To The Mother at The Park on Her Phone,
I saw you at the park today with your two young children. They were laughing and playing together, having so much fun. They looked over at you but you didn’t see them. You were busy on your phone, lost in whatever you were doing. You didn’t hear as they called your name, asking you to watch as they slid down the slide again.
Later on you looked up and caught my eye. I tried to smile but you looked away quickly as you hurried to put your phone away, as if you had been caught doing something you shouldn’t do. I wasn’t thinking what you thought I was though. There was no judgement from me, no disapproval or criticism in my eyes. I get it, completely.
The truth is I have no idea what you were doing on your phone, or what is going on in your life today. I have no idea if you were texting a loved one who you haven’t seen in a while, or if you were sending an important work email. I don’t know if you were supporting a friend who really needed someone to listen at that exact moment, or maybe it was you who needed some support today. You could’ve been taking a few minutes to browse your Instagram feed, or tag your best friend in a funny meme on Facebook. For all I know you might’ve been playing Candy Crush – it doesn’t matter to me.
I’ve been in your position, probably more times that I’m willing to admit. I’ve been the mother at the park on her phone, and I’ve been the mother at soft play, distracted by something else. I’ve been the mother who hushes her excited child – “just one second darling, I just need to finish this one thing..” while others probably looked on and judged.
Onlookers have no idea what was happening in my life at that exact moment though; what I was dealing with, where my head was at, what I needed to do to keep myself afloat.
See, I’ve been the mother who can’t remember the last time she communicated with an adult in real life – I’ve gone days without a proper conversation that wasn’t Paw Patrol focused. I’ve been the mother who has gone long periods of time without seeing the person she loves, only managing the occasional phone call or text. I’ve been the mother who has been dying to catch up with friends, to discuss everything going on in our lives, constantly trying to get our schedules to fit. I’ve been the mother pushed to her absolute limits, struggling to cope solo with a demanding young child, desperate for some space, a break, or just to breathe.
I am the mother who runs a business from home, trying to bring in enough money to put food on the table and get the bills paid. Some days I have deadlines, to do lists, things I have to get done, and it feels like I’m always failing at something. Sometimes I struggle to find the balance, desperate to be both ‘in the moment’ with my child, and successful at what I’ve set out to achieve.
I am the mother who sometimes feels lonely and isolated, cut off from the friends and the social life I used to have. Trapped in a world of soft plays and cartoons, days out and craft activities. Sometimes I need to escape that – to just have five minutes in a completely different world. Or sometimes I need to seek out people who understand those feelings, who can empathise with my isolation, or let me know that actually I am never alone in feeling this way.
I am the mother who can sometimes struggle to carry on, when life really gets tough and it feels like everything is going wrong. Some days it’s my friends who have a hard day, and they need someone to listen as they rant or as they cry. On those days I am on my phone more than I would like, because my support network is often a Whatsapp message or a DM away.
I am often the mother at the park on her phone, missing out on the moment because I’m too absorbed in something else. People may look on and shake their heads at me, but they don’t know. They don’t know how much I need those few moments, how much I need those quick messages or that little scroll through Instagram to regain some clarity or sanity. How many times that group chat has saved me, how many times I’ve saved someone else.
So when I caught your eye and smiled there was no harm meant, no malice behind it. My smile was full of empathy and understanding. Whatever your situation, whatever your frame of mind, we are all doing what we have to do. We are all doing the very best we can. If you need to have five/ten/thirty minutes on your phone while your children play at the park, if you need to get something done or take some space or catch up with a friend for the sake of your own well being, you’ll never see any judgement from me.
Motherhood is the most wonderful experience, but it will also push you to the very edge at times. It can be hard – it can be more than hard. Your heart can feel so very full of love and so empty at the same time. You can feel like you’re doing exactly what you’ve been built to do, and yet the person you are can be completely lost. You need friends, you need people, you need to know you’re not alone. You need kindness, empathy and smiles of understanding, not dirty looks of disapproval.
To parent with love your cup has to be full, your needs have to be met, your head has to be clear. You don’t ever need to feel guilty for something as essential as taking time for yourself. Your beautiful children are happy, they are safe, they are cared for. Their needs are met, their hearts are full and they are loved. That is what is important.
If I see you at the park again and I’m on my phone, racing to meet a deadline while my son plays on the swings or supporting a friend via Whatsapp while things are rough, I’ll look up at you and smile, because I know you understand.