I was sitting on one of those lounge chairs you see around swimming pools. My kids were in the water, listening intently to their swim instructor. My phone was in my hand. It was like this time was made specifically for my relaxation.
I opened up Facebook on my phone. One of my friends got Ponch on a Which CHiPs Character Are You quiz. Another one was reminding us all that McDonald’s is bad for us.
And then something caught my eye.
It was my son. It was his turn to try to float across the pool on his back. I put my phone down and watched him. He was doing great. I couldn’t help but smile. I wanted to cheer but it didn’t seem appropriate. There had to be some way to let him know that I was proud of him. There was.
But I would have missed it if I wouldn’t have put my phone down.
As soon as he was done floating to the other side, my son turned his head in my direction. His eye caught mine. I gave him a thumbs up. A slight smile came across his face as he went back to the side of the pool to wait for his turn to go again.
Soon, it was my youngest son’s turn. Instead of looking at me when he was done floating, he looked in my direction before he started. My mouth said nothing to him. With my eyes, I tried to say, “I’m with you. You’re going to do great. Be brave.” He seemed to listen because that’s what he did.
This same scenario played out for the rest of the hour long class.
Each time a son looked in my direction, a thought hit me. What if all they saw was the top of my head while I gazed down at the latest news about the Ultimate Warrior’s untimely death? What if their searching eyes never found mine?
My sons would have missed that look of approval from their father. I would have missed the joy of giving them that approval.
Helicopter parenting is what parents do when they involve themselves in every aspect of their child’s life, never giving them room to fail, develop their own identity or learn on their own.
Zombie parenting is what parents do when they numbly mutter, “Good job” to their kid at the end of a practice or game that they never saw because they were too busy mindlessly texting, checking e-mail and figuring out which character from Friends they are most like.
Your kids don’t always need your instruction on the best technique. That’s what coaches are for. But they do need something from you that no coach can offer. They need to know that you are watching them. That you care. That you are happy with them.
That means that sometimes they need you to put down your phone.
Otherwise, you just might miss the most important thing at your kid’s practice. Making eye contact with her. And if she starts to see the top of your head too much, something really devastating will happen.
She’ll stop looking in your direction.