The worst thing to say to busy parents

Author Mem Fox at a reading.

Author Mem Fox at a reading.

For someone who makes a living writing children's books, Mem Fox is surprisingly adept at ruffling the feathers of her potential customers.

Having previously put the boot into parents who who leave babies in child care, she's been ladling out the guilt once more with criticism aimed at adults who allow young children to use smartphones and tablets.

The author of best sellers such as Possum Magic and Where is the Green Sheep? claimed that too many mums and dads have replaced family time with the iBabysitter.

Children's books author Mem Fox.

Children's books author Mem Fox.

"Really, why do we have children if we can't spend some time with them? It is just not right for the child. If we can't spend time with our kids, we shouldn't be having them."


She went on to say she was left heartbroken by the sight of children left alone with electronic devices to amuse themselves.

"One of the things that bothers me most is that people seem to think that kids can be left alone with technology, [but] they would be less likely to leave the child alone with a pile of books at the age of two or three," she said. "It is the aloneness that is heartbreaking."

It's worth noting that Fox's observations come as she prepares for a national tour to promote her new book, Baby Bedtime, and she wouldn't be the first author to court controversy when there is a new release to flog.

But surely telling parents they shouldn't have kids if they can't spend time with them is a particularly cruel way to boost sales.

Perhaps in Fox's world, parents and their children are joined at the hip to the point where the kids never have to go to child care and mum and dad can while away many joyous hours reading her books to their offspring.

In the real world, not so much.

The world most families occupy involves paid work, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing, medical appointments and numerous other activities that young children find less than enthralling.

So who can blame a parent who hands over the smartphone to keep their kid occupied while standing in line at the supermarket? Not all parents carry a library of books around with them to keep their kids entertained while they are waiting to see a bank teller. And it's safe to assume parents would rather listen to the gentle click of a tablet in the back seat of the car than a full blown screaming match between siblings on a long drive.

Sure there might be some mums and dads whose parenting default position is to pass the electronic device at the first sign of trouble but I suspect they are in the minority and it should not be interpreted to mean they don't want to spend time with their kids and therefore shouldn't have them.

Fox's latest observations strike me as even more judgmental than her previous remarks about the detrimental effects of child care. While she was widely quoted as comparing child care to child abuse, she later clarified that she was repeating comments made by the owner of a Queensland centre. Still, she declined to back down, saying she was speaking up for the babies in full-time care who couldn't defend themselves.

But, as is the the case with the tech-dependent kids, families with babies in full-time care are in a tiny minority of all childcare users and they don't deserve condemnation.

It seems to me that Fox has bought into a conservative agenda which shames good parents for making "bad" choices such as letting their kids spend time on the smartphone or placing them in childcare.

Perhaps the issue is not so much whether smartphones, tablets, childcare and other things that occasionally liberate parents from parenting are tearing the fabric of society apart. Perhaps the real issue is a culture which seems hyper-critical of any parent who doesn't live up to the unrealistic expectations of people like Fox.

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  • oh you can't be serious? She is absolutely correct, this generation of parents are hopeless and when children show signs of how badly they have been parented it will all be Tony Abbott's fault. Go Mem really give it to them maybe they will wake up but I doubt it.

    Date and time
    November 14, 2013, 6:48AM
    • I was left in a playpen with a pile of books very young and it was great! I've been a big reader ever since...and now I read on my tablet. A shocking development. Just maybe, Mem Fox has a certain financial interest in kids having lots of books...

      Date and time
      November 14, 2013, 8:10AM
      • What is wrong with you people???? When you become a parent, you do not immediately become above criticism. If you disagree with Mem Fox (as I do) just say it is OK to let kids play with technology. Don't do the "woe is me, I am a poor, time-poor working mother and no one should criticise me" line. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes including people who have given birth. They also make mistakes with their kids and should be sensible enough to take on board any reasonable criticism of what they do; just as we all do in our personal relationships, friendships and jobs.
        We don't become emotional jellyfish when we give birth!

        Date and time
        November 14, 2013, 8:29AM
        • This really seems to build on yesterday's article about how smart phones are ruining face to face time with adults so it is obviously means we are ruining our kids too! Technology always seems to cop the blame for society's ills. At the end of the day it is surely about how often parents use any technique or tool to raise their children. We should be exposing them to all sorts of experiences and opportunities. Some will be technology based and some won't. Some will be interactive and some will involve alone time. Surely it's about balance! I would love to know how Fox has insight into all the time parents have with their kids and how they spend it with them?

          Date and time
          November 14, 2013, 8:54AM
          • I absolutely agree: if yu don't want to spend time with your children, then don't have them. But in the end it's parents' laziness with both options; the first being too lazy not using contraception and then discovering a child is on the way, the second being too lazy (busy, ahem) to spend time with the kids when you have them.

            It seems a a particularly cruel thing to do to have children and then not spend any time with them.

            Date and time
            November 14, 2013, 8:57AM
            • You aren't serious, are you? Where does it say or who said parents are not spending "any time with them [their children]" You are a troll creating an argument where there was none.

              Public Joe
              Date and time
              November 14, 2013, 2:58PM
          • This piece reads like something written by a sulky teenager.

            There was a moving piece written here a while back about a women who gave birth to twins and who was completely at sea, desperate, sleep deprived, abandoned and she didn't know how to care for her children. Then along came a mothercraft nurse and settled the babies pretty much straight away and saved the writer from probably a depression and giving her babies up for adoption.

            Point is, many women who are so focused on themselves and don't have a clue how to raise children are simply giving the job to someone else or in so so so many cases, to the IPAD, tv, x-box and so on. Parenting is a hands on job and children are increasingly isolated once they are picked up from childcare.

            The only saving grace is that there is good childcare around and that is who is raising your children, socialising them and hopefully saving them from parents who haven't a clue.

            Date and time
            November 14, 2013, 9:01AM
            • Yeah right. It's the hyper-critique of parents and unrealistic expectations that are 'tearing the fabric of society apart' as opposed to what people/parents actually do or don't do in terms of their actual behaviour. What a laugh. If you think the fabric of society is being torn apart then I must be missing something.

              Date and time
              November 14, 2013, 9:12AM
              • Her books are just awful too. We've unfortunately got a couple at home and I hate every one of them. There are much much better kids books around than hers.

                Date and time
                November 14, 2013, 9:17AM
                • Burn them would be a good idea.

                  Date and time
                  November 14, 2013, 3:30PM

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