"Put your phone away, Mommy."
As I looked into my 2-year-old son's blue eyes, I saw a mixture of frustration, anger, and impatience. I immediately put my phone on the table, feeling somewhat abashed. And a little angry -- at myself.
I had relapsed.
Not long ago, I realized I had a problem with the screen. I was obsessively checking my iPhone and setting a terrible example for my daughter, who repeatedly asked why she couldn't have an iPad when all her 5-year-old friends did. (A fact I somewhat doubt, along with her dubious claims that all first-grade girls wear lipstick.) Priding myself on being proactive, I quit my phone cold turkey for a week. I'm not saying I achieved nirvana, but I did feel more relaxed, calmer, and, most importantly, more present as a parent.
Yet life moves on, and I couldn't keep temptation at bay forever. I work at home, and need to email clients throughout the day. Still, if I'm being honest, half the time I check my phone, I'm not sure what I'm looking for: distraction, excitement, the perfect guacamole recipe. But it needs to end. My daughter is getting older, and it's hard to model good screen habits -- or convince her of the need for limits -- when I'm glued to my phone. And my son needs to know that Mommy's listening -- or at least occasionally making eye contact. So, this summer I'm making a pledge to put down my phone, step up my game, and quit these five offensive screen habits.
1. Checking the phone immediately before bed. I've developed an unhealthy habit of perusing emails and Facebook in bed. I've read studies that say this behavior can actually affect your sleep, and I believe it to be true, as I struggle to settle down after reading some article about why kale may be killing me. But it's not just the exhaustion: the real problem is the idea that I need a technology fix every moment I'm conscious. Instead, I plan to spend those precious moments doing something that keeps me in the present, like meditation or yoga. I'll be less exhausted, more aware, and better able to face the ruffians -- I mean, children -- demanding breakfast the next morning.
2. Checking my iPhone in parking lots. Another bad habit I've developed is checking my iPhone every time I park the car, whether at the grocery store or a birthday party. Because clearly I can't purchase a quart of milk until I've checked the stats on my latest blog post. It's a disruptive habit that annoys everyone who's forced to sit through my pleas of "just one more minute" while I focus on my screen. Yes, I need to check email periodically for work. But that doesn't mean the second my car goes in park, the phone needs to come out. Especially while my kids watch, soaking in all my bad habits. This one needs to go.
3. Making TV my default leisure activity. Unfortunately, it's not just the smallest screen that's a problem. Very often, when I'm not working or parenting, my default is to turn on the television. I'm always embarrassed when my kids return home from an outing with Daddy and ask what I did in their absence, and my response is, "Um, I watched The Bachelorette for two hours." There's nothing wrong with a little television now and then. But I'd like my kids to see Mommy doing other, healthier things, like reading or going for a run. Because it's hard for me to say "Go play outside!" if my kids think I'm just trying to steal the Roku remote away from them.
4. Texting instead of calling. When I gave birth to my daughter six years ago, I received dozens of calls in the hospital from friends and family. When I had my son, a few years later, hardly anyone called at all. Instead, I was deluged with text messages and Facebook comments. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather have a real conversation -- or, better yet, see someone in person -- than read an endless string of quick (and misspelled) text messages gluing me once again to a screen. So, friends and family, be prepared this summer to hear something you haven't heard in a while -- my voice.
5. Even thinking about the phone during family activities. Dinner, beach outings, trips to the mall on rainy days to ride the carousel -- all of these qualify as family time and must be sacred. Because no matter what else I have going on, my kids need to know that when I have plans with them, they are first and foremost in my mind. How else are they going to learn what it means to give someone your undivided attention -- to make others feel valued and important -- if they don't learn these lessons at home? And, really, who is more valued and important than these tiny, offline loves of my life?
No, I don't believe kids need constant attention. But they shouldn't feel like they're always competing for it, either. If I'm going to be the parent I want to be -- and avoid my daughter one day pausing in her walk down the aisle to take a selfie -- then it's up to me to teach her healthy screen habits. And, apparently, that starts with teaching myself first. So if I don't answer your text this summer, don't be offended. I'm outside exploring the world with my kids. TTYL.