Last week I was reading a Wall Street Journal article, an excerpt from a new parenting book by Jennifer Senior, that discusses time and parenting. This piece focused on differing notions of time management and parenting between women and men. Ultimately, it argued that women often performed tasks that involved childcare and time sensitive-tasks, which took up more mental time. It was hard for me to disagree. I would much prefer folding five loads of laundry by myself than trying to convince any of my children to take a bath before bed. This article also made me think about how our media environments, not just sex/gender identifications, may impact how we see time.
New media that are all about instant gratification changes expectations of how long you are willing to wait for something to happen. When I was a child, I was always waiting. If my parents needed something, they had to wait until they had the time to go to the store and purchase it. My children know that we are only two days away (at most) from our desired item using Amazon Prime. Need more flag Post-Its for school? No problem. Outgrew your assembly jumper? I just need a few minutes to purchase that online.
If I wanted to see my favorite show on television when I was kid, I had to wait for an episode to be broadcast. “Stay tuned” meant just that: if I walked away or turned the channel during commercials, I might miss a crucial plot point. My children, however, simply can demand things from their media appliances (and, increasingly, from me — though I am not as responsive as their DVR).
Yet, life still has moments when waiting for a period of time is still necessary. My nine-year old recently discovered that going to sleep is not as instant as it used to be for him. Now he needs to teach his body to relax before he will go to sleep. He can’t understand, though, why his body can’t just click off like his Minecraft game when he’s done.
I wonder how this next generation will be able to respond to and deal with things that can’t be ordered, purchased, or resolved quickly-- things that just need time. The more difficult tasks of parenting and teaching are the ones that are endless. How do you teach your children kindness? How do you motivate an 18-year old to love learning for learning’s sake? How do foster independence while painfully watching them do something you know will end up in a disaster? In childhood, parenting, and teaching, some things just take time. It’s hard enough for me, but how will it be for a future society saturated with products and services designed to eradicate waiting, changing our relationship to time?