I read something today that really hit home. You may have seen it on Facebook; my husband was already somewhat familiar with it when I told him about it tonight. It's a blog post about missing out on your children's lives due to constant use of mobile devices.
Deep down I know I have a problem with this, but I probably could have just shrugged it off and moved on to the next online item if not for this line (part of the author's instructions on "How to Miss a Childhood"):
*Carry your phone around so much that when you happen to leave it in one room your child will come running with it proudly in hand - treating it more like a much-needed breathing apparatus than a communication device.
That is when the tears started rolling.
I wish I could say that the time Clara did this exact thing today was the first time she ever did it. But it wasn't. "Mommy! Mommy!" she'll call after me, if I leave her - and my phone - behind in a room. "Your phone, Mommy!" Then she proudly hands it to me, like she has just done me the biggest favor possible.
I always feel a pang of regret when this happens. Even though before tonight I had never dwelled on it (so to protect myself and my constant-phone-using ways), I still, in those few seconds as it is happening, knew that it was wrong. That my two-year-old shouldn't chase after me as if I've forgotten my arm.
And that's how she probably sees it - as an extension of me, constantly attached to my hand.
I gave up Facebook for Lent but that didn't mean anything, except that I wasn't on Facebook. Despite posting as my last Fat Tuesday status update that, "My kids are going to wonder why my phone is no longer attached to my hand!", I did not decrease the time I spent on my iPhone by one second. I'm serious. Not one second. Facebook was replaced by People.com and any other completely worthless site that I could find.
I have a constant need to fill time. I don't mean to choose it over my children, but if there is a free moment, if they are reading by themselves, or playing together, I pick up my phone completely out of habit. And then one thing leads to another and once they do need me, I am in the middle of composing a comment that takes ten minutes to type out with one finger.
I think - I hope - that I've never ignored them, but I can't honestly say that I've never put their wants and needs off because of it. I can just hear myself telling Clara, "Just a minute, sweetie. Be patient." It's a good lesson, I tell myself. She can't always have everything right when she wants it. While that may be true, my motives aren't. And sometimes their needs should be met with more urgency. They're toddlers. And yet I'm on my phone.
It's evident Clara and Luke know where our mobile devices rank in our household. They hold them in very high regard, just like they see modeled by us. They are obsessive about the iPad, or "oPad" as they call it. While child-friendly apps were a novelty when we first bought it last Fall, we soon learned they can't function once it is taken away. No matter how well-behaved they are while using it, a temper tantrum erupts when their time has ended. So it's off limits and usually out of sight.
And then there are our phones. Because they are not put up, but rather are sitting out on end tables, they are a constant desire and prize. Clara gets in trouble all day, every day for picking up my phone. She grabs it any chance she gets and jumps immediately onto YouTube. She'll be watching a Thomas video in the two seconds before I can snatch it back from her little hands. Like most toddlers nowadays, she's good.
And, while she knows that it'll land her in time-out, she has apparently decided the risk is worth the reward, even just two seconds of it. When she sees that I've caught her, she hands it right back, saying, "Sorry, Mommy! Thank you, Mommy!" (We always laugh that she thanks us inappropriately, like she's wise beyond her years and appreciative of the discipline).
How can I blame her for coveting my phone, or the iPad? We have taught them that they are special. If Mommy and Daddy are looking at these things all day long, surely they are something of importance. Something that sometimes we choose over even them, the light of our lives, our sweet babies who we prayed for years and years and years for.
I'm sickened even typing that.
Something has to change. I don't want my children to think of my phone when they think of me, my head buried in it as my thumb scrolls through screens. I don't want them to think the phone is important. I don't want them to grow up and choose technology over people. I don't want them to one day realize I could have given them more attention if I hadn't been on it so much. I don't want them to ever, ever, ever think they were loved any less than they are.
And this time I can't just say that I'm doing it, like in my status update. I really have to.
Ryan's on board. I nervously mentioned it to him tonight. "Nervously," because he's a big phone-user too, and I worried that he might get defensive at the suggestion. But he didn't at all. He was awesome about it and completely on board and helped to set ground rules immediately.
It starts with putting our phones in a room where they children are not. For now, that will be the kitchen. I will leave it on, and actually turn the ringer volume up (I always have it on silent - something you can do when it never leaves your hand) so that I don't check it out of worry that someone might be calling me, but it will stay on our hutch. There won't be a moratorium on checking it, partly because that would set me up for failure, but also because if it's in another room I can't possibly check it as much as when it's on my person. Although I'll have to police myself so that I don't suddenly just happen to start hanging out in the kitchen.
After all, who do I possibly need to get in touch with anyway? Nobody has an urgent need to contact me. I am a mother. My work is right in front of me in the home. I have the luxury of being free and unattached, and I should start acting like it and taking advantage of that.
There are always some things that will need to get done, but Ryan - someone who works a lot from home - even agreed tonight that it's more important to choose time with the kids over working outside of business hours.
My biggest worry is that my weakness for wanting adult interaction will get the better of me. I have found that there is just this desire to connect to others. I'd much rather it be with a neighbor, but that doesn't exist for me. So I look forward to reading new comments on my blog posts and Facebook pictures. It's a weird, modern conversation that, in the end, doesn't actually fulfill me. It just leaves me wanting more feedback, which means more posting. Which means more time on my phone.
I think I will find that fulfillment I crave in actually connecting more with my children. Because in attempting to connect with others, I am actually disconnecting from everyone, most importantly the people right in front of me. I am going to commit to diving head-first into their day, which may sound odd because I am a stay-at-home mom. Don't I already do that? Well, if you have to ask, then you don't have a phone problem.
I hope this is the first day of a new chapter. I hope I can get my priorities in order and never choose my phone over my children again. I hope I can be as successful with this as I want to be. Please pray for me.