parent v non-parent

A young mom is talking on the phone and raising her index finger at her son who is interrupting her ...
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A Childfree Man On TikTok Judged A Mom On Her Phone & Oh Boy...

Opinions were shared. Nothing was learned. We can all do better.

It feels like a thing that happens every few months: A video goes viral primarily because it pits child-free people against people with children. A new video from TikTok influencer Mario Mirante is a bit of a double whammy because it spotlights another hot button topic: parents on phones. This story played out exactly the way you think it did: Tempers flared, familiar accusations were made on both sides, and I don’t think anybody learned anything. I do, however, think there’s actually something to be learned — just not what either side especially wants to hear.

The TikTok video is just over five minutes long and while I suggest watching it, the gist is this: Mirante recalls walking through a park on his way home from the gym where a child played as his mother sat on a nearby bench scrolling on her phone. He noted that she didn’t look up and didn’t notice him at all. When her son called out for his mom to watch him do something, she “One second!” but did not look up from her phone. Her high-pitched voice sounded “like a velociraptor,” he said. Mirante went on to empathize with the child, who he perceived as “terrified” and wondering “what did I do wrong” despite not having done anything wrong.

Hell yeah I’m judging someone for that.

The influencer goes on to relate that after posting this story the first time (apparently the original video was taken down), “hundreds” of people came into the comments defending the mother, who they suppose might have just needed a break for any number of reasons. (Parenting is hard! Maybe she was an overworked single mom!)

Mirante wanted to make it clear that none of these comments had changed his mind about what he had seen. “Hell yeah I’m judging someone for that,” he says, noting that screaming at a child when they haven’t done anything wrong “might have some traumatic effects in the future,” and warning that when the child grows up he may not want anything to do with his mother because “you treated him like he was annoying his whole childhood and scream at him for no reason.” He shared that he himself has a parent he no longer speaks to.

The comment section once again filled with impassioned arguments on both sides. Those defending the mother in the park were quick to point out that parenthood is tough and that we don’t know what the mom was doing, or how she was feeling, or, for that matter, what was happening before or after the events Mirante observed.

“I thought the same way as you,” wrote one. “And then I became a parent. Until you become a parent, you do not understand the struggle.”
“My kid used to say ‘mom’ every 5 secs. It was a joke in the family,” said another. “I’d lose my mind about 2% of the time about it. You just caught a bad moment.”
“Amazed by all the perfect parents that found and commented on this video,” another joked. “Teach us your ways!”

Others, however, pointed out that you don’t need to be a parent to empathize with a child who has just been inexplicably yelled at. Yes, parenting is hard, but kids need us to be loving and attentive even when it’s hard. Many took it as an opportunity to bemoan the role phones play in our lives.

“Parenting is hard, but you’re at the park with your kids,” wrote one. “There [sic] excited to be with you and want to make memories with you.”
“Time is a thief,” wrote another. “We need to cherish the time we have with our kids. We will never get it back.”
“That feeling of ‘but what did I do wrong?’ will stay with that child fora long time,” observed another. “It can be very damaging.”

Personally? I find all of these comments, and the original video, absolutely fascinating. Because in this wide range of responses, not a single lie was told and everybody was right. And nobody was right, either. At least not in a particularly substantial way.

First, let’s acknowledge those who defended this mom. They’re right! This guy watched 90 second of this woman’s (and child’s) life. He has no idea what happened before (maybe she was composing a very difficult email or had explained 15 times already that she just needed a few minutes to complete a task). And he has no idea what happened after. (Maybe she finished what she was doing and apologized.) It’s not secret that parents are burnt out as never before. Yes, we owe a lot of time and attention to our kids but expecting us to give all our time and attention to them is not only unrealistic but it’s harmful to caregivers who are (you may need to sit down for this one) still individuals and human beings.

Each comment reveals something about its authors’ experiences, prejudices, and anxieties.

Now let’s acknowledge that Mirante and the people who agreed with him are also right: Phones are a terrible distraction; our children deserve better than to see us hunched over them every chance we get. And barking at a kid who just wants to be seen is unkind at best — and cruel at worst. And moreover, if this interaction is indicative of a pattern in the child’s life, well then yes, that’s a dynamic that could affect this little boy for the rest of his life. You don’t need to be a parent to have an opinion on parenting.

Mirante notes that people defending the mother in the comments “made up” a back story in order to support their point and then, moments later, described an imagined future in which the child doesn’t talk to his mother because this sort of thing happened all the time. Each of these various takes, starting with Mirante’s, aren’t revelations; they’re reflections. Each comment reveals something about its authors’ experiences, prejudices, and anxieties.

Both sides were in battle mode, either defensive or offensive, because the content of this video triggered them in one way or another. And as bad a rap as “triggering” gets, it tells us something important: these interactions, and discussions matter, and we’d probably get more out of them if we acknowledged that both sides have a point worth listening to.