What everyone’s doing at the playground: A parent’s perspective

If you’re like me (a parent) you know that the one place you should be familiar with is the park/playground. Gone are the days of $40 entrees at upscale restaurants and $5 cocktails at happy hour – you’ve traded that life for a new lifestyle, the one that involves free play, activities, clear blue skies and a lot of non-spending.

It just so happens that last summer I was VERY pregnant, and on those sunny days when my husband was off doing his internship, Lily and I tagged along and while we waited for him to be done, we’d go to a park nearby, this one that’s full of big trees, nice breezes and shades. I loved that park. It’s a shame we don’t live near it. If you’re like me, this is what your days there looked like:

1. Arrive at destination with a kid in good behavior.

2. Respond to their question about feeding the ducks with a “no” and a question about going on the slides with a “yes.”

3. Let them run to their chosen spot. Tell them to slow down, because gosh darn mama is 8 1/2 months pregnant and she can’t keep up for the life of her.

4. Watch them play. Bask in the glory of their beauty and innocence.

5. Take out your phone to take a picture…because they’re so cute! You can’t help yourself.

6. Continue browsing on your phone after sending the above-mentioned picture to your spouse/partner with the caption of, “Isn’t she cute?!?”

7. Look up after five minutes and see other parents on their phones as well. Continue looking at your phone. At least you belong in the club now.

8. Your kid starts calling out to you. “Mom! Come here!” You drop your phone in your pocket, walks over to their spot only to discover that they don’t really need anything. They just want you to watch them. You tell them that you’re going back to your spot now “because mommy is tired…”

9. Continue browsing on your phone, oblivious to the fact that you’re draining your data allowance for the month. Oh well. You gotta check Instagram. And maybe post that cute picture that you just took of your daughter.

Now I love the park as much as the next parent, but at the time I was not in any shape to run around and actually engage in activities with my toddler. Hence, I was on my phone a lot. This, I realize now, was a fatal flaw. I should’ve been more present. I should’ve stood there and provided my daughter with words of encouragement that I actually meant, not just mumbled out of my mouth.

Once or twice, I’d look up from my phone to make sure she was still around. I remember looking around at other parents at this park – a lot of them were on their phones. And I thought to myself, “Maybe I shouldn’t do that. Maybe I should just enjoy the day as it is.” Beautiful sunny skies, 70+ degrees and I’m in the shade with my daughter at the playground. That should be good enough.

But the thought came and went quickly, for I was tired of working late night shifts while being pregnant that I didn’t think about the time I had with my daughter was something to treasure. All I wanted was to have a moment to myself to browse the internet, check up on things…things, at this point, that didn’t really matter.

You see, I just kind of stumbled upon several things lately. First was a headline on the news that talked about how using your smart phones can increase your stress/anxiety level. Second, this blog post from a mom that I follow on Instagram in conjunction with a post about how she felt pressured to put the “right” pictures on social media and how she didn’t take the time to actually just BE and enjoy her newborn. It made me realize that time on earth is valuable, and although having a smartphone has really improved everybody’s lives in the past decade, it sure has had its drawbacks.

For, if you think about it, not paying attention to your kids at playgrounds is like opening a can of worms to pedophiles and kidnappers. I’m not trying to be a pessimist, but in my worst nightmare, I’d look up and see that my daughter is nowhere to be found. Luckily, she is not one of those kids who runs away, and she’ll always respond when I ask her where she is. But for whatever reason, one day she might not be there when I call her and the fault would be all mine. I realize that a parent, we are ultimately responsible for our children’s safety. Being on your phone decreases your attention span on your child and ultimately increases the opportunities for others of less good intentions to focus on your child.

The park and the library may be nice, safe places in theory, but they are still public places, hence anybody can frequent the spot if they choose to. It’s the kind of places that nobody would imagine anyone taking their child. I never once imagined that myself, until recently. While we’re at the library, I usually let my daughter play by herself while I go browse books for us, and this action, I realize, should be decreased.

All bad things aside, the fact of the matter is – just being there, being present with your kid can have some monumental effects. I recall several times when I was at the park with my daughter and I kept my phone away, sat on a bench and just watched her play. And it was nice. I enjoyed watching her play, and I’m not draining my data. Once their childhood is over, you really can’t get those moments back (unless you have another kid). I’ve decided that when I’m out with my daughter, I need to give her my full, undivided attention from now on. Sometimes she’d get upset with me because I’m either taking pictures of her or using my phone, and I don’t want her to grow up thinking that mommy is always too engrossed on her phone to be paying attention to her. Lily is a really fun person to be around, and I want to keep our mother-daughter relationship on a good level for years to come. After all, she will be there but my smartphone won’t – it will be replaced eventually.

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