Monday, March 5, 2018

Telephone Free-For-All

How many times has this happened to you: your kids are playing quietly in another room, getting along nicely while you're attending to some chore, maybe washing dishes or checking emails.  Then the phone rings.  It's a good friend and you start to chat.   Two minutes into your conversation all hell breaks loose.  Your son jumps from the sofa and bangs his head on the coffee table.  Or he's suddenly ravenous, and nothing in the refrigerator will do.  Or he decides that this is a good time to tackle his little brother.  And you think, "Really?  They were so quiet a minute ago!".

You probably have also experienced the other side of the call.  You call your friend, and she's so happy to hear from you.  Then every thirty seconds she interrupts to talk to her kids, "What do you want?"; "Not now"; or "OMG I'll call you back!".

I call this phenomena "telephone free-for-all".  Kids who were perfectly content without your attention will suddenly act up to get it once you try to engage in a conversation with someone else.  And it only happens with conversations, not texting or emailing.  And it even happens with infants!  Have you ever noticed how a baby will stop nursing or drinking her bottle if you try to carry on a conversation with someone?  She looks around to see who you're talking to and only goes back when you stop talking.  What's going on?

Years ago, as mothers began to work full time outside the home, many of us worried about the effects of leaving babies and young children in daycare.  After awhile, the whole question of home vs. daycare became moot, because two paychecks and daycare for young children became a necessity for most families.  So the arguments evolved into defining principles of high quality care for these little ones.  A new child development theory emerged called "quality time".  I believe psychologists developed this theory in an effort to assuage any guilt feelings that mothers may have had for leaving their babies in someone else's care.  Quality time assured parents that the number of hours a day they spent with their children was irrelevant; that ten or fifteen minutes of focused, individualized attention were more important than being at home all day, where mom would spend most of her time attending to chores anyway.  My own theory of telephone free-for-all debunks the myth of "quality time".

Telephone free-for-all teaches me that children feel comfortable and secure just knowing that mom is nearby.  As long as she's not engaging with someone else, children get the sense that she is available to them.  Conversation, communication are the means of connecting with others.  It seems to me that on some level, children must feel excluded when their mother is connecting with someone else.  That connection takes her away, even temporarily, and along with her goes their sense of comfort and security.    Mom is the most important person in the world to a child, and the child wants to feel that he is the most important person in the world to mom. Always.

Spending quality time with our children is extremely valuable, whether we stay at home or work full time.  But it doesn't take the place of mom's presence.  Children feel safe when we're near them.  We don't need to do or be anything special.  They love us and need us just the way we are.

1 comment:

  1. I can totally relate to what you wrote about. Thanks for shedding light on why my children might act as they do when I’m on the phone, or trying to carry a conversation with another.