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Put down the phone, Mama!

We were getting settled for nap time. As I changed BabyC’s diaper, I talked with her in a quiet tone and told her that we were preparing to rest. We did one slow and whispered round of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” on the changing table. I closed BabyC’s curtains and dimmed the lights. We fished her special doll and blanket from her crib, and then we all sat down into the rocking chair to nurse. BabyC was still a little wound up, though, and as we were getting settled, she swiped my phone from the side table. I don’t usually let her play with my phone, but in the interest of keeping things mellow, I figured I’d let her hold it for a while. She latched, and we both started to relax.

But then, BabyC turned on my phone. She started swiping her finger across the touch screen, just as she watches me do throughout the day. She hit at icons and watched colors flash on the screen, her eyes darting around. Suddenly, she was opening the address book and initiating a FaceTime video call with – who? Oh, an old college buddy of Husband’s, someone I’ve met once, about 5 years ago. Yikes! A surprise video call from my boob is probably not the best way to get back in touch. 

OK, BabyC, no more phone. I felt annoyed. I wanted BabyC to snuggle up with me and enjoy calming milk and our time together. It seemed ungrateful for her attention to be somewhere else entirely.

You bet I know what to do with this phone

Of course, it took about half a second for me to realize that this was the example I set for her. How many times had I needed to check Facebook while we were nursing? Or my email during breakfast? Does this annoy her, or is this just her norm, for Mama to be halfway present and halfway in a different world?

The truth is that I’ve been working on being more present for BabyC for a while. It was actually a New Year’s resolution for me to not check my phone while nursing, and I think I’ve been about 80% true to that. But sometimes I just can’t help it. Sometimes there is an uncomfortable quiet in my brain that I feel that I have to fill, and I reach for my phone. That BabyC could so quickly and adeptly navigate my smartphone while she nursed was proof that she observes me doing this plenty. She is way too young to be learning this kind of multitasking! I admire her focus in the way she lives, and I don’t want to disrupt that with technology.

I love this phone. I love Facebook, blogging, texts, and email. As a stay-at-home-mom, technology is my lifeline to the rest of the world. It is what keeps me from feeling too isolated when I’m cooped up on a rainy day with a toddler. It is the way I connect.

But to BabyC, there is no connectivity through this phone. When she is trying to get my attention and I brush her off to see if anyone commented on my Facebook post, she doesn’t get that I am having a conversation. She can’t imagine what could be so interesting about that gadget that it could make me ignore her, a real live person! And she’s right. As much as your blog comments and Facebook conversations feed my hunger for smart, adult interactions, this real live person is more important in this moment. The great thing about the Internet is that it’ll still be there in 30 minutes.

I should thank her, really, for giving me this gentle reminder to connect and be present with her. Her world offers a welcome quiet from the stream of data that I feel compelled to track. Without the Wi-Fi connection, nursing is an intimate time with emotional connection. We talk quietly. She points to my eyes, my nose, my mouth, and I name each of them for her. I sing a little song, one that I’ve sung since her first days, and she’s my baby again. This is, after all, the main reason that I’m still breastfeeding her and enjoying it so much. It gives us a time to be quiet and close together in the midst of her busy toddler day. It occurs to me that all babies, whether breast or bottle-fed, begin life connecting food with emotional closeness. At some point in their first year, meals often lose the emotional connection and become rushed, distracted, chaotic affairs ending with peas on the floor.

And here’s what I’ve noticed: If I’m constantly feeling the need to connect with the outside world, then I’m distracted in the moments in between. I feel bored with sitting at breakfast with a toddler, and 5 minutes later (or is it 2?) – I have to check the phone again. It’s an addiction, I tell you! But if I leave my phone in a different room and sit down to a meal with BabyC, she’s not boring at all. She bobs her head to the music from the radio. We talk about our food – the colors, the textures, if she wants more, and when she’s all done. I feel my mind start to clear and focus. Amazingly, when I’m engaged with her throughout a meal, she often doesn’t end it by throwing her food or her bowl. And after breakfast, she happily toddles off to play rather than whining and pulling at my leg. I can clean up the dishes and maybe even sit down to check Facebook and answer a few emails.

Anyway, I know that one day I’ll have to ask my daughter to please not text at the dinner table. That seems impossibly far away right now, but I suppose it is never to soon to start setting a better example.

It’s funny how hard this is. Why is the pull of the digital connection so strong? Anyone else struggle with this?

