I don't have kids. Let's call it "Roomy Nest Syndrome." But that doesn't stop me from reading Lisa Belkin whenever I can. I spoke with her the other day about her new blog, "Motherlode: Adventures in Parenting," at nytimes.com/parenting.
Third Screen: So how's the baby blog?
Belkin: I compare the blog to nursing. Every time you turn around, it needs to be fed, but it's beginning to smile at me.
Third Screen: I feel that way about the crawl at the bottom of my television screen. I feel as if it's waving its little arms at me and screaming for my attention when I'm trying to watch the news.
Belkin: The television crawl? I hate it. I can't do two things at once. I am constantly saying, as it scrolls on by, "Wait a minute, did I just miss something?"
Third Screen: Good practice for when we're truly deeply old.
Belkin: My teen-age kids are better at it. Things come at them fast and they adjust. It's like one of those hitting machines for baseball. I think their attention span is shorter than ours was but longer than we tend to give them credit for. The kids I know, including the ones who live in my house, are pretty savvy. They hear it. They digest it. They connect it. My sons can find out a piece of information in a nano-second.
Third Screen: Do you think cell phones and laptops and Twitter have made them shallow and unsocialized?
Belkin: I don't think it's shallowness. I'm not native to the computer and they're born just knowing what to do with it. They don't need manuals. No fear. No intimidation. I'm a little jealous.
Third Screen: They must be scared of something?
Belkin: This is the 9/11 generation. That's their formative memory -- the world almost ending. Some of the results of it are positive. For example, they don't stand for the garbage. You can see it in the workplace. Generation Y is not lazy; they just can't be bothered with what they see as stupid. They are very much bothered by what they see as important. They walk into work with the iPod in their ears and they don't want to walk across the room to talk to you. They'd rather text you. They're terrible at answering the phone. They don't want to do it. I mean, they either started a company or helped cure cancer in order to get into college, so why are they now running errands?
Third Screen: What is your take on what they see as important?
Belkin: They are so into this election. I try to remember what I was like and it's just this hazy fog, but I know I wasn't like them. They are so informed. I think it's the Web and Jon Stewart. The news immersion.
Third Screen: What are the key issues for our children?
Belkin: The economy and the war and the environment. In that order. The economy is pretty personal to them. My older one wants to know what's in his college fund now. My younger one wants to know when he can get a job. As for the war, they don't think anyone's going to draft them tomorrow, but they understand that it's about their future. And kids now are born greener. As a parent, I find it gratifying that they're paying attention, but part of me wants to keep it out of their lives because they do carry the weight of the world around more than I did.
Third Screen: How do you share the world with them?
Belkin: I think you can't underestimate the feeling of control they get through knowledge. When I did a lot of writing on what to tell the kids about various crises big and small, the conclusion I came to was to get them involved as much as possible, allowing for what's appropriate to their ages. It's better to say "Here's what we're going to do to cut back" as opposed to "Don't worry your little head about it." Adults do better with info. So do they.
Third Screen: How do they show respect for their elders?
Belkin: Not in the traditional way. My mom feels she was cheated because she respected her elders de facto, simply "because." My generation is solicitous and care-taking -- we stand up for ourselves and take care of our parents. The next group, I don't know what they'll be like as adults but it's much more equal between parent and child. There's very little "because I said so." When I look around, I like the adults they're turning into. And I'm very empathetic to stressed-out overly-involved parents. I'm one cling away from being one of them.
Third Screen: You took some time in your blogs to consider busy working mom Sarah Palin.
Belkin: How long did it take her to try on all those clothes? How many shopping bags did someone have to carry? I was obsessed with this. How did she get into a size four after the baby? In my house, I am the one who makes the lists and packs and finds the socks. I do have empathy for vice presidential hopefuls who have to go shopping. I think they offer an entrepreneurial career opportunity to others. Various bloggers took the amount of money and the amount of clothing and tried to do it. They went to the Neiman Marcus Web site. They couldn't do it. It requires expert personal shoppers and maybe big trucks for shipping.
Third Screen: So to those who are getting laid off, a suggestion -- we will continue to need personal shoppers and truckers in the 21st century?
Belkin: Personal shoppers and anyone else who can help live your life for you. Work is still designed around men. That is how we set up the working world, working day, and career track. You can say to women "Here, you can have the same job the men have." But what happens is we still take care of all the other stuff. I do less of it. Technology helps. I parent by Blackberry. I parent by text messaging. But I still drive. Most of the stuff of mine that you read was written while waiting to pick up a kid from here or there.
Third Screen: What are some of the downsides of communicating instantly with your children?
Belkin: It's not downside vs. upside. It's just different. You communicate all the time. The umbilical cord is now wireless.
Third Screen: Were kids more independent when parents were harder to reach?
Belkin: I called home once a week from school and had a strained conversation about nothing. My kids will shoot me a text message. It's constant conversation instead of a whole conversation. I think this will permanently change our relationship with our kids.
Third Screen: What do kids talk about nowadays when they call from school to say nothing?
Belkin: Schools are now prohibiting cell phones in the registrar's office because kids are on the phone endlessly asking their parents what courses to take. Parenting is the only relationship that's successful if it ends. That's our job. To make them not need us as much. But one can over-estimate how independent we were. My first job at the Times was as a consumer reporter. I knew nothing about consumer anything and wanted to prove myself. One of my first articles was about how to buy an air conditioner. I read manuals. I investigated comparative pricing and optional features. I stood in stores and pushed all the buttons. A few days later, my own air conditioner broke and I still called my dad. And I still miss asking my dad what exit to take when I'm driving down the New Jersey Turnpike near Princeton.
Third Screen: Is your children's relationship to the world stronger than yours in any way?
Belkin: I think they see race and sex and nationality the same way I do. Generally, I don't know that kids now are as well-traveled physically but they seem to me better traveled intellectually. The definition of the family has changed so much. They still find ways to tease each other with name calling, but I think they separate that out from the larger picture of what a family now is.
Third Screen: What are you hoping for them to grow out of?
Belkin: The teen years are very interesting to me because every once in a while, I'll see a flash of their future and every once in a while, a flash of their past. I don't always know who I'm talking to. I see both.