OK, OK. Hold your judgment. I swear I’m not “one of those moms.” I have a smartphone. And I use it. Heck, even my two-year-old daughter can impress a crowd with her ability to navigate her way around my Photos app, and trust me when I say this: those “bideos of baby Analise” have been my saving grace in many pre-meltdown moments. Really, my beef with smartphones is not how they are affecting those viewing the screen but rather the effect on the people left staring at the back of the phone. I despise it when I’m the victim, but my mama bear instincts really unleash when my daughter gets what I’ve dubbed as the “phone case treatment.”
I guess my frustration all started a few years ago when the high school I taught at decided to allow cell phones. Yes, you could “red zone” your individual classroom and not allow them in at all; however, with classes running with 40-plus students (many of whom required extra support), as well as potential legal issues concerning private property, the “phone battle” just did not seem worth it to me. Plus, with high school being the stepping stone into college and/or the workplace, I really felt students needed to figure out self-control– even if that meant learning it the hard way.
As a teacher, I always made it a goal of mine to carefully craft and execute meaningful lesson plans. Trust me, I understood that my students will probably never be as passionate about semicolons as I am (I wonder why?), but at the same time, they seemed to repeatedly acknowledge the fact that I was not just giving them random grammar worksheets or writing assignments to “fill the hour” or “check off a standard” like so many claimed they were used to. With that said, I couldn’t help but take it personally when students spent the entire hour on their phones, especially when some of them didn’t even try to hide it from my view.
Flash forward a couple years though, and I somehow became addicted, too. For countless reasons, I left teaching, and, along with my professional wardrobe (hello baggy sweaters and leggings!), my ability to unplug also completely went out the window.
When my daughter was first born, my smartphone was the friend who kept me awake during late-night feedings, my getaway from spit-up and poopy diapers, and my therapist when I felt I was the only mom not particularly enjoying those first few months. I eventually joined Facebook mom groups and attended local baby classes, which yielded non-stop group chats with a new group of friends. It wasn’t too long after this that I started tutoring and began gathering a significant client base, too.
Every time my phone beeped or buzzed, I couldn’t wait to read it. Anything to get us, or me, or even just my mind out of the house! But the problem wasn’t the quick glance at my messages: it was how those quick glances seemingly turned into an instinctive routine of checking e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, etc. for the tenth time that morning, and OH MY GOODNESS, the scrolling! I just couldn’t seem to make my thumb stop those counter-clockwise strokes through social media apps.
I didn’t really think too much into my phone obsession (and the constant eye pain/headache I had) until my daughter got to the age where she actually noticed. “Mama,” she’d say for the third time as I, actually irritated about the “interruption,” looked over the screen to see those big, brown eyes staring at me, just waiting for me to interact with her again. That hopeful little face was a reminder of my top reason for leaving the teaching profession: to be able to spend QUALITY time with her. It was time for an intervention.
I started the weaning process by leaving my phone in my office on high volume; that way, if it rang, I could make sure it wasn’t an emergency. I’d also occasionally check text messages for the same reason, but if it was not something urgent, I wouldn’t allow myself to reply until nap or bedtime. E-mail and social media could all wait. I thought the process would be hard, but I quickly fell in love with the silence and felt I became such a better mom because of it.
Instead of letting my daughter play while I sat right next to her completely checked out, I was now fully engaged, and OH MY GOODNESS, you wouldn’t believe everything I had been missing! When she “takes her Barbies to Costco,” the receipt-checker always draws a smiley face for the baby Barbies but only if they “stayed in the cart the whole time.” When her stuffed animals “go to school,” they are instructed to “sit on a line” with their “hands on their laps” and “listen closely” during story time. It seems silly, but I honestly couldn’t wait to see what other life experiences she was transferring over to imaginative playtime.
Not only was this change eye-opening for me, but I also did not feel as bad when I did need to get something done. For example, knowing I just spent an hour of quality time with her, I would get an activity started for her and sneak off to the kitchen to start preparing dinner, guilt-free.
I am definitely not perfect when it comes to my smartphone, but I can say that I do make a very active effort every day to be present, giving my daughter the attention she not only wants but really does deserve. And, just like the rest of us, she seems to appreciate (and even prefers to be around) those who do the same.