Balancing Media Use and Motherhood

Last week, I posted about my struggle to remain present and connect with BabyC in the midst of so many opportunities to connect online. It turns out that I’m not alone in this struggle, and many of you shared your methods for limiting your online distractions in the comments on that post.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I’ve tried setting some specific limits for myself over the last week as well. I thought I’d share them here, in part so that I am more likely to stick to my plan.

I thought about calling this my new media “diet,” but I’ve never been a big fan of dieting. In the context of food, dieting doesn’t work. Restriction and deprivation don’t work. What works is balance, moderation, and developing healthy habits. With that in mind, I’m not necessarily trying to decrease my time spent online. As I said before, these online interactions help me feel sane and connected with other adults. What’s important is that my online time doesn’t detract from my in-real-life relationships and that it doesn’t prevent me from accomplishing the things that I really want to be doing, the things that make me feel productive at the end of the day – like writing.

Here’s my plan:

1. Gadgets (phone, iPad, computer) are off-limits during “together” time:

  1. During meals or snacks with BabyC and Husband.
  2. During nursing* or bath time. (*I freely admit that I wouldn’t make this kind of pledge with a newborn. Having a phone, some good books, and Netflix made the hours of breastfeeding a young infant enjoyable. These days, we nurse for just a few minutes, a few times per day. Lately, BabyC has been asking to read books while we nurse. This is really nice, because I can read longer books than usual, and she’s relaxed instead of trying to turn 3 pages per second.)
  3. When I’m engaged in playing with BabyC. That is, I’m not going to pretend to multi-task by playing with her while checking my Twitter feed. This is rude, and no Tweet is that important.

2. Set aside specific times to be online.

Most mornings, BabyC and I have breakfast together, and then I clean up the dishes while she plays in the kitchen. Then, I warm up my coffee and sit down to do some reading or answer emails. I give myself 15 minutes. Sometimes BabyC ignores me and keeps playing, but sometimes she comes and tugs on my sleeve and whines. I tell her, gently, “BabyC, I’m reading right now, and I can’t pick you up. I will play with you in a few minutes. You can play with your toys.”

I didn’t think this would fly. I thought that she would keep bugging me until I came to play with her. I was wrong. Sometimes she protests for a few more seconds, but otherwise, she toddles off and plays with her toys (or whatever paper cups/yogurt containers/plastic eggs/socks she’s into at the moment). At the end of 15 minutes, I tell BabyC that I’m done reading and check in with her, asking if she wants to play together or go for a walk or “help” me fold laundry.

My 15-minute morning reading time gives me a chance to indulge my online habit and makes it easier for me to leave the gadgets off the rest of the time. It is also an opportunity for BabyC to learn that Mama has needs too, to practice patience, and to play independently. And of course, if she really can’t handle the time alone, I’ll close the computer and try again later. That hasn’t happened yet, though. She’s usually in a great mood in the morning and content to play on her own. This week has been all about those plastic Easter eggs. She’ll “hide” them in a kitchen cabinet, leave the room for a couple of minutes, and then come back to find them and collect them, one by one, in her bucket.

Equally important to both of us is that I really stick to my 15-minute rule. Granted, BabyC can’t tell time, and there have been a few times when she has gone on to happily play on her own for an hour. But I do want her to know that I’ll stick to my word and that I’ll be fully present for her when I’m done reading. And let’s be honest, 15 minutes can quickly become an hour when you get sucked into the vortex of the Internet, but it rarely feels like an hour well-spent.

This has worked well this past week. Between #1 and #2, I really do feel less distracted and more present, and I enjoy my interactions with BabyC more.

And one final media resolution…

3. Make time to read – an actual book – each evening.

If I’m reading blog posts or online articles, I’m rarely focused solely on the words or their message. (Instead, it’s “Is this really worth reading? Is this something I might want to share on my Facebook page? How long is this anyway? How many tabs are open on my browser? What am I going to read next?”) Online reading is like a jazzercise workout, and it’s hard to go to bed right after jazzercise. Jazzercise keeps me up way too late. A real book is like a nice gentle yoga practice. It is relaxing. I can get lost in it. And when I feel tired, I can’t keep my eyes open, which is a good way to be at the end of the night.

My online habit had gotten out of hand. Since nobody else was going to set some limits for me, I had to do it myself. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What does your media diet look like? Do you find that you have to set limits for yourself?

More food for thought on balancing technology with real life interactions (or, you could just turn off the computer♥):

Sherry Turckle’s TED talk: Connected, but alone?

From the Atlantic this week: Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?

And this, from The Power of Moms: Your Children Want YOU! It obviously struck a chord and went viral this week.


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21 thoughts on “Balancing Media Use and Motherhood

  1. I am trying to go on a media diet as well. It is very hard because both my husband and I work with the computer and sometimes we bring work home with us. My goal is to turn off the computer by 8:30 PM each night. I am also making time to read (a book) every night.

  2. #3 is so smart. When I’m online, I barely process what I read before I’m on to the next thing. I also agree about using my smart phone while nursing – it was my sanity saver during those marathon sessions. Side question – this may sound nutty, but I always worried about having my phone so close to my baby’s head. I know there are conflicting reports about the effects of cell phones on our brains. I’d love your thoughts!

