It's Hard To Admit, But I'm A Better Mom When My Phone Is Off

by Mary Katherine
Getty images/ Marc Romanelli

This week, I was scrolling through social media when a shiny, new parenting study caught my eye.

Don’t Text While Parenting–It Will Make You Cranky” was the title, and I knew right away it was something I needed to click on. So I did, and as I was sitting there reading up on the newest data, my son came out of the playroom and tugged at my shirt.


“What is it, Benjamin?” I asked, completely absorbed in the perils of ignoring my children in favor of a cell phone.

“Mommy, will you come play with me?” he asked.

“Just a minute, son. I’m reading something important.”

He sighed with dejection, and went back to playing with his Legos. Alone. It probably goes without saying that ignoring my son so I could read a study on why ignoring my son is a bad thing was probably not the best choice.

In my defense, my heart was in the right place.

As a mom, I spend an awful lot of time worrying over whether or not I’m doing this parenting thing right. So I hop online and jump down the Google rabbit hole.

How do I hide vegetables in my toddler’s dinner? How do I make my kid sleep through the night? What is the AAP’s recommended vaccine schedule? What’s the deal with lotus birth?

(Tip: Don’t google that last one. Just…don’t.)

I also spend a lot of time out-of-pocket from the outside world, and sometimes find myself longing for some adult interaction. Thank goodness for social media, since that’s often the only way I can scratch that itch. If I’m lonely, or overwhelmed and in need of a little encouragement, I tap that little blue icon and a whole world of friends opens up before me. It’s awesome.

But here’s the thing, y’all. Despite the benefits that smartphones have to offer, they might be the biggest problem facing parents today. Children require a ton of hands-on attention, but with our increasing attachment to smartphones, scientists are now expressing concern that parent-child interaction has been significantly affected, and the results are pretty dang sobering.

In one study published in Translational Psychiatry, data suggests that distracted parents have detrimental effects on babies’ brain development, including their ability to process pleasure. Another recent survey (by AVG Technologies) found that 32 percent of children felt unimportant when their moms and dads were distracted by their phones. The takeaway from all of this data? Our children are negatively and quantifiably affected by our over-reliance to smart phones.

As I read all of this information (on my cellphone, naturally) I felt a tug-tug-tug at my heart.

In the back of my mind, all I could see was my youngest son trying to get my attention, and walking away dejected to a pile of Legos.

The truth is, it doesn’t take a study for me to know that I’m a better parent when I put my phone down. I’m less distracted, more patient, and more present in the moment with my children.

Hell, all of us are.

And I’m certainly not saying that parents need to trash their cellphones and move to a cabin in the wilderness and start churning butter a la Little House on the Prairie. For one, none of us can actually churn butter. And also, disconnecting entirely just isn’t feasible in modern times.

Smart phones can serve great purposes in our parenting. They have educational games, amazing cameras for taking pictures of our little cuties, and libraries full of music. We can FaceTime grandparents and out-of-town relatives and connect with friends who live all over the world. All of these things are wonderful. All of them are important.

And like most things in life, the key to balancing cell phone usage and parenting is simply this: moderation.

As parents, we have to be cognizant of how our phone usage is affecting those we love in the real world. The moment this tool of connectivity becomes an obstacle to connecting in person, it’s time to unplug and walk away. Fast.

The other day, I saw a cartoon on the internet with two people dining at a restaurant, sitting face to face, but one of them was busy playing on his phone. From his companion’s perspective, the phone transforms into a brick wall, closing off all mental and emotional connection with their dinner date. And you know what? I’ve been that person, distracted and on the phone at the dinner table. But I’ve also been the recipient, too…and it sucks. What pains me most is to think of my children feeling that way. Blocked off, ignored, unimportant.

I know I’m a better mom when my phone is off. That’s just a fact. I also know that these little faces in front of me have way more to offer than a blue screen anyways. So, I don’t know about you, but this year I’m going to make a concerted effort to unplug from my phone, and focus more on connecting with my children.

And, look. I’m grateful that you got the chance to read this article. If I had to guess, you read it from your phone. Like I said: everything in moderation.

But if you get a chance today, consider shutting down social media for a bit. Grab a cup of coffee and sit on the floor with those Legos. Listen to your child’s laughter. Soak it in.

Because that’s the type of Facetime that matters most. And you certainly won’t regret it.