There’s no denying that we’re a generation of parents who are largely addicted to our smartphones. Between updating my Facebook status, scanning Twitter, and reading emails as they arrive in my inboxes, I realized that I was spending more face-time with my cell phone than I was with my children. I decided to conduct a little experiment on myself to see how I’d survive without my phone in hand all day. Turns out, putting down my smartphone made me a better mother.
Years ago, for my job, I purchased a Blackberry phone and I never looked back. Gone were the days of looking at maps to get directions, I could check and reply to emails in an instant on the road, and when I was stuck waiting in line at the DMV, Facebook was always there to keep me company. I no longer own that phone (nor am I at that job) but I still enjoy the perks of my smartphone for my personal and professional needs.
Especially as a freelancer who stays home to raise my daughters, I rely on my phone to do my work when it’s impractical or impossible to have a computer in my lap. I realized recently that perhaps I’m a little too attached to my phone. When my two-year-old daughter came across my phone sitting on a table or the kitchen counter, she’d grab it and bring it to me. Grinning ear to ear and shouting, Mami’s phone!, she’d insist I take it. If I thanked her but then set it down again, a tantrum would follow. My toddler’s world wasn’t right if I wasn’t literally holding my cell phone! Oh God, what had I done?
So, I hid it. Not just from my daughters but from myself. I plugged my phone into its charger, turned off every notification except the ringer (in case of emergency because we don’t have a home phone), and walked away. I did this for two back-to-back days, only retrieving my phone when both girls were napping or asleep for the night.
How did it go? It. Was. Torture!
The first day I felt like a drug addict without my fix. My heart would race when I thought about all the notifications and emails I hadn’t yet looked at. Thoughts poured over my consciousness that gave me anxiety about missing a text or an impossible to meet deadline. I spent more time thinking about my phone and all that I was missing than I probably spent actually using my phone prior to that day. It was really rough. Then, it got better…
The second day sans smartphone was much easier and more enjoyable, probably because the fear of missing something important had subsided significantly. At the end of that first day, I went through the hundred received emails, three text messages, eighteen Twitter notifications, and twenty-two Facebook alerts. I don’t know if these numbers are typical for mothers but they’re about right for me. Prior to that day though, I had no idea how many of these I was receiving because I’d spend a minute or two checking each and every alert all day long. No more!
That first night, I saw that half of my emails were junk that I could easily unsubscribe to. Done. I also found that, when received via email rather than through Twitter on my phone, I could follow people who followed me all in one place. Done. And let’s be honest, most Facebook notifications are not worth looking at anyway, at least not one at a time! Taking care of all of my alerts and notifications at one time actually saved me time and made me more efficient! Brilliant!
So, how’d my mothering turn out? My daughters played nicer than usual with each other, went to bed easier, and are no longer panicked when I’m not doing all my parenting with a side eye to my smartphone. They don’t seem to have noticed but I can tell they appreciate the change in my focus and attentiveness to them.
Can I keep this up? In all honesty, I can’t leave my phone sequestered in another wing of our tiny apartment at all waking hours every day. Most days, however, I leave my phone tucked away with alerts turned off for the majority of the day, doing a quick visual check for text messages only every couple of hours. Everything else can and should wait, especially since I’ve discovered it’s more efficient and effective for me to tackle it all after the babies are tucked into their beds.
Putting down my smartphone has made me a better mother. While I remain grateful for the technology and ability to work while out and about or when I’m stuck in the recliner, remote control out of reach, infant asleep in my lap; my kids deserve the focus I was gifting to a piece of plastic, metal, and glass and, bottom line, that’s where I intend to continue to improve as a parent.