If I might be permitted a small Luddite rant, now that term has started, something that grieves me daily is the sight of parents talking on their mobile phones while walking their children to school.
I get that a parent alone with a baby or toddler might need a phone conversation on their walk to the park. They are with the littlies all day; that call might be the only adult company they have to look forward to for hours. The parents that make me cranky are the ones who are obviously on school drop-off: the kids are in little checked uniforms with gloomy oversized hats and cute backpacks. If you’re going to school, it means you’ll be without interruptions from these offspring for at least six hours. You don’t need to shut them out for the fifteen minutes it takes to get them there.
I mean, really, what can be so important? The safety of the kids that might justify you leaving your phone on 24/7 isn’t an issue: they’re right here holding your distracted hand. How many of us are in jobs that are so important that something can’t wait for attention?
When our kids were all at high school, and half my life seemed to involve transporting them to and from sporting events, a fellow parent of four shared some wisdom with me, a reframing of my situation. ‘It’s a pain having to spend so much time ferrying them around,’ she said. ‘But I realised that it was the only time that I got one-on-one conversation with them, with no interruptions and no competition. It became precious time.’
I didn’t have the temptation of a mobile when I was taking primary kids to school each morning. But although I own a smart phone now, I try to leave it at home when I go walking, so I can pay attention to my thoughts and to the ever-changing world I walk through as the seasons pass.
All most people want, the experts tell us, is to be heard. So-called quality time with children – with anybody - doesn’t need to involve words, but at the very least it needs you to not be conversing with someone else. For a while, when they are in their teens, your kids may not want to be seen with you, and when they are adult, you will have all the time you want for those calls you think are so vital that they can’t wait. Seize the day. Leave the phone at home.
This article was published in The Age on 14 February 2017