I thought it could be eye-opening to do a comparison of how technology has affected parenting, now and back when my mother was raising little ones. I sent my mother a list of questions to think about, and, thanks to the wonder that is the internet, she got me back her answers in record time. It was interesting for me to see her answers and draw conclusions based on this very scientific survey of one person. So I thought it would be fun to share her answers and my conclusions with you. Maybe not as much fun as going to Disney World, but it’s all I got.
I’ve split up the questions and answers into three groups: communication, day-to-day, and takeaways. We’ll cover communication, day-to-day topics tomorrow, and some general takeaways on Wednesday. You’ll notice my thoughts/conclusions in italics.
But first, a little info about my mom.
My parents were high school sweethearts and married at the ripe old age of 20. They had me a little over a year later, my first sister almost three years after me, then my brother and baby sister (twins!) three years after my first sister. If you’ve been doing the math, you know that my mother had four kids by the time she was 28! I didn’t even get married until I was 33 and had my oldest just a few weeks shy of my 35th birthday. So besides the differences that advancements in technology have made, my parenting experience is different than my mother’s simply because we started families at different times of our lives.
My mother has been both a working mother and a stay-at-home mother. She had my grandmother’s help with us during her first few years of motherhood, but lost her mother to leukemia all too soon. After her mother’s death, my father entered the military (he was an officer in the Air Force), so we moved around and even spent six years in Europe. A military life has its benefits, but not having your family living nearby for community or support is a definite drawback.
My mother is now retired and has five grandchildren. My parents live about 45 minutes from us on the other side of Houston.
Q. What forms of technology did you use the most as a single woman?
A. As a young single woman in the late 60s – early 70s there was not a lot of ‘technology’ available to me; the transistor radio (first battery operated) audio cassette recorder provided me with ‘high tech’ entertainment and I was really excited when ‘color’ tv became available, but by far the most important in keeping me in touch with my friends and boyfriend (your dad) was the TELEPHONE.
I’m immediately struck by the fact that then, as today, technology was used by the masses for two major reasons: entertainment and communication. We may have iPods and cell phones rather than transistor radios and corded telephones, but no matter how much we dress it up it’s still just entertainment and communication. These two areas of our lives are major driving forces for our technological advancements, so I’m asking myself if our entertainment and communication are actually better now than they were then.
Q. What forms of technology did you use the most as a mom with school-age children?
A. The phone for coordinations and the typewriter provided me with part of our livelihood.
The minute I read the word “typewriter,” the sound of clacking typewriter keys came back to me. I have to admit that I miss that, but I much prefer the ease that a computer provides in creating documents. Does anybody remember what a pain it was to correct typos?! We got a word processor when I was in the 7th grade and I thought that it was the best thing ever.
I also love how connected I am with my husband during the day. He’s always just a phone call or text message away. I’ve often wondered how lonely it must have been for my mother back when she was alone with four little kids in a different country while my father was at the base all day with our only car. Ugh.
Q. I feel panicked if I leave my cell phone at home, and even have it with me at all times at home. How do you think that changes the parenting experience for young moms?
A. It is a blessing to be able to take care of an ‘emergency’ in an instance and I value the cell phone as a safety/security tool but I worry that it does not allow us to be ‘fully present’ at tall times….enjoying the moment with our children or others…..always afraid we will ‘miss something’ if we are not linked or checking our phones.
So true, smartphones are a huge distraction. So while my smartphone keeps me connected with my husband when we’re apart, it can be a hindrance to my time with my children. But I am so grateful to have the convenience of a cell phone in case of an emergency situation. I was especially thankfully for it when I was pregnant and terrified of going into labor when I was alone. A baseless fear, by the way, since both of my boys were induced.
Q. With a cell phone, I can call someone in the next house or across the country for the same price. How often were you able to connect with family and friends when you had long distance charges to think about?
A. Back in the day, long distance was reserved for special occasions only, important family news, as a result we wrote more letters – sadly that art is slowly dying.
I still get excited when I get even a thank you card in the mail. It just makes me feel so special to know that someone took the time and trouble to sit down to write a note specifically to me. I can’t say that I feel that way about emails, even though getting a personal email rather than a group email blast is nice.
And, now that we don’t have to worry about long distance charges, my family members do a pretty good job of keeping up with each other’s lives. I’m glad that my kids will hear from and about family members on a regular basis, which was not my experience growing up.
Q. Even though I have a myriad number of ways to connect with people (cell phone, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter), many days I don’t speak to any adults other than my husband. How did you connect with people when you had small children at home?
A. We didn’t have all the social media in my day, so morning coffees with gal friends in the neighborhood, chats outside while we surpervised their playing; or monthly social meetings (wives clubs) fulfilled that need. Also, we shared and grouped for hobbies (ceramics and macramé).
Do you know your neighbors? I don’t. Coffee with the neighborhood ladies sounds heavenly, but I’m afraid that it will never be a reality for me. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember the last time I got together with a group of ladies for some social time. And will my kids ever play with neighborhood kids? That seems like a strange question to ask, but I feel like we’re getting more and more disconnected from those that are physically closest to us.
Q. Do you have any other comments you’d like to make on this topic?
A. We know that social media gives us a false sense of being connected – in touch. Do we really know what is going on with our friends in family through texts, facebook interactions…etc.. Though social media gives us introverts the opportunity to connect in a more comfortable manner, I think it can actually disconnect us with friends and family if we are not careful. Its too easy to send a text or look on facebook rather than pickup the phone, or spend one on one with loved ones. I actually have more heart to heart with my aunt who is not available to me on social media then with those that are…..
I have to agree that, though technological advancements in the last 40 years have given us more options for communication, actual communication has taken a hit in quality. Meaningful interactions in the form of one-on-one time and even chatty letters have been replaced by quick text messages and Facebook status updates intended for a wide audience. So even though we are supposedly more connected than ever, it seems like we are actually less connected than ever. In 2013, we have to work harder to have meaningful interactions, even with our own children. And that’s a connection that I’m not willing to do without.