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(grandfather to dad, who is using a tablet while his daughter plays on the floor) In my day, if you wanted to be emotionally unavailable to your children, you did it the old-fashioned way - with a good book or a newspaper.

Your childhood is important to us. Please remain on the line, and a parent will be with you shortly.

Your childhood is important to us. Please remain on the line, and a parent will be with you shortly. published on No Comments on Your childhood is important to us. Please remain on the line, and a parent will be with you shortly.Purchase print

I see a lot of parent-shaming going on over mobile devices. The narrative goes that we’re updating Facebook, playing Candy Crush or seeing who’s checked out our fake Tinder profiles that we created just to salve our egos, except it’s backfired horribly and confirmed every fear we ever had about our own attractiveness (no? just me, huh?) — and meanwhile our children are tugging our pantlegs and whimpering “But daddy, dinnertime was seven hours ago. I’m sooooo hungry and the guinea pig’s starting to smell really tasty.”

I have moments I’m not especially proud of. But I also have a memory of my own parents and, loving though they were, they had their own ways to lower the Cone of Silence.

See, when it comes to child-ignoring technology, digital devices are strictly the new neglected kids on the block. As a parent, I represent a proud tradition of burying your nose in whatever’s handy: crosswords, the newspaper (“But honey, I hate sports!” “Shh! And don’t look up — you’ll make eye contact, and then we’re screwed!”), television, novels, the undersides of jalopies, papal bulls or cave paintings. (“Aw, that sabre-tooth tiger wants cheezburger.”)

It’s not all self-indulgence; sanity demands some alone time, and kids do need to learn a little emotional self-reliance.

But there’s a price to pay. While I’m writing this, I can’t help but think of how much I wish I was with my kids right now – joking with them, enjoying their laughter, loving each others’ company. I forget the moments of exasperation, the stress, the need to be alone with my thoughts now and then. (That’s one reason why parent-shaming works: it’s a reminder of the opportunity cost of everything we do, and it preys on our tendency to look at that opportunity cost in only one direction.)

The issue, as with so many things, is striking a balance. And being, if not comfortable, then at least at peace with knowing that means some frustration for everyone.

Also, putting a good child-proof lock on the guinea pig’s cage.

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