Now is the time to embrace what work-from-home parents learned long ago — it’s not about winning; it’s about striving for the bronze. This is a perfect time to finally recognize how much you’ve been trained to perform parenting. To design a cozy little reading nook so your Instagram followers can see it and grudgingly approve. To bake your vegan muffins (and take a photo) or pack your kids’ bento boxes (and take a photo) or set out art supplies in a scattered but not too scattered way, if you catch my drift (and then definitely take a photo). To head into the woods and make flower crowns or whatever the fuck it is you’ve been doing out there. Give. It. All. Up. It’s time to take this parade float and strip it down to four wheels, a floor, and a functioning steering wheel. It’s time to be basic.
Perfection is utterly unrealistic. Most of the time, we’re trying not to take drastic measures just so we can continue working, and earning an income while so many are losing theirs.
I certainly find the new distance learning situation challenging. I don’t want our kids to lose months of progress because we’re increasingly confined to our homes.
At the same time, I don’t have the time I’d like to have to sit with them, and guide them through their lessons (or other learning materials). For me, it’s work as usual, and I have my days planned out between customer support shifts, and virtual meetings with my colleagues.
I certainly don’t have the time to cook nutritious meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I mostly just want to check that our kids have eaten something decent every meal during the day (and my wife has been cooking some amazing dinners in the evenings). You won’t see any Instagram gems from me there.
So, if you’re working from home, and trying to grab moments of sanity, while feeling guilty that you’re not winning any prizes as a parent, you’re not the only one. Let’s just strive for that bronze medal, maybe.
I’m beginning to think that the key to remaining sane while parenting a pre-teen/teenager is learning to be ok with being regarded as a failure and a disappointment by your child because of your frustrating inability to bend spacetime, lack of infinite cash (available on demand), and general failure be ready to serve at a moment’s notice.
I started giggling at around 31 minutes when they were discussing how kids seem to struggle with this idea that their parents are not servants who exist to cater for their every whim. I had to share this:
I had another laugh at about 1:01:30 when Mann and Siracusa started talking about resolving inconsistencies in rules that parents make for kids. I definitely have a preference for Siracusa’s approach. As with terrorists, there are times when you just don’t negotiate with kids about rules.
This was probably one of the funniest discussions I’ve heard for a while on this show. Even if you don’t listen to the show (and it can be an acquired taste), definitely spend a few minutes listening to these discussions.
Parents often tell their kids they have superpowers of some sort. My favourite myth (which may actually be true) is that mothers can see through walls and whatever our kids are doing on the other side of those walls.
Fortunately kids believe this long enough to give us time to come up with something more plausible (and similarly effective) as they grow older.
Leaving aside the myths, there are times I think we really do develop some kinds of superpowers as parents.
One of my superpowers is the ability to hear a crying child over some background noise (in my case a fan in our bedroom) in the middle of the night and be on my feet and in my child’s bedroom before my conscious mind has even realised that I’m awake.
That sort of thing still amazes me after more than 9 years.
You know how you seem to channel your parents when you become a parent? I managed to channel Yoda with our kids last night and I’m not sure what that says about me as a parent.
It was getting late, we were all tired from a busy weekend and it was time for the kids to brush their teeth and get ready for bed. As usual, they weren’t listening to me. They were playing on the couch instead so I reminded them to do as I asked (well, instructed) them to do.
Our daughter told me, rather indignantly, that she was “trying” to stop playing with her brother and go brush her teeth. Before I realised it, I found myself replying to her with something along these lines:
There is no trying. Do or do not. Go brush your teeth!
It didn’t help that my wife, who was in the room, immediately picked up on what I said and started laughing. Our poor daughter thought we were laughing at her. We were laughing so hard that we couldn’t explain the joke to her for a few minutes.
Kids misbehaving. Paul tells them to stop it. Kid says 'I'm trying.' P responds with 'There's no trying! There's do or do not!' Too funny.
Our son recently received a Gear VR headset as a birthday gift. He doesn’t have a phone to use with it so he borrowed his grandmother’s Samsung Galaxy S7 to try the headset out. Actually, we all tried it out and it is an amazing piece of technology.
