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July 14, 2013

Today I was looking through our family’s iPad at some photos and came across a video that had obviously been shot by accident.  It starred yours truly and my five-year old daughter.  As I watched it I found tears rolling down my cheeks, not because the camera had captured a tender moment between mother and daughter, but because it showed a side of me I hadn’t fully recognized was there.  And I was ashamed.

In this short film I saw a mother engaged in typing an email, most likely something work-related.  I saw her brow furrowed, her fingers flying across the keyboard.  I then saw a small child sitting down next to her mother on the couch, attempting to make contact.  And I saw her mother ignore her.  Not only that, I saw a look of complete frustration cross the mother’s face.  She looked annoyed at the interruption.

I watched as the child tried harder to engage her mother, grabbing her arm and trying to snuggle up next to her.  Through tears of regret I saw the mother respond by brushing away the child’s hand, completely wrapped up in her laptop and now speaking in a curt, clipped tone that told this child exactly how the mother felt about this interaction.

At this point the tape ended, but I couldn’t stop staring at the screen.  Was this angry looking woman really me?  Was this what my daughter saw when she tried to interact with me?  And was this a one-time incident or a pattern of behavior?

I wanted to reach through the screen and shake myself.  I wanted to scream, “Your child needs your attention!  The email can wait!”  I wanted to hold a mirror in front of my onscreen face so the woman inside could see the image she was portraying to her daughter.

Sadly, I can’t undo that interaction.  Nor can I erase the other interactions with my children that may have left them feeling deprioritized and dehumanized, the ones not caught on tape but imprinted on their tender psyches.

What I can do is this.  I can put down the laptop, or the book, or the laundry, or whatever trivial bullshit I have been so urgently attending to.  I can recognize when my children need me.  I can realize that whatever seems important at the time is so minor in the grand scheme of things.  The emails can wait.  The laundry will keep.  These tiny humans who adore me?  Cannot.

I don’t want my children to look back on their childhoods and picture me with a clenched jaw and a closed heart.  I don’t know of a single person who, in reflecting on his or her upbringing, says fondly, “I remember how great mom was at returning emails.”

Children are innately needy creatures.  That’s why they have parents; if they were wholly independent they wouldn’t need us at all.  It is our responsibility and our privilege to be there for them, to make them feel like they are important and special and loved.

Will there be times when our focus is elsewhere?  Naturally.  Will we always be able to drop what we’re doing and attend to them immediately?  Of course not, and we would be doing them a disservice by doing so.

But when a small child seeks comfort from her mother and gets the brush off because of an email?  It’s time to close the laptop and engage.

Cuddle up, buttercup.  I’m all yours.


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