To say I spend all day my phone is not an exaggeration. I use it for my day job, to keep in touch with friends and family, and for my freelance work as a writer.
I hadn’t noticed my freedom slipping away from me, despite the 15+ hours a day that the glass and plastic rectangle is firmly planted in my hand or the $150 monthly data plan I have to pay for. No, the moment I realized I had a problem was when my child came toddling up to me, crying because his older brother hurt his feelings, and I attempted to soothe him with a canned response without even looking up.
“Mom, put that down and snuggle me!” my teary 3-year-old demanded.
Whoa. That was the moment I slammed my phone down, picked up my child, and said I was sorry. I realized I am often tethered to the wrong things, and I felt genuine shame.
My husband was pretty happy to hear me announce I wanted to take a break from my phone, from social media, and from the constant checking of status updates, emails, Slack messages from work, and God knows what else I stare at.
So for a full week, I turned off my phone and kept it locked in the glove box of my car while I was at home. There would be no buzzing or texting or roaming charges. I used the phone if I needed to make a phone call, and that was it.
I have to be honest here: It drove me crazy the first day. As the sun was rising and my house was waking up, I felt weird not sitting at my desk with a cup of tea and my fully charged phone looking for whatever things I missed overnight. It was like a weird void. I couldn’t help but wring my hands and look for things to do. My kids and I ended up back in my bed reading stories and holding the family record for the longest tickle war.
My kids were suddenly in my face because I was in theirs — literally. When I wasn’t folding laundry or washing dishes to busy myself, I was chasing down my kids and regaling them with crazy stories about my childhood or asking them — practically begging them — to help me bake cookies or chalk the sidewalk with paisley shapes and misspelled words. I think for once I was actually driving my kids bonkers instead of the other way around.
I realized there are times when I actually do need my phone, and just like learning how to budget money, it turns out that most of time, my “need” was really a want. Calling my husband to ask him to swing by the grocery store to pick up children’s Tylenol was a “need.” Grabbing my phone to mindlessly scroll through social media was a “want.” I’ve also been able to slash my data plan in half, saving us some much-needed coin — bonus!
By the end of the week, I was able to see the ways in which my kids were missing out every time I dismissed them because I was staring at my phone. They need to see me giving them respect by listening to them with my eyes, an open heart, and silence when they talk. They need to feel me being fully present in their world. And up until that week, I can’t say that I had been.
Phones are not evil, starring at Facebook is not a terrible thing, and I pass zero judgment on any parent who needs to blow off five minutes by scrolling through an app. Believe me, I’ve been there. I’m still there some days.
But for me, and more importantly for my kids, my phone became more than just a way to pass a few minutes here or there. I was tethered to a machine instead of focusing on my family. These days, it is all about trying to strike that balance between those needs and wants. I am definitely trying to master the art of moderation.