At the moment our kids have old smartphones and an old iPad 1 they play with at home. They watch videos on YouTube (our daughter started using YouTube Kids after I “upgraded” her iPad 1 experience to an old iPhone 4s that supports it and she loves it – thankfully), play games like Clash Royale and build stuff in Minecraft.
They only use their devices on weekends and, usually, only after they have finished their homework. Even with that limitation, we have to come up with things to do with them to make sure they don’t spend their entire weekends staring at a screen. I came up with a couple rules to impose some sort of limitation on their device use that include both kids putting devices when the first device’s battery runs flat.
Still, our kids can disappear for a couple hours at a time and spend all that time staring at their devices. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing because some of what they do on their devices is somewhat educational.
I’ve noticed that devices tend to make them pretty anti-social and detached from the rest of the family. Heck, that happens to us parents too so I make a conscious effort to limit my screen time when I am around my kids (and generally).
The VR headset made our kids disappear
VR headsets are only going to aggravate that tendency to detach, I think. You physically can’t see the world around you. The virtual environment can be so consuming, you can easily become oblivious to the world around you. For kids who already have a propensity to be sucked in by screens, I can already see we will need to supervise how much our kids use VR headsets very closely.
Fortunately, they don’t have a device that is compatible with the headset so they simply can’t use it unless someone with a compatible headset is around. That helps!
I’ve been thinking about the phones our kids have (or will have in the case of our daughter). At the moment, our son’s “daily driver” is a very basic Nokia feature phone that can make calls and send SMS messages. Many of his friends have smartphones but I’ve already told him he won’t receive one for a while still. You just have to look at how kids are today with smartphones to guess why (or just watch this interview with Louis CK):
By contrast there is a real world to engage with
Another gift our son received was a dense chalk egg with a plastic crocodile (I think) embedded in it. It came with two plastic tools and the idea was for him to basically chip away at the egg until he uncovered the toy inside.
He spent the better part of the day chipping away at the egg. It looked like a lot of fun and it was the sort of thing that involved everyone, either as spectators or by helping him along.
By the time he finished it in the evening, he had a pile of dust and this little toy. He also really enjoyed doing it and was talking about getting another one. What struck me about this toy/project is that it is a stark contrast to a VR headset. Chipping away at that egg, he was firmly rooted in the moment in our physical space and interacted with whoever was there with him. With a VR headset, he is sequestered from his physical space and from everyone sharing that space with him.
I don’t think that he would be content only doing this sort of thing and I wouldn’t want to prevent him from using devices for play too. I just found the contrasts between the two activities to be pretty indicative of the challenges of VR headsets, especially when it comes to kids.
When it comes to new technologies, I much prefer augmented reality over virtual reality. At least AR takes its cues from the space we occupy and augments it with additional digital and information overlays. I think AR would probably be more beneficial for our kids than VR and I really like the possibilities presented by Corning’s “A Day Made of Glass 2: Same Day. Expanded Corning Vision”:
Just looking at how kids are with smartphones, I am more than a little worried about what we will see if/when there is a VR headset in every kid’s room. For one thing, our kids will stop interacting with each other (at least, relative to the varying degrees of interaction they manage today). They won’t learn to recognise those very human and physical cues we rely on for so much sub-vocal communication as a species.
Go outside and play (and channelling our parents)
Like any generation, I think this comes down to figuring out the balance of the potential of the technology with the harm it could do to our children socially. I am also acutely aware that I probably read like our parents did when we started using gaming consoles back in the day. I’m pretty sure they also lamented that we’d never go outside and play.
To a degree they may have overstated the harm of us playing video games and watching TV. I don’t think the answer is forcing our kids outside and forbidding them modern technology.
On the other hand, I think that the rapid change we witness from year to year makes our jobs as parents that much harder. We have to keep up with the changes, anticipate the risks and try and manage them as best we can.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I think the VR headset is terrific technology and it offers our kids opportunities they didn’t have before. It also has a troubling flip-side and that requires us to keep a foot in both worlds if we have any hope of raising the kinds of humans who won’t be among the first to go when some wild beast attacks because they never learned basic human survival and communication skills.