Kids should get lots of hugs and encouragement, but that doesn’t mean you need to resort to helicopter parenting. Picture: iStock
Kids should get lots of hugs and encouragement, but that doesn’t mean you need to resort to helicopter parenting. Picture: iStock

Screens are not the enemy of parenting

IT'S 5.30am on Saturday morning and my seven-year-old daughter has just climbed into bed next to me.

"Mum," she says, "Can I have the iPad?" I groan and wave in the vicinity of where it lies. It's the one day of the week where (theoretically) I get to sleep in past 6am. The only way we get sleep at this point is to let them watch a screen, any screen.

We don't care so long as we get an extra 30 minutes of shut eye.

Which is not to say I do this without guilt. I have a tonne of parental guilt. I have guilt that I am not bouncing out of bed to play with her. I have guilt that I've given her a screen. I have guilt that what I really want is a peaceful sleep in and maybe a coffee afterwards.

Most days I feel like I'm failing at parenting. I am not the parent who makes sushi dinners that look like panda bears. I am not the parent who makes up craft activities out of recycled paddle pops and egg containers. And I am certainly not the parent who bounces out of bed on a Saturday morning at 5.30am to make a nutritious breakfast and plan a day of activities.

For a long time I have compared myself to parents who do behave like this and found myself wanting.

But then I had an epiphany.

Sometimes the only way to get a few minutes of extra sleep is to let kids have access to a screen. Picture: Getty
Sometimes the only way to get a few minutes of extra sleep is to let kids have access to a screen. Picture: Getty

What this is really about is the definition of exceptional versus average, a concept that I first came across at The School of Life - the organisation founded by the philosopher and author Alain de Botton. The argument is that we spend our lives expecting we should be exceptional, when logic should tell us that most of us are average.

The word "average" has come to have a negative connotation. In the modern age we have twisted its meaning to be "below-par", which is not right.

Those sushi-chef-craft-creating parents? They are exceptional. Those of us who may rely on the screen for a sleep in occasionally? We are average, which is the same as saying normal.

My epiphany was also informed by a wise colleague of mine. When I was a volunteer at a community radio station, my content director heard me comparing myself to Leigh Sales, host of ABC's 7.30. We were a similar age and I was crucifying myself for not reaching similar career heights.

"But Shev," he said, somewhat exasperated, "It's Leigh Sales. She's exceptional. The ABC is made up of extremely talented journalists. You can't compare yourself to her."

I felt a mixture of disappointment and relief. Disappointment because I had failed to live up to the definition of exceptional, and relief that it was actually pretty rare to be as smart and successful as Leigh Sales.

My career path never led me to the heady heights of ABC TV, but it has landed me a job I love and one that I think I do quite well at. A pretty satisfactory outcome when you think about it.

What I learnt from that experience can be carried through to parenting.

I'm not an exceptional parent, but I am good enough.

I might not be in the league of 7.30 host journalist Leigh Sales, but I’m doing OK. Picture: Britta Campion
I might not be in the league of 7.30 host journalist Leigh Sales, but I’m doing OK. Picture: Britta Campion

In 1953 British paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott used this phrase - of "good enough" parents - to describe what children really need; a parent who is loving and responsive, but not one who is perfect in every way.

That's a parent who will give hugs and encouragement, but who may also groan at the thought of pushing a swing in a park for an hour. A parent who will mainly feed their child decent meals but will sometimes accept that vegemite on toast is all they have the energy for.

James Breakwell, author of Bare Minimum Parenting, has embraced this idea wholeheartedly. His book started out poking fun at overachieving parents, but he soon found himself stumbling upon some truth bombs.

"Your child's travelling sports career doesn't matter. Getting your kid into the absolute best preschool or buying them the absolute best stroller or giving them the absolute best designer toys doesn't matter. Living up to the expectations of the judgmental parents around you doesn't matter. When you push all of that stuff out of your life, you have a lot more room to actually enjoy the time you spend with your kid."

Which sounds a lot like letting go of guilt.

I may have given my daughter the iPad, but she remained curled up next to me in bed as she watched it. She's never had someone make her a sushi-panda-bear but she does enjoy having a lemon meringue tart with me at the local cafe (and so do I).

As Breakwell says: "We all kind of idolise our own parents by default, unless something in our childhood went really, really wrong. It's how we're genetically wired. Our own children will likely view us through the same forgiving lens."

I'm not an exceptional parent, I'm average and if that's good enough for them, then it's good enough for me too.

Shevonne Hunt is a freelance writer and host of the parenting podcast Feed Play Love.

@shevonnehunt



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