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Physically Present, Emotionally Absent

Tuesday, October 27, 2015 @ 9:48 AM
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Jim Shempert One Million Dads MORE

My daughter is a live wire. From dawn to dusk, she is going full bore in everything she does. One of her most favorite things to do is go to a local park to swing and slide. Luckily for us, it is just a few minutes up the road from our house. Last week, we ran across another little girl that really gave me a wake-up call as a parent.

As we are putting my daughter in the swing, the little girl who seemed quite bubbly came over to my wife and started talking. I would guess her to be 9 or 10. She had clean clothes on, looked to be very healthy, and was nice enough. But it didn’t take very long for me to discern that something was off. She was overly effusive in talking to a couple that she didn’t know. She started telling us everything about herself. I chalked most of it up to her just being a kid. Having a love for children, I decided to engage her.  

There is a walking track next to the playground, so I assumed her mother was one of the ones using it. I asked her, “Is your mom walking?”

Her response still rings in my ears as I type this. “No, she’s in the car on the phone. She’s always on the phone. I wish she would play with me, but she won’t.”

I felt like a balloon that someone popped. Here was this sweet girl who was obviously starving for attention, to the point that she would latch on to a couple that she had never met simply because they took the time to talk with her.

Technology is fun. Technology is how I pay my bills. It’s what I have always done, and honestly, I don’t know how to do anything else. In this world of constant stress and distraction, it is ok to have something to escape all the noise. I get all that; I am just as guilty as anyone. In fact, I have been guilty more than once of being lost in one of my devices even when I was with my family.

I’d say I conduct 65% of my daily business on my smartphone. I answer emails, I update web pages, I manage servers, and I even play chess on it occasionally. It is convenient. But it is not permanent. My child is.

The precious moments that I have with her between now and college is what my legacy will be forever. I have many memories of my mom and dad, grandmother and grandfather as I think back to my childhood. Not one of them includes a smartphone. That app, the email, that blog post will not enrich your child’s life or be remembered at your funeral.

Call me a helicopter parent if you will, but in my mind, I have a finite number of days between now and the time that she leaves for college to teach her how she should live. Proverbs 22:6 reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

God has given my daughter to me for a purpose, that is to raise her in fear and admonition of the Lord, and thus she will raise her children, and so on and so forth. The gospel spread because of the power of God behind it, but it also spread because those who were faithful to God chose to teach the next generation about the love of God and His sacrificial plan for us all. 

My writings are generally geared towards fathers. Men always like a challenge. So, I have a challenge for dads, but really anyone who is a parent. Put the phone down.  That email will still be there. Your company’s IT staff is paid to make sure your email is available all the time. Trust me, I know. Leave Facebook alone until the kids go to bed.  Facebook is a several-billion-dollar company; they will be there. Leave that fiery tweet untweeted until later. Most of the time, you will find that the emotion behind it is not there anymore after some time has passed. 

Simply put, be present in your child’s life. Don’t let your child be so starved for attention that she seeks it out from strangers. Having all the devices in the world is fine, but in the end, the absolute necessity for solidly grounded kids is one-on-one time with their parents. They can’t learn life skills from Facebook and Instagram.  

Parents like to say, “What’s wrong with kids these days?” Maybe, it’s parents who are physically present but emotionally absent.  

Put down the phone. Don’t let social media raise your children. Make a tent out of a sheet and some chairs in the living room. Play a board game. Read a book. Color. Spend the moments you have with your children actually with them. Don’t let the memories they have of you be based around an Apple logo. 

Lead or others will. 


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