Here’s something you won’t hear me (or any other liberal, leftwing feminist) say very often: I read an article that I liked and agreed with in the Daily Mail. The article, ‘Not now, Darling, Mummy’s Tweeting‘, unsurprisingly stirred up a lot of discussion amongst the mothers I follow on Twitter. Understandably, people felt defensive. The article has a strong headline and some of the tone is harsh. ‘Neglect’ is a very strong term and nobody wants to be accused of neglecting their children. But look beyond the moments of harsh rhetoric and I think that Liz Fraser makes an important point.
Since I acquired my iPhone around 2 years ago, my craving for constant information has become increasingly persistent. First thing I do when I wake up is check my email. Then I check Twitter. I look at the Guardian iPhone app, my RSS reader, and most recently, Instagram. Whenever I get a spare five minutes I repeat the whole process, checking all of these for updates repeatedly through the day. While I eat my breakfast I scroll through Twitter; sometimes I tweet, but often I’m just reading what everyone else is up to. The thought that there are people out there, conversing with each other, and that I might be missing out on the latest must-read blog post or bit of juicy gossip makes me a little nervous. As I potter through the day, my internal monologue converts my thoughts into concise, faintly amusing tweets.
All of this didn’t worry me too much. There are a lot of positives to being online: before I had my iPhone I just wouldn’t have had time to read the news (with a toddler who wants to be involved in everything I do and baby who likes to get up to mischief, using a laptop or desktop through the day with my kids is a near-impossibility). Twitter has connected me with some fantastic people: creative, funny, interesting and supportive. Blogging has given me a new layer of purpose and fortified my sense of self.
But recently there have been times when I’ve been sucked into Twitter too much. When my two-year-old is saying “Mummy, put your telephone down. Mummy, don’t send a message”, it’s a big reminder where my priorities should lie.
Coincidentally, just two days ago, I imposed a new rule in our house: no TV between 10.00 and 4.30. I’d been giving in to requests for Cbeebies too often and our TV time had crept up and up. It’s actually worked surprisingly well – giving a firm rule seems to have removed a lot of the “I want Cbeebies”, “No”, “I want Cbeebies”, “No”, “I want Cbeebies”, “No”… [repeat ad infinitum] that had previously plagued our days at home. But a side-effect of this has been that I can’t spend the time I used to hanging out on Twitter, or otherwise absorbed online. We’ve spent more time keeping each other entertained, and today has been surprisingly peaceful.
Dealing with demands for attention from your kids can become a vicious circle. Sometimes I find that the more they demand attention, the more desperate I get for five minutes to myself, but of course they sense this and their demands become more persistent. Sometimes trying to get that online fix causes more of the stress I’m trying to avoid. Snatching five minutes to catch up on Twitter while the TV blared in the background was supposed to give me a chance for peace and quiet, but the results are often more chaotic.
Some of the points in the article seemed exaggerated. The image of “playgrounds and toddler groups suddenly being full of parents not playing with their children, but texting friends, or chatting on the phone” doesn’t ring true to me – I was at toddler group this morning and can’t recall seeing one person on their phone; we all talked to each other and talked to our kids. The sort of ‘neglect’ and ‘damaged children’ that the psychologists talked about represent rare and extreme cases.
However, I really agree with the overall point of the article. It is important to spend time with your kids, and give them the respect and attention they deserve. Some of the conversation I saw on Twitter today seemed to interpret the article as “if you’re on Twitter, you’re a crap mother”, but that isn’t what I got from it at all. Liz Fraser admitted that she’s just as bad as the rest of us, and worries that she spends too much time online herself. I thought her tone was thoughtful and supportive.
It seems that spending time online is just one more aspect of the constant motherly conflict and guilt – balancing working with caring for your children, defining yourself as a person and fulfilling your role as a mother. Personally, I really appreciated the reminder to appreciate my time with my children and balance my priorities.