I saw this article by Amity Dry about mother guilt for spending time on a smart phone instead of with kids and it made me want to scream. It's not just that I hate articles about mother guilt (as if we don't heap enough of that on ourselves) but I actually think that paying too much attention to kids is counter productive.
My kids are no longer toddlers and now I can share why I think that too much parental attention is bad for kids. Aged 10 and 7, my kids couldn't be more different from one another in personality. Nell enjoys spending time alone devising her own play. She reads for hours, makes up elaborate fantasies and draws and draws. Zac, on the other hand, has a lot more trouble entertaining himself. He still needs much more parental attention than Nell ever has. He's the one who comes to us on rainy days saying that he's bored. I know that this is a familiar story for many families because my friends and I call it 'first child syndrome'. While some of that behaviour is explained by the fact Zac is a boy and Nell a girl, friends with first-born girls confirm that it applies to those kids as well.
I think that this behaviour is not because our kids have been deprived of attention, but precisely because they have had too much. When Zac was a baby there were no smart phones, blogs were few and far between and I never took calls on my mobile phone because I was far too busy paying all of my attention to him. I let him know from the time he was born that he was the absolute centre of the world, just as the mother-guilt lobby said I should. And now I wonder why he finds it hard to think of other people.
I had relaxed a lot by the time Nell came along, but I think the main difference between them is because, by necessity, I simply could not focus all of my atteniton on Nell because Zac was there, still demanding to be the centre of the universe.
Let's be frank: Nell has a lot easier time functioning in the world because she understands that the world does not revolve around her. She understands inherently that other people have needs, and that, while she's important, she is ultimately responsible for herself. I am sorry that I didn't get those messages across to Zac as a baby, and he has a harder time working them out as a child.
Sometimes when I am with the kids I deliberately turn away from what they are doing, because I think they need to work stuff out without the glare of parental attention. While I began raising my children I believed that they needed stimulation, guidance, love and attention. I am more and more coming to the view that benign neglect makes for healthier kids. I try to ensure that my kids spend some time every day (especially on weekends when we are together a lot) doing something without me, so that when we sit down to eat at the end of the day, they can tell me something I didn't know - rather than me 'being present' for every single second of their lives.
I refuse to feel guilty for looking at my smart phone when I am with my kids. Indeed, I think it's probably a good thing for all of us to have a little time away from each other's every attention.