Yesterday at the park, an older lady complimented me.
“Well done you for paying attention to your kids,” she said as she passed, “and not staring at your phone like they all do these days.”
The “they” she was referring to at this point was another mum, who was sat on a bench scrolling through her phone as her little girl tottered around in the sandpit a few feet away. She didn’t hear – or at least she didn’t acknowledge the lady – and I smiled, half-muttered something about them keeping me busy, and resumed my game of who-can-find-the-biggest-stick.
And as I did, I sat and thought about what she’d said. And I realised it wasn’t actually a compliment at all.
It was a dig.
The thing is, if that lady had come past a minute earlier, she would have seen me scrolling through my phone – head bent in concentration as my two children played in front of me. And you know what? I wasn’t even doing anything useful. Nope. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed.
I know – not my proudest parenting moment, but hear me out.
Before you report me to Social Services, it’s worth pointing out that, before that, I was doing a Tesco order for the following morning, because I’d run out of nappies. And before that, I was on the phone to the hospital rearranging a dermatology appointment for my little girl’s eczema. And before that, I was sending a photo of the kids in the park to my husband at work, via WhatsApp.
But no – exactly one minute before the lady came past, I was definitely scrolling through Facebook, not doing anything particularly useful.
And here’s the clincher.
I don’t think that makes me a bad mum.
My thinking is this. If I deem the 60 seconds my kids are happily hunting for sticks to be the best time to get a job done without them noticing, that’s my call. Yes, they probably do notice. They probably can see me in their peripheral vision. And yes, in an ideal world I would spend every second of every waking day with my eyes fixed on them. I love them to bits and I think they’re flippin’ amazing.
But this is not an ideal world. This is the real world. And to a degree, I do think they need to know that the shopping doesn’t order itself. That appointments don’t get arranged unless someone arranges them. That no, it may not be very exciting, but admin is a necessary part of life, and not all of it can wait until after bedtime.
And that, yes, sometimes – just sometimes – the kinds of games that entertain a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old just don’t quite hold mummy’s attention, and she needs a brain-break. That those brief 60 seconds snatched on social media are a tiny reminder that she is still a grown-up, and that in a funny way that’s just as important as the life admin.
Now, I can’t finish this post without a bit of an admission. I am constantly moaning at my husband to get off his phone at the weekend when we’re spending time as a family, because it drives me nuts – so yes, I’m being somewhat hypocritical here. But my husband isn’t a stranger, he’s my ‘other half’. We’re in this parenting thing together, so it makes sense that we’ll discuss (alright, argue) about how things are done, between the two of us.
This lady? She didn’t know me – or the other mum – from Adam. She didn’t know why the other mother was on her phone in that split second, or why I wasn’t. She just decided to judge – and we all do it – and to have a little dig as she went on her merry way.
I didn’t get a chance to say anything to her, of course – she was long gone by the time I turned around. And it’s probably for the best, because I think she had good intentions, and I realise technology was very different when she was my age.
But whether or not she was right, her passing comment has made me think twice about judging other mums and dads and the way they get through the day-to-day job of parenting.
It’s not easy. And none of us has all the answers. So shall we just agree to cut each other some slack?