We’re always saying, “Hurry up! C’mon! We’re going to be late!” or “WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES?!?” or lamenting when our child poops for like the fourth time that morning JUST as we are about to go out the door. We relish school time or nap time when we can read on our phones uninterrupted. We love having that “connection” to the outside world, to those who have a voice that we don’t struggle to understand, to chat with people who don’t ask “why?” fifteen THOUSAND times a day. And even if we don’t want to admit it, we like seeing what’s going on with other moms so that we can feel prideful when we see that we are doing as well as those we look up to or when we see someone else messing up worse than we have…because it makes us feel less guilty for the mistakes we have made that day.
We stare at screens instead of our children, and we tell ourselves it’s “me time;” it’s “my break;” it’s “just for a minute, honey;” when in harsh reality, if we tally up the “just a minutes” in our day, we’ve probably stared at our phones longer than we have our own children that day.
It’s gut wrenching. It makes us squirm. It makes us defensive and instigates excuses for justification.
But the thing is, it’s “the norm” for so many parents. It’s culturally acceptable. In fact, our society has done nothing but encourage constant contact via texting and having email in our pockets and to encourage embracing social media and technology as the “end all, be all” to be considered successful.
We furrow our eyebrows in disgust at the dad at the playground staring at his phone instead of watching his daughter go down the slide as she shouts, “Look at me! Look at me, Daddy!” while we do the same thing when in our backyards. We sigh at the mom in the waiting room who isn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to her kid who is banging on the glass of the aquarium because she’s scrolling through Facebook, while we do the same thing when we are in our living rooms. We put on a good front when in public; we try to be more mindful of paying attention; we try to engage our kids more in front of others, but why? Why is it so different at home? Why is it so difficult at home?
I am just as guilty of all of this as you are. It’s something that haunts me in my dreams- that my kid will grow up remembering me with my phone in hand and then become a mini-me with the same screen addiction problem. I’ve fought to limit screen time to only when we are at places where I know we will be waiting a long time, mainly before large events (weddings, funerals) and in waiting rooms because it scares me to screw him up by over-allowing technology. I don’t want my kid asking to play games instead of reading books. I don’t want my kid sitting on his butt playing video games instead of running around outside with the dog. I don’t want my kid to not be able to hold a conversation with another adult or child because he hasn’t been taught by example to socialize with new people (like cashiers, people near us in line, etc) when we are out and about.
And yet, I have a hard time forcing myself to act the way I want my child to act.
We hear it all the time that “children do as you do, not do as you say” that our “actions speak louder than words” and that we are our child’s best and most prominent teacher. We try to be mindful of our own screen time; we try to limit ourselves, but it’s difficult. I don’t know about you, but I constantly need reminding and to be re-inspired as to why I need to put my phone down in the first place.
Rachel Macy Stafford over at Hands Free Mama has been that reminder for me. Her blog is all about living what she calls, “hands free.” This doesn’t mean she threw away her phone or never watches television; she’s just found a beautiful balance and embraces the authenticity of life beyond the screen. She has written two books on this subject as well- both on my “to read” list. Here is what she says about how living “Hands Free” changed her life:
“For the past four and a half years, I have taken small steps to let go of ‘daily distraction’ and place my focus on someone or something meaningful. The results have been profound… I am witnessing and experiencing the simple, joyful things around me that I was too distracted to notice before. I am now free to grasp what really matters.”
Isn’t that what we all want: to focus on what really matters, to not feel overwhelmed and overworked and anxious and stressed, to feel more connected to our spouses and our children? To not feel like we have to put on a show when we go out in public by checking our behavior so no one else can judge our parenting?
I started purposefully and mindfully trying to be more “hands free.” I started saying “yes” to my kid and “no” to my phone.
I started saying “yes” when my child asked me to go outside to play. I left the dishwasher half unloaded and dinner not started to lay in the grass with him and pretend to order fruit from him at the window of his playhouse and to pick produce from our garden and observe grasshoppers clinging to pepper plants.
I started saying “yes” when my child asked to do things that required my supervision. I walked away from administrating a Facebook issue to help my child pack his own suitcase instead of doing it for him. I said “yes” to playdough when he asked nicely.
I left my phone in another room and invited him to help me bake, even though doing it myself would be quicker. I leave my phone in another room during bath time and pay attention to him instead of email.
I left my phone on the counter-top during breakfast and looked at him and talked to him instead of checking my email.
I turned the radio off in the car and sang songs with him instead.
I started ignoring my phone instead of my kid
and as painful as that statement is to make- to admit that that is what I was doing before, it’s also liberating to admit that I’ve changed for the better. I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I’m giving myself grace and making changes to my behavior and my habits.
Because I want a kid who doesn’t feel the need to capture every beautiful meal he eats with a photo,
a kid who goes to a concert and doesn’t feel the need to record every song,
a kid who can sit in a restaurant and make conversation with his parents while he waits for his food,
a kid who uses the bathroom without reading on his phone.
Because I want a kid who prefers Legos over Minecraft,
and Hot Wheels over racing games,
and instruments over iTunes,
and talking over Tweeting,
and photographing over Instagramming,
and laughing over SnapChatting,
and reading books over Facebook,
and usies over selfies,
and living over presenting.
I want a kid who doesn’t lament the “old days” when he’s old because he’s lived a life full of stunning beauty and rich smells and unforgettable emotions instead of just looking at them on a screen.
And I know that if I want my kid to be that kind of kid, I have to be that kind of parent.
I have to be present and engaged and involved.
I have to look up…
before it’s over.