45 Comments
  1. the speech monster #

    omygosh i can so relate. i am on my iphone everytime i nurse, too. but my little boy is still 4 months and now at that stage where any noise gets him distracted from nursing. however, right now, he’s on his rocker entertaining himself or rather looking at me to entertain him while i’m on the internet reading other blogs. what is that. 😉

    Like

    April 7, 2012
  2. Yes! It’s really hard for me first thing in the morning. It was a routine I set up while working that I’d check e-mail and the news first thing, but now with a baby it doesn’t really seem to fit in. If I don’t pay attention he starts whining and grabbing at me until I turn my attention to him.

    Recently another mother told me that she had a challenge initiated by an art group she’s a part of. She was supposed to go media free for one week. As tough as it was, because she realized that she used the internet for everything, she said she felt better than she had in a long time. She reconnected with her mom in a way she’d never done before, she enjoyed her food more, was able to fully clean the house, and she was able to better interact with her son without the distraction. I’ve tried to do this, and it’s very hard. I purposefully don’t have a smart phone, so the best thing I have done, is to not turn the computer on until he’s down for his nap. After that, it’s in a room that has the doors shut at all times so that I will not be tempted. I still hear it calling my name, and I know I need to just get out of the house. Thank goodness spring is here!

    Like

    April 7, 2012
    • My laptop stays on my desk now, in a room I only use when BabyC is sleeping, but now I have an iPhone and an iPad. Ack! I think I will really work on leaving them out of the kitchen, dining room, and BabyC’s room. Funny how I have to make rules for myself – cant just have the self-control to leave the damn things off.

      Like

      April 7, 2012
  3. Chrystal #

    Ack! I was reading this while nursing my 8month old to sleep lol (yeah the sleeping goals got put off due to illness and teething). Totally get and agree with this post. My husband and I both have an iPod Touch. I started a “no gadgets during meals together” rule because we both kept falling into that trap of needing to check something. And meals definitely go better without them- especially for our 3year old. And I figure this way it’ll already be established for when she’s older. The way I have the rule worded does allow for us to check them if we’re eating alone though, which happens on the rare occasion that oldest finished quickly and I was changing the baby and didn’t get to eat. But we almost always eat together for all meals. It’s the other times in the day that I’m working on not checking in. Having it in another room like you mentioned does help. It’s hard though because I forget so easily what I needed to look up. Maybe I could jot down a quick note instead? Think I’ll try that. Ah, and giving up my wifi during nursing.. That’ll be the hardest part I think. But I’ve been meaning too anyway because I know it also helps me to get her to sleep faster. Maybe I’ll plan for doing that so I know I’ll have more time after and allow myself that time to do it. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Like

    April 7, 2012
    • I have definitely noticed that if I want to nurse BabyC to sleep (yup, we do it too!), the best thing is to sing her a couple sleepy songs and then relax back and close my eyes. If I’m on my phone, it’s like she can feel my brain buzzing around, and she’s less likely to fall asleep. And yeah, an iTouch and a pile of books saved me during those early days of nursing for hours, but now we’re just talking 5-10 minutes a few times per day. I should be able to be present for that! Sad how hard it is.

      Like

      April 7, 2012
  4. Although I’m not yet nursing (not due until the end of May), I recognize this struggle against technology mixed with the reliance on it. My husband often has his iPhone out at the table, particularly when we’re out to eat. I find it incredibly frustrating and disrespectful, and have tried hard to remind him that it needs to stop when the twins are born. I’m trying to help him understand that they learn by watching us from day one. I really want to have the association of meal time (particularly dinner time when, hopefully, we’ll all be together) and family interaction. I’m just as guilty of tuning my husband out if he tries to engage me while I’m checking my email or Facebook, and I recognize that I need to learn that these things are free time fillers, not substitutes for interaction with those I love. I’m going to share this post with my husband, and I’ll be reminded of it each time I have to remind myself to step away from the laptop for a while. =)

    Like

    April 7, 2012
    • Funny how hard it is harder to “train” ourselves in the behaviors that we want to model. Having kids is good for that. It makes you think about the kind of person you want to be and the kind of person you hope your child will be, and you realize that you are responsible for both of those. And, yes, they’re watching, ever day! Husband and I struggle with this a lot. I think he grew up eating a lot of meals in front of the tv, and it seems natural for him to have a screen at the dining room table.

