So, my father posted this picture to Facebook while he, Stella and I, were out grabbing a bite to eat. I didn’t see it until later, after I had gotten home and put her to bed, but it completely stopped me in my tracks.
I was actually embarrassed that his friends and my other family members would see this photo of me, holding my precious baby girl while clearly engrossed in something on my phone. To be fair, I had just spent about ten minutes walking her around outside of the restaurant trying to get her to sleep because she was getting tired and cranky. And I believe I was actually looking at a photo of her that I had just taken because I thought she looked so darn cute sleeping with her hand behind her head. But, no one else looking at this picture would be privy to that backstory, and I feared I looked like that typical Millennial—”can’t put the phone down”, “can’t just live in the moment”— Mom. It brought out all my insecurities / fears of not being good enough. You know, the ones all moms have?
I think it bothered me so much because looking at it, I felt like a hypocrite. I’m that person who seriously gets a pit in my stomach and whose blood pressure rises any time I’m trying to talk to someone and their head is buried in a device. Or whenever I am out and see people who could be enjoying an experience so much more if they weren’t hunched over and typing the entire time. It begged the question, “how often do I do this?”
Our phones have become a constant source of entertainment for us, filling every second of our time with some type of stimulation. I know you know the feeling. Any minute there is a lag in conversation or you start feeling bored with what you’re currently doing, you pick up that phone and start checking for the little red dots and bells and flags. Scrolling the feed to see if there is anything interesting to read to fill that brief empty space in your time.
Or how about when you forget your phone for a day? If that’s not an eye-opener I don’t know what is. Next time you do, try counting the amount of times you reach for it and it’s not there. Talk about a phantom limb sensation.
OK, enough of that. This is not an anti-social media or anti-technology rant. I like my Facebook and Pinterest and my news articles and checking my little red dots and bells, and while it’s not healthy to feel like a slave to them, I do believe that there is a lot of good that these things have brought to our lives.
I think if my reaction to the picture above has taught me anything, it’s simply that there is a time and a place for these things, and it’s made me more conscious of the example that I set for Stella and the kind of mom I want to be. It’s made me reflect a little and think about the times I have reached for my phone in her presence, while she’s awake and aware. The times that, while nursing her, I’d pick it up to scroll through the news feed because maybe that’s the only “down time” I’ve had all day. Or while playing with her, I get distracted by the “ding” on my phone and stop interacting with her to respond to it. In these moments I may tell myself that she doesn’t notice; she won’t know the difference just for a few seconds. But won’t she? She is watching me so closely. I am, basically, her world right now and she is absorbing everything like a tiny, blue-eyed, chubby little sponge.
This is an important realization for three reasons.
One: I don’t want to miss a beat.
You’ve probably heard the saying “the nights are long but the years are short”. This couldn’t be more true. The time has already gone by too fast and she is almost halfway to a year old. Not to mention I already feel like I miss so much being at work while she is at daycare. Why on earth would I not take advantage of every second with her to the absolute fullest? Just as the dusting and the dishes can wait, so can answering the “dings”.
Two: She’s my priority.
What kind of message does it send to her if I’m switching my attention from her, to an inanimate object? Whatever the reason, she doesn’t know why I’m doing it, she just knows that whatever I’m doing is more important than her. Maybe this could be damaging in some way, or maybe she would grow up feeling like this is just normal behavior and would gladly accept it from me or anyone else she interacts with. Either way, I don’t like any of those eventualities.
Three: Monkey see, monkey do.
I can only teach my daughter the lessons I want her to learn if I practice what I preach. I want her to know the importance of being in the moment and appreciating her surroundings. I want her to value people, and to make other people feel valued by giving them her full attention. I would rather her feel like a slave to a good book than a notification. And I especially want her to understand the concept of ‘everything in moderation’.
So what if (especially in the presence of our little sponges) before we compulsively grab at devices—we first pause—and ask ourselves one question?
“Do I need to be doing this right now?”
Maybe the answer will be “yes”. Maybe you need to respond to an emergency text message. Maybe you need to make a phone call that just really can’t wait. Maybe there is an important local news alert that you need to check so that you can be aware of something happening in your area. Or maybe, taking a break from your surroundings and looking at something creative on Pinterest is just what your soul needs in that moment, for whatever reason. Or you just need that positive article to uplift your spirits.
But maybe checking those red bells and flags can wait until you put your little one to bed for the night. Maybe instead of scrolling the news feed for something interesting to read, you sit in the moment and find pleasure in what you are currently doing, even if it is just watching your baby sleep in your arms, soaking up the closeness and the cuddles.
In asking this question first, we become mindful, so we can teach our children that checking out of the real world and tapping into a digital one should be conscious decision rather than just a compulsive action. So that we can break a building trend. So that generations from now, people aren’t roaming around like zombies with screens for faces and keyboards for hands.
With this in mind, keep on checking texts, reading emails, using those apps to share photos and keep up with family and friends of afar. Keep reading recent news articles, shopping online, Pinterest-ing and Instagram-ing and Tweeting and Snap-chatting. Without these tools we would be incapable of interacting with so many different aspects of the world. But let us not forget, or more importantly, let our children forget, the beauty of the here and the now.