Is it helpful information or a form of digitally-enabled helicopter parenting?
I didn't know daycare notification apps were a thing until my youngest child started at a new center this spring. I was asked to download an app called HiMama and soon began receiving detailed accounts about his day. Everything from the meals he eats and how much, to when he sleeps and uses the potty is recorded, along with occasional pictures.
It wasn't until I read an article in The Lily about these apps creating a 'digital tether' between working parents and their kids that I really stopped to analyze what HiMama means. The article, written by Caroline Kitchener, describes parents who have found the influx of information to be addictive and distracting, making it harder for them to concentrate at work. One mother was "checking her phone obsessively." Another said that, once she started receiving updates, it was hard to stop:
"It's the natural instinct to want to know, ‘how’s my son doing, how’s my son doing, how’s my son doing.' It’s the most valuable thing I could possibly learn more about. There is really no quelling that type of addiction."
The fact that mothers in the United States have to go back to work so early after their babies are born, and that childcare is generally not shared evenly with fathers (perhaps reflected in the app's name, which irritates my husband), places a disproportionate mental burden on women's shoulders, making them more likely to rely on apps like HiMama, Tadpoles, and Kinderlime.
Kitchener writes that daycare apps are not mentioned in interviews with European mothers as much as they are by American moms. That's likely linked to having better maternal policies – "paid parental leave, affordable child care, and, in some countries, a legally protected option to work part time until your child reaches a certain age" – making mothers less anxious to leave their children in the hands of strangers.
I suspect parenting style plays a role, too. Western and northern European babies and toddlers tend to be far more regimented in their daily routines than American children, which means that European parents already know what their kids are doing at any point in the day because it's what they do every day. There's more guesswork and irregularity in American-style upbringing (and in Canada where I live).
My view of HiMama is mixed. If someone had described it to me six months ago, I would've said it sounded idiotic. We live in a time of information overload and are overly obsessed with tracking every aspect of our lives and not concerned enough with how we spend our time. I worry, too, about it being a gateway drug to further helicopter parenting.
Now that I've used the app, though, I admittedly enjoy peeking at what my son is up to. I do not enable notifications, which helps to minimize distractions, but I do appreciate being able to log in and see exactly how long he napped and how much he ate, as it does have an impact on our evening routine.
My bigger concern, however, is how much time and effort it must take the caregivers to input all that data about the children. For a daycare that prioritizes low-tech, natural materials, and outdoor playtime, it seems oddly out of place to think that my son's teachers must be tethered to their phones, uploading photos and tracking nap times down to the minute. While I am happy with the care my son receives, I can't help but think it sounds exhausting. Why create so much extra work?
In the words of Caitlyn Collins, a sociology professor at Washington University who studies the experiences of working mothers, "The reason women want these apps is because they can’t be with their kids when they’re infants. In the face of more supportive policies, and men taking on an increasingly egalitarian role at home, these apps become less necessary." In other words, HiMama may be filling a need, but it's a Band-Aid solution for a child-raising culture in need of a serious update.