      Like

      April 7, 2012
      • Ulrike #

        I really love to read about your experiences – and I do agree with you 100 % –
        raising a child sure is the hardest thing to do for us, especially with all the influences (media, speed, our expectations,…). Our children are very good in copying our way of acting (thinking and talking also…) and the way they act actually shows us if there should be a change in anything – so it is for our benefit ,too 😉 it makes us “better” humans and as parents we reflect ourselves more than others.
        As a mother of older kids I like to comfort you: Whatever “good” habbits you settle in an early age you have less trouble when they get older. First it might be
        more training for you, but your kid is used to the routine later – and it avoids
        unneccessary discussions and trouble. Maybe this “outlook” could give a little motivation.
        (Excuse writing mistakes, please)

        Like

        April 9, 2012
  5. I struggle with this a lot, both with my phone and with my computer. I’ve found myself bored while nursing more often then I’d like to say. I’ve noticed my 9 month old grabs my phone and presses buttons already; maybe she has seen too much of that thing in Momma’s hand??

    Like

    April 7, 2012
  6. kamellia73 #

    It is such a dilemma. The need to connect with the outside world conflicts with the absolute need to connect with our children. My first child is six and I had her before Facebook or iPhones and I never felt bored. I was so concerned about screen time that I wouldn’t even check email on the computer while nursing her. Now with my 17 month old, everything is different. Checking social media is like a compulsion. Your post is inspiring me to set better parameters around it.

    Like

    April 7, 2012
  7. Being present to my children is really hard when I’m working from home. I’m constantly distracted, tempted to multi-task, etc. I feel like I’ve been working on this for a long time, but it is hard to stay focused on them when I am trying to get other things done as well, both to keep our household humming and to stay on top of my professional work. This is part of the reason I refuse to let myself get a smartphone: even though it would be convenient to be able to check email from anywhere, I already struggle with keeping good boundaries with my laptop.

    Like

    April 7, 2012
    • You’re smart to not get a smart phone. I love mine, and I’m not sure I could live without it now, but I rarely felt like I needed one before I had it. Truly, it is an addiction. Now I just have to manage it so it doesn’t interfere with real relationships:)

      Like

      April 7, 2012
  8. Carolyn #

    This is the main reason i keep rejecting my hubby’s offers of a more updated phone. I don’t want access to the internet during the day because I know the pull will be too strong to check Facebook just one more time. I’m happy with only having access in the evenings, so I can keep my browsing in check!

    Like

    April 7, 2012
  9. What a wonderful post and reminder. I’m just about to have my first baby and I can just imagine wanting to multi-task constantly. But I think you’re right, it’s so important to focus and just enjoy each moment, setting that example… thanks so much for your thoughts on this.

    Like

    April 7, 2012
  10. Elanne #

    I so feel you. These technologies are addictive. I realize that I use them not so much to connect but to space out. It’s a chance to let my mind wander from the itensity of being a full-time mom. I’ve set some firm rules for myself, which have been necessary due to the compulsive nature of my brain in relation to this stuff. I don’t have a smart phone so I don’t check the phone, but generally I check email/facebook only when my baby is napping or when someone else is with her. She already gets that ipads, laptops, phones and such are extremely important in the adult world and is very compelled to get ahold of them herself. I’m wanting to stall her interactions with these things as long as possible. Who knows how that will go though?!

    Like

    April 7, 2012
  11. Robin White #

    Every. Single. Day. I want my kids to be unplugged, to play with dirt and sticks instead of video games. I myself have fantasies of no computer, TV or mobile phone to distract me from all those books, crafts and other more productive items in life. But the consumption of info seems more addictive than crack, whether it’s valuable data or fluff. Every time my kids tug on my arm while I’m on the computer or phone, I feel like a horrible parent… If you hear of a cure or a 12 step program let me know.

    Like

    April 7, 2012
    • Yup, yup, yup. I’ll let you know if I find a cure. If there is a 12-step program, I’m just past stage one: acknowledge you have a problem.

      Like

      April 7, 2012
  12. Sounds like a good goal. I used to read books when I was nursing. Not all the time, but some of it. All my kids read now…..hmmm.

    Like

    April 7, 2012
  13. Andrea #

    I usually try to put the phone down and check in with my little one during nursing first thing or when she needs a break. I love playing cute games and eating her fingers and toes. However, she is still a slow nurser and I spend a lot of time nursing (added up 8 hours the other day between pumping and nursing!). So I do check email etc. during this time also. But I make sure I take the time to enjoy her precious face as this is my last little one. We also have a no phone at dinner policy and that seems to work fine so far. I also try to institute one day a week to connect more with kids, with no major online time and that seems to happen anyway when we get busy. Hope to keep it this way in the future.

