bonding

Are you present in the presence of your kids?

April 4, 2012 at 11:52 AM ET

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By Pamela Sitt

When my husband and I brought our daughter home from the hospital last year, we made a pact: Never use cell phones. Always be present.

"Being present." When did this become a thing?

Certainly, my mother didn’t worry about "being present" when she found herself single and raising a 5-year-old while attending graduate school in the mid-1980s. It was hard enough for her to be present in the most literal sense, as she juggled working and going to school full-time.

Her grown daughter now worries about being present while in the presence of her own daughter. When I'm feeding my baby, I should gaze lovingly into her eyes to encourage bonding. I shouldn't be distracted by what to make for dinner and how long it's been since I checked my email and whether I remembered to DVR "The Voice." 

Of course I'm losing this battle: me and my baby versus, well, the rest of my life. Sometimes I find myself contorting my body into ridiculous positions to check my phone without my daughter seeing it. Most of the time, it's work related. Occasionally, if I'm honest, I'm checking to see if it's my turn on Words With Friends.

Am I a bad mom? Or is it time to revise this notion that moms -- or parents, to be fair -- need to "be present" 100 percent of the time?

Being that amount of present is not only an impractical goal, it's an inappropriate one, according to Dr. Wendy Mogel, a Los Angeles-basedclinical psychologist and author of "The Blessing of A Skinned Knee." 

"We have this idea that if we don't do this tremendous amount of enrichment from birth, they won't get into college," she says. "It's all paranoid hype."

In fact, children benefit from a healthy amount of alone time -- privacy, even -- to explore other relationships: with their toes, for instance, or a cherished toy, or the family pet.

"Do children need privacy? Yes. They need to learn how to entertain themselves, how to calm themselves down and how to regulate their emotions," Mogel says. "We're depriving our children if we're not giving them the opportunity to have a little time to explore their environment on their own."

Sydnie Taylor, a Seattle realtor who works from home part of the time, has found a very modern solution to the work-life-baby balance.

"I am embarrassed to say this, but it is on my calendar to go offline and play with my daughter every hour for 10 minutes," says Taylor, mom to two girls under the age of 3. "Ten fully present minutes, instead of two hours of kind of doing something with her but checking my phone at the same time, has made a huge difference."

And that's exactly what she should be doing, according to Mogel. "When you're working, concentrate on work," she advises. "When you're with your daughter, engage her with all five senses."

So I might sneak an email or a game of Words With Friends while my daughter's exploring her relationship with a stuffed duck named Frank. But when it's time for engaging, I'll teach her to play Words With Mommy, so she can tell me to R-E-L-A-X.

Pamela Sitt is a freelance writer. She created a website for Seattle moms, www.clarasmom.com, which she never thinks about when she's being present with her daughter.

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