so cloying and desperate for attention and approval just seem to be dragging on, and I’ll be dammed if I voluntarily give up one of the various distractions I have to take my mind away from this emotional responsibility. What’s next? What, I should stop drinking Sauvignon Blanc with my lunch? I mean, for Christ’s sake. I’m a parent with a kid at the swings; isn’t that enough? Hasn’t that little manipulative minx already gotten her pound of flesh? I could be doing what I was doing before we went to the swings. That is me on the sofa, forcing her to watch TV, while I keep posting airbrushed profile pictures of myself on Facebook that I expect anyone who cares about me to like and compliment. Four hundred pics of me and three of my child with me doesn’t make me vain or narcissistic; it just means Facebook is my “me space,” and it makes sense to have “me” all over it.
What’s worse is how after fifteen minutes at the park I have gotten bored of using my phone and my child has the cheek of moaning we haven’t been there long enough. Deep breaths. Who knew being this selfless would be such a thankless task? One day I hope she grows up with her own children to wilfully ignore and resent, and then she will understand and think, “Poor mummy. I should have given her more uninterrupted time on her phone. Maybe if I did she would have loved me more.” When I lie on my death bed will I regret staring aimlessly at a flickering screen whilst she played before me? Yeah, I’ll regret that all right, regret not doing it enough. Our kids need to know most of what they do is boring and parental approval is earnt, not assumed. OK, do a couple back flips at the disembark from the swing, and then yes, maybe a mild applause is deserved as I smugly look over at the other parents and their lame-ass kids.
Beyond that, if we care about our kids, being locked and fixed on phones is how we parents teach them an important life lesson: To get attention and approval, it isn’t enough to just be yourself. You need to impress, stand out, and break a leg, literally or figuratively. In the new nanny state of “every kid is a winner,” kids fail to see most are losers, and being on my smartphone, thinking solely of myself, gives my daughter the right example she needs to follow. What matters in life is doing what you want, and when she interrupts me doing what I want with what she wants, it’s showing she’s still yet to really grasp that important life lesson, so it makes sense that I need to keeping showing her that.
Also, let’s not forget that they are called smartphones for a reason; using them makes you smart, and being smart is a good thing, or at least it used to be in the USA. So next time you’re at the park, don’t use your phone like a sneaky heroin addict; take it out and be proud while you ignore your kid being forced to eat a handful of sand by a fourteen-year-old boy inappropriately playing on the swings. It’s called being an American, and being mindlessly locked on a screen doing nothing says, “I care about my kids, and as a parent I’m basically better than you.” Who doesn’t want to be a better parent?