Julie Lyles Carr: Distraction Parenting

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Distraction Parenting

Pediatrician Dr. William Sears created something of a parenting firestorm when he introduced his concepts of 'Attachment Parenting' based on psychologist Eric Erickson's observations on the infant development of relationship to parent or primary caregiver. He called for parents to consider 8 stages of attachment needs and to respond accordingly. Some have seen his work as revolutionary, some think it has spawned an era of child-centered parenting, others have never heard of him. Attachment Parenting does have its zealots and critics. But a largely overlooked parenting theory is now being offered from my personal experiments and observations...behold, Distraction Parenting.

Perhaps I am raising a household of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdins (that's Houdini for those of you who think Wikipedia is an island off of Hawaii) but my children seem to have organized some sort of union and are mastering the arts of illusion with great aplomb. It's the old gag of waving the left hand in the face of the observer while the right hand slips in the right card or unlatches the key or stuffs the scarf in the sleeve. My children are developing an act all their own, usually centered around chore time or school. While one flashes bright sparklers in my face ("Mom, is 'my' spelled 'm apostrophe i'?"), one of the other children is four shelves up in the pantry, orangutan-like, toes clutching the edges of the board, raiding the chocolate stash. Child A can feign complete innocence ("But Mom, I was sitting with you the whole time at the table doing school--I don't know how those chocolate wrappers got in my bed...) while Child B can give me the "well, what do expect when you ignore me to do school with Child A" look, leaving me in a tailspin of mommy guilt and confusion ("Is Child B jealous of the time it is taking me to teach Child A how to spell "my"? Am I restricting sweets too much that it is causing a willingness to resort to subterfuge and deceit for sugar acquisition? Do I need to have my roots touched up? Did I ever put the wash in the dryer.....wait, what was I thinking about a couple of thoughts ago?")

In those moments when the curtain blows back and I can see Oz orchestrating these little moments of chimera, I feel a theory developing--Distraction Parenting. This theory is developed out of the idea that when children have certain desires or needs that they know may not find agreement in their primary caregiver's agenda, they can leverage the fact that the primary caregiver is sleep-deprived and hopped up on too much caffeine. Said caregiver is also easily distracted by bright, shiny objects and has a tendency toward hyperlexia, all of which can be powerful tools in the hands of a seasoned Child Illusionist. The latest generation which has come into evidence in our lab (i.e. kitchen table where we do school). Due to the generosity of an unnamed benefactor, I have recently come into possession of MY VERY OWN computer, not to be confused with the other hard drive electronics currently under the control of various family members. I am endlessly delighted to have computer territory completely under my purview, with icons set where I like them, settings set where I like them, access whenever I like....well, the list just goes on and on. But, because I do like bright, shiny objects and the Child Illusionists in my life know this, I will have to maintain ultimate vigilance to not enter a mirage of productivity on the computer, all to discover that toy cabinets have been pillaged and puzzle sets have been set on a course of separation that will render them incomplete and frustrated forever, known in the Latin as jigsaw interruptus. I submit notes from yesterday's field observations as evidence:

Me: "Please do that page of math facts."

Child A: "Okay"--see, it's already starting, lulling me into an apparition of obedience. This is a central technique to the illusion. The illusion would be spoiled if the child said, "No, I don't wanna do math..." I know this is technical, but try to stay with me....

Me: "Child B, please study that page of spelling words while I become completely distracted and lose all sense of time looking up ways on Google that I can become more organized and effective. Given a couple of minutes, I will become engrossed in said Google search and you can begin the illusion."

Child B: "Yes, dear mother."

Child A and Child B begin the stage craft of involved study and then through some secret handshake, eye roll, throat-clearing signal, the trick of light begins....

Child A: "Mom, can you help me with, um, this very confusing equation, 1 + 1?"
(Child B silently strolls in the general direction of the bathroom...)

Me: "You need help with 1 + 1? I have given my youth so that you are not sure about the sum of 1 + 1???"

Child A: "What does 'sum' mean?"

Me: "You will look up 'sum' in the glossary of your pre-algebra book and you will figure it out and I don't want to hear another word until you have come up with the answer because I am busy doing very important research on Google..."

Now they have me exactly where they want me--Child B is already away from the table, my reticulator devices already assuming that child is in the bathroom and Child A has been instructed to not bother me. Yes, they are this skilled. It has nothing to do with my level of self-discipline.

Time passes. I find the real name for Houdini. I check on some important email. I check on the temperature in London. And then it hits me--it's very quiet and still. Too quiet and still. Where are the kitchen table scholars? Where are the young minds thirsting for knowledge and the definition of 'sum'? How much time has passed since I've been in the MY VERY OWN computer wardrobe?

At this point, I begin the search party and find said scholars on the Wii upstairs, happily perfecting their virtual bowling games. They greet me warmly and act as if I said at some point that they should ditch math and spelling and play video games as a part of their curriculum. I actually have a moment where I am struggling to remember if I in fact did send them up to play video games. But because I am becoming more seasoned in recognizing their techniques, it only takes me a couple of minutes to determine with a certainty factor of 87% that I most likely did not send them up to play video games and that we were working on some definitions or math or something and that they should return to the table immediately. We shuffle downstairs to begin the knowledge acquisition process again. Things go smoothly, with Child A looking up the word 'sum' and Child B is in the bathroom....did you know that 'chimera' means 'dream'--I looked it up on thesarus.com.......
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