Several years ago–after college but before graduate school–I waited tables and bartended. Our lunch crowd was similar to what you would find at any suburban restaurant located in a shopping center–folks grabbing a quick bite on their lunch break with coworkers; friends meeting up for a regularly scheduled lunch date; stay-at-home moms out for an afternoon with their kids. It was this last group–the SAHMs–that often infuriated me the most. More often than not, they would sit at the table, talking on their cell phones, ignoring the person trying to take their order (me) while their kids were left to entertain themselves. And while I understood that taking the occasional phone call was necessary, I lost count the number of times a mom would sit talking on the phone throughout the entire meal, hardly ever saying a word to her children.
This isn’t to say that every mom (or parent for that matter) sat and talked on the phone, while ignoring their children. In fact, there were plenty of moms who actively engaged their children during their meals. But there were also plenty of moms who were glued to their electronic devices rather than being glued to what their children had to say. And I remember thinking that I would never be that kind of parent.
Famous last words.
The sad reality is that in many ways I am that kind of parent.
Too often I am that parent who sits at the table, glued to his phone, while his children are left to entertain themselves. Too often I am that parent who sits on the couch, glued to his phone, disengaged from what my son is seeing on “Mickey’s Clubhouse.” Too often I am that parent who sits on the parkbench, glued to his phone, while his children are going down the slide.
Technology can be a wonderful thing. But too often, technology has come to symbolize connecting with others around the world while disconnecting with those living in our own homes. It is too easy–to convenient–to talk with a stranger online than to talk to our own kids. And many of us, myself included, have multiple devices to ensure we’re always able to do so–smartphones, tablets, laptops. There is, I think, this need to always be plugged in. We’re always afraid we might miss something. My own life is a reflection of this fear. There might be a conversation on Twitter or Facebook or wherever that I might miss and surely I can’t miss it.
But the truth is, I can. Almost all of us can.
I am, in no way, attempting to minimize the value of social networks. Indeed, I have made many friends through my use of Twitter and it has opened up opportunities to share my writing with many different people. But, I’ve also come to realize that finding the proper balance is important. Newtown, CT made me realize this.
If there is one lesson to be learned from the horrific events of Friday, 14 December 2012 it is to cherish every moment we have with our children. We, sadly, never know when they will be taken away from us. The unfortunate fact is, no matter how much we try to protect them, short of keeping them locked in a bubble forever, there are limits to our protection.
So in the spirit of the season in which we find ourselves, this is my New Year’s Resolution: To put down my phone and instead, pick up my head; to stop caring so much what someone online is saying and instead, care what my kids are saying; to pay less attention to social media and instead, more attention to my family. Will you join me?