A couple of times an hour, I found myself drawn to the glowing face of my iPhone. As a stay-at-home parent, my cell phone was my lifeline to the outside world. Text from friends or family, interesting post in one of the many mommy groups I follow, or breaking news articles online added spice the mundane days that I spend at home with my daughter. This is compounded by professional social media activity on my blogs and social media platforms.
Before staying home, I was a 10th grade English teacher at one of the largest high schools in Maine. In those days, my world was full of stimulation – there were always students to chat with, emails to check, lessons to plan, assignments to grade. My days were a whirl of activity, and I kept myself on a strict daily schedule, so I could meet all of my obligations. I used to look forward to the thirty minutes of silence during my commute home from work where I could relax and let my mind wander.
These days, however, my obligations have changed – I spend most of my time changing, feeding, and playing with my eleven-month-old daughter and trying to figure out how to get and keep my house clean. The most complex problem I’ve had to deal with today is how to remove stains from a blow out from her pants.
There is a reason that I am so attracted to my cell phone; it’s a window to another world – a place where adults that speak words, not gibberish, and problems that are greater than removing stains occur.
When I choose to engage with an electronic device instead of my child, I miss her attempt to say new words, her efforts to walk, or her appreciative, “I love you,” grins.
I decided to stay home with her for at least her first year, so I wouldn’t miss these special moments at work, and my husband and I have given up a lot to make this dream a reality – weekly dinners out and a new vehicle are things that we will forgo this year. With these sacrifices in mind, I have taken some proactive steps to reduce my personal usage in the past couple of months.
- Uninstall distracting applications – Scrolling through popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can absorb a great deal of time. I’ve found that the best way to combat this potential addiction is to make these applications less readily available by uninstalling them. After removing the Facebook application from my phone, I was no longer tempted to view my feed, and I discovered that I didn’t miss knowing what a distant cousin was eating for lunch or that an old college friend had the “best husband ever.”
- Create a family contract – Make your commitment to electronic free hours a family affair. As the Director of Web Development at a local advertising agency, my husband has to be available to handle occasional emergencies that arise; however, we both have made a commitment to have electronic free dinners with our child. As such, we eat our dinner at the dining room table and we leave the television off and our phones in an adjacent room.
- Set cell phone hours – If you use your electronic device for work related activities like my husband and I do, set hours when you will perform the tasks and hours when you will be present with your family. I check my emails and social media messages three times a day in the morning, mid afternoon, and evening. I have altered the settings on my phone, so that only calls from starred emergency contacts like my husband will come through; and during the certain times of the day, I leave my phone on silent, so I won’t be distracted by it.
- Be conscientious of your usage – Parent’s often spend a great deal of time viewing their child’s special moments through the lens of their smartphone. While I value all of the photographs and videos I have taken of my daughter, I also value memories that were pure and unfiltered by a lens. When my daughter was only a few months old, my friend told me that she takes the first few moments of an activity to snap some interesting photographs of her son, and after that, she sets her phone on airplane mode and puts it away, so she can live fully in the moment. I thought that this was wonderful advice, and I have tried to apply this rule to the activities I participate in with my daughter.
When my daughter remembers her childhood, I want her to remember me looking into her eyes and smiling, not grinning at a funny message or meme on a screen. My emails, text, and social media messages will be exactly the same if I read them a couple of hours later; my constantly evolving daughter, however, won’t be.