Sacred Spaces for Parenting


I get a lot of mileage out of complaining about flying with an infant. I whinge about the jet lag, the 24 hours in transit, the airports, the terrible food the cranky people I run into, everything. But the truth is, when Stella and I are locked up in that tin can in the sky, I actually love it. I love it because I have no internet. No Facebook, no Twitter, no blog, no Google no email. Just me and the baby. I'm present, and engaged, and focused, and I enjoy every second of really being with my daughter.

I was thinking about this as I was listening to Krista Tippet present Alive Enough: Reflecting on Our Technology, with Sherry Turkle Director of MIT's Initiative on Technology and Self. The conversation explored a number of ways in which technology shapes how we interact with each other, but what most resonated with me was Tippet and Turkle's discussion of what we as parents teach our children about technology and relating to other human beings.

You might think that this is not something that I, as the mother of an eleven month-old baby, has to worry about. But it starts even now. Stella can't walk yet. She can't crawl. She can't even say Mama. But she can mimic two adult behaviours: holding a phone up to her ear and poking at a smartphone with her index finger. Those and waving are the only two grown-up-esque behaviours she's got. It's kind of a scary thought.

I wonder what I am teaching her when I stop playing blocks to answer a text message, or as I read Twitter as I nurse her to sleep. I often see two teenage girls out together, ostensibly hanging out together, but each plugged into her own MP3 player, in her own individual sound bubble, isolated from the world and each other. I look at them and despair for our collective future. But as I send a twitpic of Stella and my adventures at the park, am I showing my child anything different? 

It's clear that parents model behaviours that their children pick up on. Parents who send SMSs during dinner are sending two messages simultaneously. Thus, I want to be mindful of how I teach my child to relate to technology. I do not advocate the wanton dismissal of technological advances and the new social norms that follow; it is the parents' job to socialize their children according to the realities of the time and place in which they live, and digital technologies are part and parcel with this time and place. Stella will need help navigating the decorum of Facebook (or whatever equivalent is popular twelve years from now) just as I needed to be taught about writing thank you letters.

At the same time, I want to teach my child that there is value in being present with the ones you love; I want her to be free to have moments like the ones we share in the airplane when we are not competing with the roar of the digital world. I want to carve out sacred spaces that are just for us, and not for our phones.

I am going to start with the dinner table. No phones at dinner. And no phones on the playground. And I will begin asking, "do you mind if I text", not that she can answer yet, but to get in the habit. I am not going to give up my bedtime Twitter fix (because bedtime is accompanied by long screaming sessions and Twitter keeps me from swallowing the hemlock), but I am going to be thinking of where else I will carve out sacred spaces for parenting.

I'm interested, what are your rules for family interactions and technology?