Isn’t it nice not to feel all alone? Isn’t it wonderful that feeling we have when we are struggling, as parents, with something that has us thinking we are so extremely isolated…and we hear someone say, “me, too! Yes, I understand! My toddler has also drawn all over the walls with a sharpie! Yes, I feel your pain! My kids would also find astro-physics much less complicated than sitting next to each other for any amount of time in the back of the car without bickering over the exact amount of butt space due, by some divine law, to each of them! Me, too! Me, too!” Now, imagine if, instead of those initial overwhelming feelings of desperation, and frustration in our parenting challenges, we would instead feel instantly reassured and empowered by the intrinsic knowledge that there are so many others struggling right along side us? And with such similar problems! If, instead of so often plodding along parallel parenting, we parents reached out more to share… not only the good, but the bad and the ugly, as well, without feeling judged? Personal experience has taught me not to take the smile and suppressed laughter of the woman in the grocery store, who has just seen my child completely melt down under the cart, lodging his knee somehow in the frame and causing the manager to be called to eventually free him with the help of a screw driver as his knee swells and an audience of elderly woman consoles him and makes me feel guilty even though I TOLD HIM NOT TO GO UNDER THE CART, as an insult. I imagine that in some small way I am making her feel better about her own parenting nightmares…as I abandon the loaded cart and scoot my children through the crowd and out the door past the arriving paramedics, instructing them to keep their heads low and not to look back. Certainly, whatever hell she may have left to go shopping now seems that much less daunting thanks to me and my children. Thanks to me and my children, she perhaps feels reenergized and ready to face her own life challenges. For every time I turn to answer my whining or complaining angels, there are three more that I turn only to realize that mine do not happen to be with me at the time and that someone else’s angels are doing the whining…and I smile, not out of cruelty or judgment, but in total and complete understanding. No, we are not alone.
I say this with the conviction (ok…the hope) that I am not the only one dealing with one of my current top parental struggles: my teenager’s addiction like behavior and complete unadulterated, irrational terror every time the moment comes to disconnect from her cell phone and other electronics. Now, I understand that, in her case, as she has so generously explained, being the very last person of her age on the entire planet to have received a cell phone, and thus some aspirations of having a social life, she is playing catch-up. I get that she has suffered further at our hands, and has had to make the difficult journey of coming to terms with being in possession of (not owning…as I have already explained to her many times that her father and I own everything in the house and let her use some of it at our complete discretion) THE lamest means of electronic communication…which just barely qualifies as a cellphone and…heaven forbid…has absolutely no access to the internet. Despite this affront, bless her young heart, she has delved deep into her soul and found the strength to forgive us…and to form a psychological bond to the little blue unit of joy that is her flip phone. The fact that she must occasionally completely detach from the digital world and remain in the sole company of her thoughts…or heaven forbid…her family…must seem a cruel and unusual punishment indeed.
“My friends won’t know what happened to me if I don’t answer their texts! I can’t just DISAPPEAR! I NEED TO SAY GOODBYE TO THEM ALL! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! WE ARE HAVING A VERY IMPORTANT CONVERSATION!” Then there is one of my personal favorites…of the last-ditch-effort persuasion: “What if I need to ask someone something about my homework?! What if someone NEEDS MY HELP?!”
And please do not think me naive…at least not anymore…. I know they are chatting on the school computers while supposedly doing homework. I see the multitude of little windows quickly closing on the screen of her school issued laptop as I peek in to monitor progress. I am very well aware of the fact that I am fighting an uphill battle…that every time I turn around there is another device undermining my efforts. Even the simplest Kindle…bought for vacation packing purposes…has become my enemy in this war.
A while back, after some bad experiences with hiding things so well from the kids that I sometimes could no longer find them myself, I began packing all the remotes and devices into a bag which I would then throw into the car to take along when I knew the older kids would arrive home from school before me, in order to at least slightly increase the odds of some homework getting done in my absence. This bag has been getting heavier and heavier. I may eventually need a bigger car…. Though for the most part effective, this method has not been without collateral damage. Picture one tired stressed out husband arriving home early (which, in my defense…sorry, the lawyer in me insisted I add this, NEVER happens…mostly….). Now picture said husband frantically combing the house for the television remotes, which are, unbeknownst to him, out having coffee with me as I teach an Italian lesson…. Yeah….
There is also a part of me that is not very helpful in this battle…a part that I would go so far as to label a traitor to the cause, at times. This part of me feels guilty about following through when I cut the kids off from electronics and electronic social interaction, even in the face of all the evidence on my side…telling me that I am doing the right thing! I don’t want to ruin their social lives (the rational part of me knows that I am not…BUT WHAT IF I AM?!)! It is that same part of me that so badly wanted to let her have the lollipop or toy she would so meekly request as a toddler, those big brown eyes drilling into my soul, mere seconds after having thrown herself on the shop floor in a full out temper tantrum. The kids can smell that part of me like hungry savage animals ready to pounce, which is why 9 times out of 10 they come at me with the sad eyes and trembling voice. It is so much easier to say “no” when they are being fresh and combative. For this reason I know that I must resist and opt for my long term parenting goals over the instant gratification that their sweet happy smiles and “you are the bestest mom”s would give me in the moment. These are the inner battles that I hope will help to win the war…but they are SO HARD.
So, for those teenagers out there texting mine and possibly becoming concerned, frustrated, or even panicked (so I have been told) at the lack of an immediate response, I would love to have an automatic text message (not an app…this kid is not getting a smart phone from these cruel parents anytime soon) easy to activate at the moment she turns her cellphone over (or has it pried from her trembling hands). No need for an audio message… I don’t recall ever having seen her actually speak into her phone. What would this message read? I will have to work on that, but off the top of my head….
“Hey there! (awkward adult attempt to seem somewhat cool). You have texted the cellphone currently used by our daughter. Have no fear! Do not despair! She is not upset with you…that I know of…and is not texting you at the moment because she is fifteen, does not pay the cell bill, and can thus have this cellphone removed from her possession at any moment for a variety of reasons. She will eventually text you back when she is once again happily reunited with her phone. Oh..and in the meantime, if you are having trouble with your homework and truly feel that only she can illuminate you, you are welcome to call the old-fashioned contraption attached to our landline with which you will be able to ask your questions directly and receive her answers in realtime… almost as if you were standing there next to her…. An incredible experience, indeed.”