I have pocketed quite a few lessons in my first three years of parenthood :: my ankle will inevitably crack loudly upon walking away from a sleeping baby’s crib, character band-aids heal injuries very quickly, and if I want to enjoy the entire snack-sized bag of Doritos myself, I better hide in the bathroom to do so.
I also more recently learned there are words that I never thought I would have to speak, some of those being, “Please turn around and stop looking at that boy’s iPad” to our son while in church.
This last lesson reminds me that from day 1, I have tried very quickly to swallow any judgements about other parents and their decisions for raising their children. After all, the majority of us are doing the best that we can with what we have, and bottles or breast, cry it out or comfort, we are doing a pretty darn good job. Most days I know my place in questioning what others choose for their children. I am not walking in their shoes, and my own walk so very often includes mistakes. Who am I to judge?
But I have now discovered the line. I am certain we all have one. It might be a moment, perhaps an act, or even an object that hurls us beyond the let’s-do-this-parenting-thing-with-open-arms-together fence.
My line was crossed about a week ago after settling into our seats for Sunday Mass in the cry room of our church. My husband and I hoped to sit in the main part of the church, but when our three year old said he wanted to sit in the back, we figured we might as well play it safe. While the room can get loud and distracting, we know it’s a place where we can attempt to guide our little ones to behave in Mass while at the same time not completely disturb those around us.
As we waited for Mass to start, a family walked into the row behind us. Mom proceeded to hand her four year old an iPad before she even sat down, and Dad grabs another device and tells the two year old, “Look, it’s Mommy’s iPhone.”
I saw the iPad come out, and the aggravation began stirring within. My line. There it was.
Seconds later our son was turned around in his chair glued to the screen of the boy behind us, and what started as a speck of discomfort spiraled into a ball of irritation.
After several whispers to please turn around and a removal from the room to kindly explain that he’s not in trouble, but iPads don’t belong in church, on my next attempt to direct our son’s attention to the service, Mom put her hand on my shoulder, smiled, and said, “It’s okay.”
What!?!?! It’s okay? What’s okay? The fact that my son is staring at your son’s iPad, is that okay? He’s not disturbing his game play? We wouldn’t want that.
Or was she judging me for my parenting style and attempting to guide me in the right direction? Did she mean that it’s okay to allow your son to watch what’s going on back here instead of what’s happening in church. Not a problem.
Completely caught off guard, I smiled politely, turned around, and gave the did-that-just-happen look to my husband. Had I not been so shocked, I should have responded, “No. No, it’s not okay, and here’s why.” But you can’t do that in the middle of Mass. And I wasn’t going to do that. I also wasn’t going to cause a scene with a tantrum-throwing three year old in order to force him to face the front. Perhaps it’s my parental failure in that I didn’t have the skills to keep him focused on Mass. Judge away.
I’m not judging these parents for failing to engage their children in the Mass. We are ‘guilty’ in that case of bringing snacks and a book or two, but these activities don’t last the entire service. We do our best to direct our son’s attention to parts of the Mass and invite his participation.
Perhaps I’m judging them for their laziness. Sure, I’d like an electronic device to entertain my child for an hour so I don’t have to discipline them and engage them.
Perhaps I am judging them for their lack of religious zeal. After all, not only did they bring said devices and offer them to their kids before their bottoms hit the chair, but they played, loudly I might add, with the kids during Mass. I have no idea why they came to church that morning. I understand my heart is in the wrong place passing judgments like this one.
After reading this article, my husband posted his feelings on Facebook about our iPad encounter, and the responses opened my eyes a bit. Perhaps my heart needed to hear them, but from encouraging words for us to use it as a teachable moment, to suggestions to trust in our parenting and not worry about others, to a comment praising the parents for at least being present and bringing their children to Mass, the responses all seemed to echo that mother’s “it’s okay” in my head.
But they aren’t settling the issue for me. It’s not okay.
We live in a society where, for better or worse, preschools boast “kids can learn on iPads,” and restaurant tables are often filled with every member of the family on some sort of smart device. Often times I believe we are giving them too much power, and they are stealing moments. This past Sunday they stole moments of faith from every member of my family, except sweet 8 month old J who, in fact, slept the whole time.
Don’t get me wrong. My husband and I both have smart phones. I would admit that I check Instagram or Facebook more often than I should over the course of the day. There is an iPad in our household. Our son sometimes plays more than the recommended time.
These, however, don’t travel to restaurants with us and certainly not to Mass. I am strongly opposed to using these devices in church to pacify children, perhaps selfishly because they draw the attention of other children.
Kids, life’s greatest imitators, see parents on phones and tablets all of the time. Of course they want in on the screen time. I can’t blame my three year old for being unable to unglue his eyes from the iPad behind us last Sunday. I will blame the parents and wish I had the personality to kindly remind them that no, it’s not okay. I am not opposed to moving seats in the future in order to avoid the distraction.
We did talk with our son and asked how he feels when Momma or Daddy is on the phone and he wants to talk or play with us. We tried to make the connection that church is a time to spend with God, and using a iPad during that time would make God feel sad and left out. Wherever that conversation went, I’m hoping that a bit sunk in as we may unfortunately run across this situation again.
Did I allow the smart device family to steal my faith, to steal my joy that morning? Perhaps. But when we are doing all that we can to try to raise our children to have Christian hearts, by golly, can society please try to set a good example in the very least by unplugging during church?
Whatever your technology philosophy might be, let’s plan to waver on the side of too little this Thanksgiving week and be intentional in spending time with and sharing moments with those around us.