Like many parents, I thought my tween/teen having a cell phone was a great idea. After all, adolescents and phones is sort of the modern-day symbiotic relationship, the technological equivalent of the crocodile and the plover.
A teen with a cell phone can call you for a ride when their no-good-never-liked-them-anyway friend has too much vodka. A teen with a cell phone can call to confirm they’ve arrived safely. A teen with a cell phone can be in constant contact, a ring tone away, easing the fears and worries which seem to plague modern-day parenting.
Then I read an article written by a psychologist who argued eloquently against the rise of cell phones.** His reasons? A teen with a cell phone can call to confirm they’ve arrived safely. A teen with a cell phone can be in constant contact, a ring tone away, exacerbating the fears and worries which seem to plague modern-day parenting.
That need, desire, demand for constant contact has caused us to move from the assumption of all being well unless we get a call to the assumption of everything is wrong unless we get a call. That’s a pretty seismic shift in the parenting psyche.
Perhaps no where is the reliance upon easy, constant communication more obvious than the phone call from school; the one asking you to bring something, the one from the hallway saying I don’t feel well, come and get me, the one demanding the lunch that was left on the countertop or the homework on the bedroom floor or the money that was supposed to be in for the field trip four days ago.
This very modern tool which is supposed to make our kids–and us parents–feel safer, is, the article argued, actually preventing our children from figuring out how to get themselves out of tricky situations, accept responsibility, and yes, sometimes, even have a shitty day because they forgot their homework.
Apparently in psychological terms, it’s important to have a shitty day every now and then. I think it builds character or something. Nowadays they call it resilience. Or grit.
A few weeks ago my own phone rang before I’d even left the school parking lot. It was my tween informing me he needed me to go home and get something he needed for a class. I was on my way somewhere else. I didn’t have time to cycle home, gather the things he’d forgotten, cycle back and still get to my own class on time.
So I said no. And then promptly drowned in guilt as I listened to my son cry on the phone.
So, modern parenting dilemma #9,303: Should I have changed my plans because he forgot something? In the end, he didn’t need it right away and so there was time for me to finish my class, retrieve said items and return them to school. But if his class was first thing in the morning, he would have been out of luck.
Does that make me a good mom or a shitty one?
There is something to be said about the days of yore when as a student I would have had to procure a hall pass (no easy feat in itself), go to the office and convince the secretary to call my mother. That something is more important and more profound than simply ‘it was better back in the day’.
For me to have done that, it would have had to be pretty important. I was expected, and trusted, to look after myself, my belongings, my homework, lunch, maxi-pads, allergy meds, permission slips, class funds, and whatever else fit in my reversible fabric purse with the bamboo handle (remember those? I loved those.)
Growing up we got ourselves into all sorts of predicaments. For the most part, we got ourselves out of them as well. We were expected to and, simply because the technology didn’t exist, we were forced to. Not always, of course. I knew that when the chips were seriously down my parents would be there. But I didn’t cash in those chips unless I absolutely needed to.
At the end of the day, if either of my sons are stranded, or in a dangerous situation, of course I want to help them. If they can call me instead of putting themselves in mortal peril, I want to be on speed-dial, just a ringtone away.
But…I don’t want them calling me because they forgot something it was their responsibility to remember in the first place. What does it teach them if I drop what I’m doing to be at their beck and call other than “Oh, Mom’ll go and get it, no worries”? The fact that I don’t work adds another subtle layer. A mother who is at home is generally expected to be at the beck and call of her family, to drop whatever it is she is doing to lubricate the wheels that keep the family moving. Even if the wheels are stuck because someone else forgot to grease them.
That attitude reinforces the idea that my time is less important. My plans can be shuffled. My needs can be reorganized. It means I’m expected to always be able to put my schedule, needs, and priorities below those of my children.
Some would argue that’s what motherhood is. I’ll argue there’s a time and a place for priority reshuffling. Dropping everything, changing plans, altering schedules to essentially act as a Geisha to my kids doesn’t teach them I’m there for them. It doesn’t teach them I’ve got their back. What it does is reinforce the notion that they don’t need to look after their things or be responsible because, well, they can just call mom.
I don’t need to be the superhero, swooping in with soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and crumpled math homework, with an alternative ride home or advice on what to eat in the cafeteria. I’m ok with just being mom, kisser of scraped knees, feeler of fevered foreheads and chief moralist.
There’s a thin line between making sure your kids know they can ask for help and their relying on you for every decision, every mistake, and every predicament.
A fine line, but an important one.
**Try as I may, I can’t find the article to link here.