    Like

    April 7, 2012
  14. Yes. In fact, yes yes yes yes yes! I think it’s terrific that you can acknowledge it. I’m still a little bit in denial. I have gone so far as to schedule my ‘device time,’ like I schedule time to exercise. It’s SO hard. But it gets easier the more I do it. Have you read ‘Bringing Up BeBe?’. I think it might be something you’d like to read if you haven’t already. Good Luck!

    Like

    April 7, 2012
    • I’m reading it now, and I love it! I think there is a lot we can learn from the French, especially when it comes to food and sharing mealtimes together.

      Like

      April 7, 2012
  15. I have these same thoughts and struggles. Wanting to be present but also needing a little more stimulation/contact with the outside world (I’m also a stay at home mom). The compromise I’ve reached is to check my phone after he’s fallen asleep so that I can be present while he’s awake and nursing. It helps that he is very active during nursing so I need two hands most of the time. Also he’s become very quick about it so that by the time I get the screen opened, he’s done and ready to play again. The other time I will check my phone is when he is really engaged in play and won’t really “notice” but then I promise myself to put it down right away as soon as he is wanting to engage with me. Oh, and when we’re going for walks in the stroller is the other time I check… We don’t watch tv or use the computer when he’s awake and I’m starting to accept that as he gets older I will get less and less “screen” time for myself via the phone. But as you said, I want to be really aware of the examples we set for him. The phone is a tool and I don’t know what I would have done this last year and half without it, but it shouldn’t replace human interaction. At least not when they are right in front me.

    Like

    April 7, 2012
  16. OMG! As if I wrote this! Yes, yes, yes to all of it. My 3 year old can manipulate my phone better than me (even though he never gets to play with it). He used terms like downloading, email, FaceTime, Facebook and text message. It does make me sad and I try not to be on the phone as much as I can help it, but I do work from home and my phone is part of my work day. I need to find a better balance. Thanks for the reminder.

    Like

    April 8, 2012
  17. Sharing this on my sharing sunday post – sometimes it really is hard to resist just a quick peek which turns into answering an email or sharing something on facebook! really enjoyed your thoughts on this!

    Like

    April 8, 2012
    • Thanks so much for sharing my post! I’m glad to know that I’m not the only mama to struggle with this, but I think it is something we all have to be aware of. These gadgets are so good at stealing our attention!

      Like

      April 8, 2012
  18. This is perfect – so well written and so well observed. Thank you. It totally mirrors my life, except that you find beauty when you slow down and I swear I still really, really struggle with that… but that is my own path to walk and sort-the-‘eck-out. Cheers for sharing!

    Gauri

    Like

    April 8, 2012
  19. joysmama #

    Thank you for your honesty, I am struggling the exact same thing!!! I tell myself every Monday I am not even going to take my phone downstairs when we first go down in the morning (accomplished so far:) and not even take the laptop out until after breakfast (not… and such is why I am reading your article as my 19 month-old is attempting to climb on me as she is eating her waffle. I feel so guilty, yet the pull to the outside world is so strong sometimes… My daughter is the same way when she gets my phone, the iPad, the laptop… she no longer wants to talk to her grandparents across the country on the phone… when she hears their voices she wants to Skype. While cute and sweet, there is a lot happening here that needs to be recognized. I know it’s a new world with all our gadgets, but yes, we must pay attention to what we are teaching them. Thank you so much for the reminder that she does not know what I am doing right now on the computer… she just knows I am not talking to her while she is eating her breakfast and that is why she is not really eating as much as I’d like, but trying to get my attention. OFF goes the computer NOW, I will go back to read the other comments after we have had breakfast and had our snuggle up to read time. Wishing you and your little one the happiest of Mondays…

    Like

    April 9, 2012
  20. happiesusie2010 #

    Facebook, whatsapp, emails, instagram, skype, twitter and all the different parenting blogs and articles… I feel soo guilty all the time, esp when he is trying to yank it out of my hands or during the supposedly peaceful and bonding nursing… yet i have no self control whatsoever…
    Ive been wondering why i give so much time to my iphone and recently wanting to change. Thanks to your blog my 15 month old is going to get his mummy back soon!! (i hope…!)

    Like

    April 9, 2012
  21. Love your blog.

    I know that these blogger award things are going around WordPress faster than the flu at my house or than Heather West got around at my high school, but I truly MEAN it when I recognize the writing on your blog as being truly excellent. I hope you’ll accept the “versatile blogger” award from me!

    http://offdutymom.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/thank-you/

    Like

    April 10, 2012
    • Thanks! I can’t do these award thingies, as much as I would like to. It goes on my to-do list and then sits there until I resign myself to the fact that I’m not going to get to it. But thank you so much for thinking of me – it truly does mean a lot.

