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.
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:
- During meals or snacks with BabyC and Husband.
- 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.)
- 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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