The most guilty feeling I have ever experienced occurred one day last summer when I was supposed to be home with my daughter. I was physically in the house with her, but my constant attention to my phone prompted her to say in exasperation, “Mommy, put your phone away!”
I would love to say that this outburst sparked an a-ha moment that lead to a thoughtful disconnection from all things digital while I spent time with her, but alas, while I did put it away after her not-so-subtle condemnation of my distraction, I went right back to my addictive little screen of updates, emails, and texts within the hour.
I am not alone.
Many parents are constantly being pulled into multiple directions, and our phones allow all of the demands of our everyday lives to constantly converge. From work emails to text messages from family and friends to social media updates, any time that is meant for connection with those we love is constantly interrupted by those serotonin-dispensing, digital dings. The result is that we have 100 pics per day of our children posted to Facebook but we haven’t talked to them since last night, our spouse is going through a tough time with his boss but we can’t remember said boss’s name or the circumstances of the conflict, and our friendships have devolved from three hour conversations to one-sentence exchanges that may or may not be responded to that day.
There is no connection; there is only reaction.
The desire to disconnect from the digital universe and reconnect with loved ones is the central topic of Rachel Macy Stafford’s book: Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters. As a recovering perfectionist, I instantly connected to Stafford’s habits of immediately responding to every stimulus, including student emails, messy floors, and laundry buzzers. In wanting a perfect career and house, it is all too easy to become and remain constantly distracted from the true blessings of this moment in life.
An example that I think many can connect with: I’m at the zoo with my beautiful, precocious daughter and her attentive father. She is seated happily on his shoulders while he points to an animal, explaining to her why it looks and acts the way it does. I am overwhelmed with pride and love, and I can’t get my phone out fast enough to snap a shot of them. But that’s not enough: I have to immediately post the picture with a fun caption, and also note where we are and if we are with anyone else. In that time of creating the perfect post, my daughter has been attempting to talk to me about the animal in question, but I can’t be distracted from digitally sharing this moment, so instead I stop sharing the moment with my family. For the rest of the afternoon I am checking my phone to see who has commented on the picture and who “likes” it, making me completely oblivious to all the other special moments that are passing me by as my daughter continues to grow and learn.
I am aware of how wrong this is, but I struggle to counter the cultural urge to do so. As I’m reading Stafford’s timely book, I am setting Hands Free goals for myself, including turning off text and email notifications when my daughter is home and/or I’m spending quality time with my hubs, and trusting that anyone who truly needs me will know to call (or will have Bill’s phone number and so on).
It’s a year’s worth of precious moments missed later, but I’m finally putting my phone away. If you have comments about being “hands free” or wanting to do so, please comment. We’re all navigating this brave new world together.