  3. These are great ideas. We’ve been talking about how to put parameters around media use by everybody in our family, and setting aside time to be on our smartphones is part of the plan. I wonder though–what is your plan for fitting in blogging?

    • Blogging goes into a different category – work. Even though I do it on the computer, I consider research and writing as creating something rather than consuming it. As any rate, I don’t have the focus to write with BabyC around, so I only do it while she’s sleeping. I’ve been trying to get up about a hour before her in the mornings to write – that’s usually my best time because I’m not yet distracted by the day. When I’m writing, I often set a timer and forbid myself from doing any unrelated phone-checking, Facebooking, etc. while I’m “on the clock.” I also work during her naps and sometimes in the evenings. I used to stay up way too late working at night and then had a hard time sleeping. Ironically, I lost a lot of sleep over those sleep posts, and it wasn’t BabyC’s fault:) So lately I’ve been trying to spend the evenings relaxing, spending more time with Husband, reading, and going to bed early. It’s a constant struggle for balance, and I know it isn’t unique to motherhood or writing.

  4. Great ideas, Alice. I’ve been thinking the same thing (limiting media) myself lately, but…it’s hard to do in practice b/c of my job. Argh. Have actually been pondering putting W in daycare for a few hours, a few times a week, so that I can get work done (efficiently!) and then have the rest of the day to spend with her, rather than her having to fight with a computer for my attention all day long…because it takes so much longer to get work done with her around.

  5. Great ideas, Alice. I’ve been thinking the same thing (limiting media) myself lately, but…it’s hard to do in practice b/c of my job. Argh. Have actually been pondering putting W in daycare for a few hours, a few times a week, so that I can get work done (efficiently!) and then have the rest of the day to spend with her, rather than her having to fight with a computer for my attention all day long…because it takes so much longer to get work done with her around.

    (Sorry for the repeat post…had trouble logging in the first time!)

    • Yup, I can’t get much work done with BabyC around, either. I’m not sure how you do it! I think childcare can work well for the reason that you mention – it allows you to compartmentalize your attention instead of just having it be divided all the time. I’ve thought about doing this as well, and I think I would be really happy with a part-time childcare situation, but I need more work to justify it:)

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  7. Yes to all of that! I also put myself on a media-diet by deactivating (not deleting) Facebook for a week or more at a time. I can go back whenever I want, I don’t lose the contacts that I value having, but the constant updates and silly pics and links go away for a while. Also, I took the uploader off my phone, so I can’t take photos and post right away. Blogging has become more of the “quality” media time I spend- reading other thoughtful words and crafting my own has more meaning to me than just “LOL” on someone’s photos. And I use toddler nap time and work lunches for these things. Great post, thanks.

    • Hmmm, I like that deactivation idea. Even just a day might be a nice break. Or is it the kind of thing where it feels like deprivation for the first day and freedom once you get used to the idea? We have a vacation planned for next month where I’m pretty sure that we won’t have Internet access. I’m looking forward to unplugging. We’ll see how it goes, and if it feels great, maybe we’ll make it a regular thing. I often hear of families that go media-free one day per week, which I think is a great idea.

      • I deactivated the first time after a tense dialogue-turned-private-message storm. It was family, and about racism, so it was a relief when I happily skipped away from the computer. :-) Media-free cut outs of time sound divine, and I think will become even more important as the BabyKid grows up- to model healthy technology boundaries.

  8. Great post! I’ve set “boundaries” for myself on again/off again and this has really encouraged me to implement some of them again. The 15 minute rule is a great starter…I used to designate “facebook friday” & only catch up on those days…and then I tried to only blog on Mon/Wednesdays…but both of these have sort of fallen by the wayside.

    My most consistent “media” fast is at night – I completely agree that it is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to wind down when you’re surfing the net. I shut off everything by 9pm and let myself relax with a good book or some quiet convo with the hubs. Thanks for this post & reminder! :)

    • Yeah, the on again/off again thing is always a problem for me, too. That’s why I tried to make these very small, manageable goals. I’m sure I’ll slip occasionally, but the intention is important:)

      I don’t know what it is about the Internet, but it IS stimulating and so addictive. I absolutely have to give myself a power-down time each night – otherwise I’d be up at all hours and have nothing to show for it in the morning.

  9. Just this past week I decided to do the same: to not be checking my phone when I’m around my son. My husband and I already agreed to not have our phones on the breakfast/dinner table. But another issue that I’m having is that even though I’m not checking my phone, I might still be distracted by the thoughts of work or what to blog about next… So I also try to be more mindful if you will, and to really dedicate my attention to my son and husband when I’m with them.

    • Distractions, yeah, they’re just part of life, I think. Sometimes I tell BabyC what I’m thinking about or write it down to myself in a note. That makes it a little easier to let go of something muddling my brain for the moment. I think it is also OK to accept that we humans are complicated and have a lot going on in our lives and minds, and it is OK for our kids to know that, as long as we snap out of it when they need us. I doubt this is a new problem:)

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  11. Good luck with your new restrictions. I’ve been on a pretty strict media diet for a bit now…and it really pays off in the long run. It makes the time I spend on-line more focused and protects me a little more from getting stuck in mindless tech-loops. Your jazzer-size analogy is spot on, ps.

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