I often look at Aiden and think to myself, "What did I ever do to deserve you?" I know I'm not alone in that thought as I've spoken to enough parents to learn this is a common consensus between those of us who really love our children.
My son is four and I am 24. To say that he and I are growing up together isn’t much of an exaggeration. I was 19 when I found out I was pregnant. and I’ve been raising Aiden pretty much on my own since he was born. He and I have figured out a lot of things together and as much as I’ve tried teaching him how the world works, he’s ended up teaching me twice as much.
Aiden is such a sweet and wonderful little boy. He says “please” and “thank you” without being instructed to do so; he’s fairly well behaved in public and at home; he’s polite and acknowledges people when they are talking to him. But he also has his moments like the rest of us. The thing about being a single mom is there is never anyone there to give you a break. I remember when I was mouthing off to my mom, she would walk away and my dad would step in. I don’t have that. I try to discipline while being patient and not losing my cool but sometimes I lose control. Sometimes I yell – a lot louder and harsher than I intend to. I’ve said things to him in moments of fury that I wish I could take back. I’ve gotten mad about little things that weren’t a big deal and weren’t worth getting mad over and hurt his feelings. I’m not a perfect mom and he’s not a perfect child but we’re figuring this out together. He’s teaching me patience and understanding.
Sometimes when I’m in a hurry and he’s not walking fast enough or getting out of the car quick enough, I’ve said, “Hurry up! Let’s go! Walk faster!” I don’t do that anymore. He can only walk as fast as his little legs can go. I walk beside him and hold his hand without rushing him. Wherever we’re going, it can wait. People can wait.
Sometimes when he’s asked “WHY?” what feels like 100 times, I’ve said “Because! I don’t know… just stop asking!” and I hate that I’ve said that. I don’t anymore. I answer each question to the best of my ability. I don’t want him to ever stop questioning “why” things happen, etc. I answer until he’s satisfied and it helps him learn things in the process. It helps me learn things too! I’ve often had to use good ol’ Google to accurately answer a question that I didn’t know the answer to.
There were times when Aiden would ask me, “Mommy, will you play with me? Here – you can be Superman!” as he hands me an action figure. I would put it down and say, “Hang on just a second.” while I was scrolling through Facebook’s newsfeed on my iPhone app. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you how many times something similar to this has happened before my wake-up call. I’ve lost out on a lot of precious hours of playtime because I thought getting caught up on the latest gossip between Rebecca and Mark’s dysfunctional relationship was more important. And you know when it hit me? The last time this happened, he sat on the floor with his action figures and said, “I don’t have anyone to play with me. I’m all alone.” I looked up from my phone and felt like someone had ripped my heart from my chest. Just thinking about that statement brings tears to my eyes. It makes me feel sick to my stomach. How could I do this to my child? I was blessed with this sweet, loving, smart, and beautiful child and I’ve made him feel like he’s all alone because I couldn’t put my damn phone down long enough to give him the attention he wants, needs, and most importantly, deserves, from his mother – the only real and consistent parental figure he has.
I’ve never felt like more of a failure than I did that night. The worst part is, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I didn’t realize how much I was on my phone until I set it down. I didn’t realize how often I was physically present but not there. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I know I’m not alone. I know I can’t be the only parent doing this all the while completely unaware of how disconnected you are to your child. I remember coming home from school when I was younger and eating at the dinner table with my parents and sister. If the phone rang, we’d let the answering machine get it. If they didn’t leave a message, my mom or dad would check the Caller ID after clearing the table. If it was important, they would call them back for a quick chat and then we’d all go outside to play. When I pick up Aiden from school, we usually go out to eat and the first thing I would do after sitting down in the restaurant is pull out my phone to “check in” on Foursquare.
I decided to make a change. A change that, really, I shouldn’t even have to make because it shouldn’t be like that anyway. After picking up Aiden from school and coming home, I consider myself “unplugged” from technology while I’m spending time with my child. No Facebook, no Twitter, no more “catching up blogs” on my phone while Aiden plays on the playground. Instead, we’ll be cooking dinner – together – something he loves to do. He loves helping me stir the food or pour things into bowls and pots. We’ll be playing superheroes uninterrupted. While he’s playing on the playground, I’ll be pushing him on the swing, helping him across the monkey bars, or taking photos of him having fun while he doesn’t need my assistance. It’s been about a week now since I’ve come to this realization and Aiden’s mood has gotten a whole lot better and I know it’s not just a coincidence. He’s happier and I’m happier.
If this feels all too familiar with you, I urge you to take a step back and examine your presence in your child’s life. When he or she says, “Mommy! Look how I wrote my name all by myself!” would you look at it and respond with “Wow, you did a great job!” or would your eyes be down looking at your phone while you mumble “Mmmhmm!”? I used to do the latter. It’s all too easy to get caught up in other things because everything online is so conveniently accessible on a little device that fits in the palm of our hands but while the news will always be there, our children won’t. How can you learn anything from your children if you aren’t paying attention to them?
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