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Does technology make you a bad parent?

Inspired by YouTube commenters, one writer takes a long, hard look at his own parenting.

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I've spent the last few months buried in baby- and child-related technology, from smart changing pads and monitors, to smart sleepers and thermometers. I've loved some gadgets and hated others, and commenters on each of my videos have often echoed my opinions.

But many commenters have also echoed something else. The first comment on my first baby-related tech video review was this: "the idea of a machine rocking a baby to sleep and nor (sic) the parents is just sad and pathetic, period. if you're always too tired or too busy to be involved with your child or to at least rock him to sleep, you shouldn't have had that kid in the first place."

Normally, I'd chalk it up to commenters being the worst (see also this simple comment on that video: "ugly baby"). But the tech-makes-you-a-bad-parent sentiment shows up almost every time I review a new device. So I decided to hold up my own assumptions to the standard of these commenters -- does using baby tech really make me a bad parent?

Is "a machine rocking a baby to sleep" evil?

The cool thing about technology is its power to ease certain difficulties in life. Exhibit A: parenting. Being a parent is tough, whether you're torn between watching your child sleep and getting a little work done, or between nursing your child in public or using formula. And that's where tools like baby monitors and breast pumps make a big difference.

It's hard to imagine raising a child these days without easily accessible binkies, boppies, bumbos and other nonsensically named products. Why? Because they meet real needs of real parents. Even if I didn't like this $250 smart changing pad, I can still appreciate the way it meets the needs of parents whose kids have known health concerns. For them, carefully tracking weight-gains is critically important, and apps and gadgets can turn those anxiety-inducing first few months into something far more joyful.

So, considering commenters are probably using baby gadgets of some sort, and they're certainly using computers and phones to type their concerns, I doubt they're just angry about technology in general. It's something more.

"ugly baby"

Chris Monroe/CNET

Am I "too tired or too busy" to have kids?

Maybe commenters don't have a problem with the technology itself -- just what it says about users. If you really need the relief of a smart baby rocker, for instance, then maybe you shouldn't have a baby in the first place.

Let's get one thing straight: Having kids makes you tired. I work for a company that supports new mothers and fathers really well, and my wife parents full-time. We're luckier than many young parents, and we're still exhausted most of the time. Neither of us has slept all night in months, our son wants to be held/fed/changed constantly, and doing anything outside our apartment demands extra time and effort just to assemble everything we need: diapers, wipes, bottles, pacifiers, extra clothes, a stroller, etc.

Parenting is exhausting no matter how much time you think you have. In fact, if you're tired enough to want relief from a smart cradle, it probably means you're doing something right.


"Call it the lazy mom seat!"

Chris Monroe/CNET

Am I a distracted parent?

Commenters aren't just afraid of new technology or tired parents. Hiding in the inarticulate anger of these comments is a legitimate concern: that using technology could lead parents to interact less with their children. And to be honest, I get it.

It's often easier to pull out my phone while my son chugs a bottle of milk than it is to talk to him. And reading every book out loud gets old sometimes, because I'm moving at half the speed of silent reading. By now the novelty of one-way conversations has worn off, and I miss not needing to half-listen for my son to wake up crying in the other room.

Distractions are real, but they aren't always wrong to have. Once you become a parent, the rest of your life shouldn't end. In fact, it takes work to maintain relationships after having a kid, simply because parenthood itself can be a distraction. My wife and I have to intentionally plan date nights now, but it's worth the work because both of us take our relationship very seriously.

My wife and I play with my son, Idris.

Chris Monroe/CNET

For me, and many millennials like me, parenting is about re-learning to be present. Suddenly time is a precious commodity, and holding your child when you get the chance is just as important as stealing a half-hour of peace to relax. You start running into problems when other responsibilities or expectations stop you from appreciating the beauty and joy of the moment you're in.

So my answer to YouTube commenters is: parents want the best for their children. That's why mothers and fathers walk financial tightropes for years, and why they stop staying out with friends till late at night.

Is it true that our technology can distract us from the beautiful moments of parenting? Sure. But the parents most at risk of these sorts of distractions are probably the same ones perched behind keyboards, commenting on YouTube videos, and calling my baby ugly.