parent opinion

"Leunig. Let me tell you all the things I'm doing on my phone while 'neglecting' my child."

You might have seen the Leunig cartoon.

Published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday, the cartoon depicts a mother pushing a stroller while looking at her phone.

A few metres behind her lies her baby who fell out of the pram without her even realising it.

Strange. I’ve been a mother for 12 years and not once did my child ever fall out of his pram without me noticing.

The text above the cartoon reads:

“Mummy was busy on Instagram

When beautiful bubby fell out of the pram

And lay on the path unseen and alone

Wishing that he was loved like a phone.”

Ah, yes.

Mothers are always the enemy.

The cartoon has, of course, been subject to heavy criticism.

But here’s the thing. I’m not denying I’ve never checked my phone while in the company of my child. Quite the opposite.

I was once mobile phone shamed in a restaurant with my six-year-old son.

I looked up from my phone to find a waitress at our table, not there to take an order or deliver our meals, but to tell me off.

“You know, your son is sitting right there,” she told me.

I stared at her impassively and replied: “I’m making a change to my father’s death notice that’s in the paper tomorrow.”

That shut her up.

My dilemma was that yes, I was with my son – but there was a mistake in my father’s death notice and I could email the newspaper about it from my phone, immediately. My son; well, he would just have to wait for a minute. When most of my attention normally goes to him, was that so bad?

That’s the thing that made me the most annoyed about the waitress – the situation, when my full attention wasn’t entirely on my son, was not the norm.

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The fact of the matter is that most parents make a million sacrifices and triage responsibilities every day – and we’re just doing what we need to do to get by, so we can keep on being the best parents we can be.

That’s why I find it harsh when parents are criticised for being on their phones in front of their kids. Especially because I’m sure most of you have valid reasons – as I do – the primary one being, if I’m “ignoring” my child, it’s usually, ninety per cent of the time, because of him.

Yes, I mean the constant succession of emails, calls and texts about school, his activities and his social life – it’s all about him. I’m texting the class rep about the Christmas party. I’m in a Facebook group looking for reliable cleaner so I can have more time with my kid. I’m looking for the Christmas present he wants. Trying to find a good deal on a family holiday. Booking tickets to the concert he wants to go to.

Speaking to the parents around me, here were some of the reasons they sometimes, Heaven forbid, check their phone in the company of their child.

Ordering dinner. Texting their partner about childcare arrangements. Googling medical symptoms. Checking a map. Looking up lunchbox ideas. Taking photos or videos for family. Reading the school newsletter. Organising a play date. Checking rosters and sporting arrangements so no one misses their soccer game.

They are just the beginning.

And there’s also those moments where there’s something important going on in our lives. Sometimes, things can’t wait. As much as our lives often revolve around our kid, there are times when it doesn’t.

But you know what?

Sometimes. Just sometimes. We do check Instagram.

And if that’s the worst thing we do as a parent? Well then, we’re doing alright.

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