      Like

      April 12, 2012
  22. With my son I had to give up reading or having the television on when feeding as he would get distracted so easily. Now that I have a smartphone, yes it can be hard to be fully present when hearing it beep away with new emails – so I do make an effort to ignore it unless I’m expecting an important message. Those moments with our family are so precious, and you’re right – when you’re really fully in the moment, children are so entertaining!

    Like

    April 10, 2012
  23. soniaelena62 #

    This hit home for me hard. The day I read your post was the day after I threw my back out, went to the ER and had to go on on lortab, steroids, and muscle relaxers to move… Which meant after 10 months of nursing I had to quit cold turkey (I just do it in the morning and before bed and she already drinks everything from sippy cups so technically it was not a big deal BUT it was a huge deal for me and I was devastated. So reading your post made me think of all the time I nursed and sat on my phone for one reason or another and how I could never get those moments back or make the slight up to her. Regret, sadness, tears… I have been very aware of my use around her now and make extra sure I’m dedicating complete attention to her. As a working mom, every minute with her is precious but sometimes you just happen to check FB or email or that devil in disguise, pinterest (obsessed). She’ll be a year old in just over a month and off to college before I can blink. I want to maximize every second!

    Like

    April 11, 2012
    • Sorry this hit you hard:( I actually struggled with whether or not to post this, because I didn’t want it to just induce guilt in other moms. But it turns out that many of us struggle with this. Particularly in those early days of breastfeeding, having the Internet in my hand or a good book – these “distractions” saved my sanity and made breastfeeding pleasant. I could never have sworn off technology while feeding then, though next time around I think I would try to cut back. Anyway, I’m really sorry about your back and that you had to stop breastfeeding before you’d planned. My comfort is that I have a million opportunities to be here for BabyC, even if I fail occassionally. There is a delicate balance of trying to be better but not stressing too much about it and forgiving myself for my imperfections as well.

      Like

      April 12, 2012
      • soniaelena62 #

        I love when a post makes me think about how I can improve on mama hood! We’re all in this new adventure together and anytime I can connect with another mama who has a similar take on parenting I love it! Would have died in those early months of BFing without my phone and embarrassingly the Ghost Whisperer on Ion… I was obsessed…. Enjoying your blog! Keep those thought provoking moments coming!

        Like

        April 12, 2012
  24. Reblogged this on our little peanut and commented:
    This is a great post so I thought I’d share.
    I usually pride myself on being a good multitasker, but this post is such a good reminder of savoring the moment, and that little ones are always watching. Setting a good example is so important!

    Like

    April 11, 2012
  25. Yep, I’m completely with you too. How many times have I resolved “I will not switch on the laptop while D is awake”… “I will only go on Facebook once a day” …. “I will only check work emails once a week”… yet I find myself in bodily contortions trying to play my turn at online Scrabble while D is nursing from the ‘wrong’ side!

    Thanks for making me feel less bad about this, but also reminding me to try harder to be present in the moment with my boy (who is also scarily adept at using a mouse, touchscreen and keyboard at aged 8 months. He’s actually discovered several iPad and laptop functions that my partner and I didn’t know about….!)

    xxx

    Like

    April 12, 2012
  26. Wow, I am really overwhelmed by the response to this post. Before posting it, I worried that I would either be judged or be accused of judging, and I’m happy that I haven’t felt either of these responses. Moms have probably been struggling with distractions from the beginning of time, but I do think that technology makes it a bigger problem for us – one that changes constantly as new gadgets enter our lives. I’m just trying to be aware of it and set some limits for myself, and it is comforting to know that I’m not the only one struggling with this. I love all of your comments. I can’t respond to them all, but know that I read each one. And this is one of the things that I love about technology – the opportunity to connect with other moms in the midst of my toddler-centered day. Thanks, everyone.

    Like

    April 12, 2012
  27. I can totally relate! My 3.5 year old daughter comes to my bedside every single morning and before she even says “Good morning”, she’s asking to have my iPhone. Seriously? The child knows how to get to youtube to watch Mickey Mouse’s clubhouse. For shame! At least it gives us about 10-15 minutes of extra sleep!

    Like

    April 12, 2012
  28. Love your blog – so well researched!

    Like

    April 17, 2012
  29. Bon #

    Omg thank you for posting this! Quite embarrassing actually, but I have been noticing myself being distracted from all my children 6/4& 6mnth twins! What a bad momma! Sigh!! Thank you for opening my eyes!! Time to put the phone away! What could be more important then 4 beautiful children!!!

    Like

    May 3, 2013

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