On Friday, the Deseret News posted an article by Tonya Ferguson called Dear Mom on the iPhone. The author shared a letter-style article written to a mom at the park who checked her phone as her kids played. Ms. Ferguson informed this mom of all the sweet moments with her children she was missing or only engaging in halfheartedly while she placed most of her attention on her phone. She informed this mother that although she is sure her heart is in the right place, she needs to “put [her] eyes back on [her] prize” and stop showing her kids that “the phone is more important than they are,” because their childhood is passing quickly and (apparently) every moment not spent fixated on the children is a reminder of their unimportance in their mother’s life.
As I first started to read the article, I’ll admit to feeling the defensiveness of the damned. Why, just a few days ago I took my son to the park and planted myself on a bench to read a book while he played. Every few minutes, he’d come over to me and take my hand, and I’d stand ready to catch and ‘swoop’ him at the bottom of the slide or help him climb up a high step, then I’d head back to my bench and pick up my book and let him play on his own for a few more minutes. I felt a guilty prick as I read the article: was I really that terrible of a mother because I didn’t spend every moment at the park playing with him? Did he really feel he was unimportant to me simply because I brought a book to read while he played? Was I really teaching him that he was unloved or unworthy of my attention because I stole a few moments of playtime at the park to enjoy a moment of quiet with a book?
Then my guilt transformed into a feeling of annoyance, and different questions replaced my self-doubting ones: when will this judgment stop? When will we, as mothers, band together in love and support of each other instead of continuing to come up with an infinite number of ways to criticize others’ parenting style and choices? Why can’t we, as mothers and parents and women, trust that we are each doing our best, no matter how different that ‘best’ may look from one woman to the next? Why can’t we each be given the respect to make our own choices with our children, and not be made to feel like failures when we don’t all make identical choices?
My visit to the park with a book would surely have warranted the criticism of Ms. Ferguson. Because I heard my son “whee!”-ing his way down the slide and continued reading after only a quick glance up at him to say, “Good job!” Because after a few minutes of chasing and tickling him while he laughed and shouted in excitement, I told him, “Ok, have fun! Mommy’s going to sit down for a few minutes.” Because once or twice, when he came to take my hand and pull me up from my seat on the bench, I told him, “Go on and head down the slide! That looks like fun!” and chose to stay sitting with my book instead.
But what Ms. Ferguson doesn’t see is the rest of the picture. Every other moment of my—and the infamous ‘mom with the iPhone’s’—life. She is armed and ready to criticize us for our moment of quiet at the park, but what she doesn’t see are the meals enjoyed together, spent laughing and joking and talking about the day. She doesn’t see the game we played together before heading to the park, or the snuggling while we watched a movie together after we came home. She doesn’t see the book we read together before naptime, or the comfort we offered after a scary nightmare last night, or the ‘tickle monster’ attack when Daddy got home from work that day. She doesn’t see our tears as we question our choices or worry about our children or wonder if we’re doing a good job raising them. No, just the moment with the book or iPhone in the park is enough for her to decide that “the phone is more important than [the children] are.”
I want my children to know how precious they are to me. I want them to know that they are loved deeply and cherished and worried for and thought about and prayed for, and I do everything I can to make sure of it. But another important lesson that I want them to learn is that mom is a person, too. Just like them, Mom has her own needs and wants that might be different from theirs. I want them to know that the world does not revolve around their every whim and desire. I hope to teach them, perhaps, that mom could sure use a few minutes on the couch with her book to regain some energy to play with them more a little later, and that I have responsibilities and interests outside of their daily care. I want them to learn that I trust them to be able to entertain themselves, that I have confidence that they will be able to play on their own and have fun without Mommy’s constant interaction. I want them to see and know that just as they sometimes want a moment to play alone or watch TV or not participate in an activity that doesn’t look fun to them, Mom also sometimes needs a few quiet minutes or a chance to catch up on something she needs to do.
So, no, I do not feel guilty about reading my book in the park the other day. And I’ll do it again, gladly, because as important as my child is to me, I also value myself, my own wants and needs, the person that I was before I had a child and the person that I am today who, just like my son, also deserves nourishing and time and growth. I love my son and I make sure he knows it, and I do not believe that taking a few moments for myself detracts from that love in any way. In fact, I truly feel that I am a better mother after taking some time to focus on myself and meet my own wants and needs, and if that time for myself comes in the form of a few moments to read in the park or—gasp—to use my phone to text my sister or catch up on friends’ news on facebook, I will gladly embrace it. Sure, I might miss a few sweet moments here and there while taking time for myself, but the trade-off, for me, is worth it: I’ll be rejuvenated enough, renewed enough, and whole enough to appreciate more greatly the moments I am fully present for.
Now, I don’t mean for this post to just be a backlash to the “Mom on the iPhone” article. I have no doubt that Ms. Ferguson is a fabulous mother, and I hope that she didn’t intend her article to be a criticism of other moms and their need—which maybe she herself doesn’t feel—to take a moment for themselves amid the wildness that is a day with young children. I hoped that I could touch on something bigger, and could maybe start to reverse the idea that we, as mothers and women, somehow have the right to criticize each other, that we have the role and responsibility of making others’ decisions for them and deciding after a moment’s observation that we know what is best for someone else’s family and their children.
From now on, this will be my mantra: “I am doing my best. And so is she.”
I truly can’t think of a mother I know who does not appear to be doing her best with her children, who doesn’t value and cherish those little ones and make sure they know her feelings toward them. And I similarly can’t think of a mother who isn’t already acutely aware of her shortcomings and failures with her family, who doesn’t despair over the things she’s done poorly and try to improve them. I can’t think of a mother I know who would hear a parenting criticism from a stranger without thinking, “I already knew that, and I already feel badly about it.” We don’t need to criticize each other—we’re all doing a magnificent job of criticizing ourselves already.
Some moms’ best might include balancing a full-time job with motherhood—more power to them. Some moms’ best might involve homeschooling their children or planning elaborate Pinterest-worthy activities to educate and entertain them—good for them. Some moms’ best might mean frequent iPhone checks throughout the day to connect with family and friends to feel supported and loved and validated. We’re all doing our best, whatever that may look like. And I hope we can all start trusting that our ‘best’ doesn’t all have to look the same, and start doing each other the favor of respecting and supporting each others’ ‘best’ without feeling the need to criticize or look down on their choices and actions.