A few weeks ago, my five-year-old son fell ill and all he wanted was mommy’s attention.
For any parent out there, I know for a fact we all can relate to how heart wrenching it is when your offspring needs you and you are powerless at any given time to give them that attention or hug that they need.
You see I happen to be in Tanzania while he lives with my parents in another country, over four thousand kilometres from me.
For reasons beyond my control, I have had to allow him to stay there with them and as such, become a veteran e-mom.
However, the internet and its many wonderful opportunities keeps breaking down certain barriers.
For about the two days my son was ill and out of school, my life and schedule revolved around my phone more than it ever before.
I like to believe that after all this time, I have become an expert “e-parent”.
I would sit on my phone for hours, coaxing this little boy to have his dinner, take his medicine while he comes up with all sorts of excuses as to why he shouldn’t and cannot.
I have sang songs and read bedtime stories until he would fall asleep.
I would be woken up in the middle of night by a video call because he woke up with shivers crying out for mommy and the singing cycle continued until he fell asleep again.
I would wake up looking haggard and fatigued because as much as e-parenting is convenient for parents away from their children, it is very much exhausting in its own way.
I have been asked countless times if I worry about my child forgetting me or the bond between mother and child weakening and if we are being honest, this is a fear echoed by many parents.
There has also been concerns and comparisons amongst many of my peers about just how impossible it is to be a hands-on parent when you are away from your child.
What is e-parenting?
If at this point you are still wondering what I am rumbling on about or have gone to professor google and found something about parents relying on gadgets to entertain their kids or find activities such as arts and crafts or games, allow me to spare you the data you are about to spend.
You are one foot on the track of what I am trying to communicate but it is noteworthy that e-parenting is a whole ecosystem of its own.
It covers the gadgets, internet availability and everything else reliant on technology to help you have constant and consistent access to your child and helps you do the things you may otherwise have been unable to accomplish on your own.
Now thanks to this parent saver, I do not necessarily have to worry my pretty little head so much about my child forgetting me or our mother-son bond weakening too much simply because I am not home with him.
What brought about e-parenting?
The concept of e-parenting was an inevitable part of evolution.
Many of us reading this may be familiar with ideas like “you should not leave your kids in front of screen, it’s not good for them” or “kids that spend a lot of time in front of screens and gadgets become lazy and do not use their brain effectively”.
There have been so many negative statements concerning this from many of the former generations of parents and I am inclined to believe that there was actual, tangible evidence as to why at some point, this was their line of thinking.
It was not mere misunderstanding of what the internet and gadgets had to offer.
To answer this question, the simple matter of evolution is responsible for e-parenting.
The growth of digital platforms means kids and parents alike get to spend the bulk of their time on devices and online, either for work or recreation.
The concept of internet only for play has changed to internet being the most useful tool for communication, learning and much more.
Everything has become an online demand because of the need of the hour.
Youths and young people are mostly dependant on digital communication.
Comparison of different generations e-parenting
To better understand what we millennial moms and dads are dealing with today, it’s important that we take a step back and understand the generations before us first if we have any hope of understanding ourselves and those coming after us.
•Generation X– this generation is of people born between the years 1965 and 1979 and is commonly known as the baby bust generation because it came right after the baby boomer generation and if you already guessed it, their numbers were less than that of baby boomers hence the name.
Currently the oldest baby bust individuals are around 56 years while the youngest are at 42.
My parents fall within this generation and their views on e-parenting were quite reserved because they did not have much of what we have, technological-wise, today.
They struggled to understand why young parents these days have no qualms about exposing children as young as a month to a screen.
• Xennials – The cohort known as “Xennials” are composed of the oldest millennials.
This is a crossover generatio. They are born roughly between 1975 and 1985 plus or minus a few years.
The idea being that Xennials are more like the preceding Gen X than they are like millennials.
This generation does not necessarily disagree or agree with the dependence on technology that millennials and generations coming after them live by.
They rather live by sieving through the trends and picking what works and makes sense to them.
I have experienced this generation in my older cousins.
•Millennials, Generation Y, Gen Next - The Millennials grew up and began their careers in a time when almost every home had an internet connection and a computer.
They lived through 2008, the largest economic decline since the great depression; witnessed 911 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
They are now experiencing the dire effects of global warming becoming obvious with unusually severe storms, hotter weather, colder weather, more droughts.
This generation, born between the years 1980 and 1994, has evolved together with the internet and have been the ones to drive much of the evolution through their visions and needs.
This generation is impactful on the digital world and this is the generation I now find myself in.
We then have the iGen / Gen Z born between 1995 and 2012 and the Gen Alpha born and yet to be born between the years 2013 and 2025.
These generations are still way too young to have fuelled change into the e-parenting world but will definitely live to reap the benefits of millennial inputs in shaping digital parenting as we know it today.
Life & Style did a mini research on views around e-parenting to better understand what our current society looks like in this aspect, regardless of the generational barriers.
Lusajo Kibonde is a father of two Gen Alpha girls.
He has had to consciously work to adapt to e-parenting due to work constraints.
He says he has actually found it helpful because it helped him stay in contact with his girls on days he was away from home for prolonged periods of time.
“I was able to supervise homework, keep up with their days and extra- curricular activities without worrying about missing out on so much of their day-to-day activities” he says.
Lusajo himself falls in the Gen X group and he has found a way to learn and adapt, unlike some of his peers.
Coming back to my neighbourhood, Abdul Tembo, another Gen X parent says he does not believe that exposing children to gadgets and a young age is helpful.
He explains that he has had to set very strict rules for his grandchildren whom he raises because he does not want tech-slaves in his hands.
“It is difficult for me to keep track of what my grandchildren look at and I do not want them to grow up as zombies who are fully dependent of their phones and cannot relate with people in person” he explains.
“How can you say you are raising your child when all you do is talk to him over the phone every day? That is not parenting” he said to me.
Upon speaking to many parents about their views and trying to put myself in their shoes for all of a minute, I learnt that parenting has no manual.
No one way is right or wrong.
The principles and goals of every are pretty much constant and similar in that we want to raise good, responsible, compassionate and hardworking individuals that are able to make change and be impactful in their own right.
The techniques and tools at each parents’ disposal are what make or break our parenting and in truth, we are all winging it as we go.
In my own way, I had to explain to Abdul just how much of a hand-on parent I am.
I prepare study material, tutor my son, sing him songs when he isn’t well, read him story books and put him to bed despite being over four thousand kilometres away from him.
Each parenting decision is a consious choice that we make to be able to raise the adults we hope to see.
Like any other part of life, one needs to be open to learning what e-parenting entails especially individuals in the Gen X age group going back.
However, the millenial in me also had to learn to understand these past generations and avoid presumtously counting them as illiterate or pigheaded in the ways of e-parenting as I so harshly judged before.
E-parenting is a concept many millennial parents have had to adapt to aid their parenting.
It is truly a modern solution for any modern parent.