“I’m amazed at how much time kids spend on their tablets these days,” the waitress said, without even attempting to hide her disdain. And then — after slipping a children’s menu in between my 5-year-old son’s face and the tablet he was intensely focused on — she turned her eyes towards me, smirked, and added sarcastically, “I’m guessing he doesn’t want any crayons?”
Listen lady, don’t judge me, I thought to myself. But the truth is, I’ve had that thought way too many times on this topic.
I’ll admit it; I’m that mom. The one who takes her children to the park, and doesn’t mind if her kid sits on the bench and plays on his tablet the entire time. The mom who brings it along on family outings, or social functions, and never forgets the charger. In fact, a few months ago, I took my 5-year-old son to an amusement park, handed him a tablet, and my husband pushed him around in a stroller all day so that he could focus on his games without walking into anything (or anyone). You can’t even imagine the dirty looks that people gave us.
But what people didn’t know, was that the stroller-and-tablet combo was providing a much-needed break for my son. A break he often needs when his brain is overwhelmed by the effects of his epilepsy.
There are moments when he needs to be able to tune out the world, and focus on one thing. When he’s been up all night seizing and is exhausted, dazed, and grouchy as hell. Or when his tiny little brain is gearing up to seize again, and he isn’t in a position to be interacting with other people, or process the environment around him.
There are times when he just needs everyone and everything to leave him alone.
Sometimes, he just needs his tablet, and when that happens, what he doesn’t need, is to be judged. And I don’t need to be judged, either.
Seriously, when did other people become an expert in parenting my children, or any other children than their own?
For the record, I was never planning to be a “screen time” mom. Before I had kids, I had visions of homeschooling my little people, and only letting them watch an hour of TV on the weekends. I figured that I was going to be a Pinterest mom, and we were going to be an outdoorsy family; always on the move with another adventure in sight. I was certainly never intending to take a tablet along on a nature hike.
But then my kids were born, and reality set in. What they needed was not what I had expected, and so, I adapted.
Then, when epilepsy came along, I adapted again. I changed my idea of how I had planned to raise my son — and what I assumed and expected he would need — and instead, I gave him what he actually needed. Because I am his mother, and that is my job.
And yes, it was a struggle to accept.
It’s not easy raising kids with special needs, especially when I have another child with a genetic disorder, and have spent most of the time as a single parent (which I was also not expecting to do). But harder yet, is not feeling supported by my fellow mothers.
I see your glares, the ones you give me in shock and awe when we visit the library, tablet in hand. I know you are judging me when you throw in your little comments of “my-my, he sure is into that, isn’t he?”
Yes, he is, because it’s what he needs right now. He needs a break from life, and I need a break from the judgement.
Epilepsy aside, sometimes we all just need a break — whether it’s children with special needs, or their overwhelmed parents who cannot fathom being “on duty” for one more minute; couples desperate to reconnect over adult conversation, or children that have missed naps and are grouchy beyond being reasoned with.
If a tablet can calm temporarily calm a difficult situation, then I say more power to you! I won’t judge you for a minute, or assume that just because I see your kid on a tablet, that it’s the only thing they ever do.
My life cannot always stop just because my son needs a break. Epilepsy is unpredictable and I would be chained to the house if I halted my life because of it. That is not a luxury I have with another child to attend to, and things that I need to get done. It’s not even what I want for my son. But this is his life, and I want to immerse him in all its experiences, as much as I can; even if that means that some days, it’s only absorbed in glimpses when he looks up from a screen.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and right now, this is the best solution that I can come up with. It’s not perfect, but it works for us, and if there’s anything that I’ve learned over the course of my parenting career, it’s that sometimes, you just throw out the plans you had, and do what works best for your kids.
Some days I aim for the moon, and settle for a tablet in the middle of a children’s museum instead. And if I see you there, doing the same thing, I won’t judge you for it.
I trust you, because you know your kids better than I do.