MIA: "Occasionally, children need to be ignored."

Won’t fit in my tummy anymore…..


I’ve become one of those people who talk to strangers with babies. I say things like “Cute!” or “How old?”. But if you ever hear me urge a new parent to “Enjoy every second!”, please tell me to shut up.

Those every-second people are so annoying and yet I fear I’ll soon become one of them. My youngest starts school next year and I’m gutted already.

During frequent bouts of baby nostalgia, I sometimes ask if I can put him back in my tummy. He patiently points out that he’s too big and would break me. I’m glad someone has a mature grip on this growing up situation.

There’s a famous seventies song about parent/child relationships called Cat’s In The Cradle that squeezes my heart every time I hear it. The son pleads: ‘When you coming home Dad?’ and his father replies: ‘I don’t know when. We’ll get together then, son. I know we’ll have a good time then.’ Except he never finds time and the son grows up and moves away and eventually it’s the dad who asks plaintively, “When you coming home, son?” only to be rebuffed by a grown man who doesn’t need his father anymore.

Right now I’m living in the middle of that song. My youngest kids want to devour me while my teenager’s focus has switched from family to his friends. Living with a teenager is a lot like dating someone who’s Just Not That Into You. You wait around hoping they’ll throw you a bone – a conversation, a clue about how they’re feeling or what they’re doing. And when they occasionally notice you, you’re embarrassingly grateful for their meagre attention. It’s kind of pathetic.

Glennon and her kids.

Looking back, do I wish I’d spent more time with my boy-man when he was younger? Did I read him enough stories? Should I have given him more attention? Was I present enough? Did I blink and miss it?

Blogger Glennon Melton recently wrote about a stressful day out with her three kids when a woman behind her in the Target line said: “Sugar, I hope you are enjoying this. I loved every single second with my two girls. Every single moment. These days go by so fast.”

At that particular moment, one of Melton’s children had grabbed a bra from the trolley and was wearing it on his head while sucking a lollipop he’d found on the ground. Another was missing and the third was trying to steal the cashier’s pen. “So I just looked at the woman, smiled and said, “Thank you. Yes. Me too. I am enjoying every single moment. Especially this one.”

In her blog, Melton confessed to feeling guilty “because I wasn’t in parental ecstasy every hour of every day and I wasn’t MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY MOMENT.”

Oh the pressure. After having a baby, photographer Elinor Carucci earnestly told the New York Times, “I had to choose between photographing and mothering.” Every photograph became “a second of guilt” she explained, because she wasn’t fully engaged and immersed as a mother. “Even if it was just for 1/125th of a second, I wasn’t available in that 1/125th of a second.”

Wait, really? Spending less than one second not engaged with your child is a reason for guilt?

“Mum, can you push us? PLEEAAASSEEEE!”

‘You bet!’ trumpets the self-rightious tumblr, Parents On Phones, which publishes photos of parents looking at their phones while with their kids. The website’s smug tagline is: “The culture of mobile phones and parental neglect” and each image has a plaintive caption like, ‘Mommy, don’t you love us?

Similarly, a male columnist I know wrote about being surprised to see so many parents in cafes reading newspapers while their children vied for their attention. “These are interactions they will never get to have again.” he chastised.

Oh but they will. Being a parent means your life is wall-to-wall interactions. Like traffic. A few cars might whizz past while you’re looking away but there are countless others queuing up right behind them.

Look, occasionally, children need to be ignored. Obviously, not when they’re in danger or distressed or really tiny. But every so often, it does a child good to push through the boredom barrier instead of having every non-urgent demand for attention instantly met.

The alternative has been dubbed ‘over-parenting’ and apparently, it’s an epidemic.

A Queensland University of Technology study has found more than 90 percent of parenting professionals have seen instances of over-parenting. Like one parent cutting up a 10-year-old’s food and another forbidding a 17-year-old to catch a train to school.

“Over-parenting reduces a child’s resilience and life skills because they’ve never had to face any difficulties,” researcher Judith Locke warns. “It could also create a sense of entitlement. If they have someone constantly making their life perfect, they expect everybody to make their life perfect for them.”

Lenore Skenazy offers a free range parenting class. The premise is… she won’t be there.

Freerange kids author Lenore Skenazy agrees. She offers an after-school class “guaranteed to make the participants, ages 8 and up, happier, healthier, smarter – and skinnier.”

It meets weekly for 90 minutes in New York’s Central Park and the premise is simple: she won’t be there. “The kids are on their own” she insists. “In fact, that’s the whole point. Their job is to play. My job is to let them.”

A final thought for my final newspaper column*: Having kids is a bit like having legs. They’re utterly amazing and enhance your world immeasurably. Life without them is unthinkable.

But it’s not possible to spend every second entranced by them or you’d never leave the house. Perhaps it’s about appreciating individual moments instead of trying to squeeze ecstasy out of them all. Because the days are long but the years are short.

Your thoughts on ignoring your kids? Is it OK to ‘ignore’ your kids from time to time? Or do you need to enjoy every single moment?
*from today I will be writing exclusively here on Mamamia and over at No more newspaper columns!