Who Wants to Be the Mom on the iPhone? {A Less Digital Life…Day 18}

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When I ask her what she wants to be, I expect her to say “ballerina.” My little girl pirouettes and dances her own version of en pointe in her signature kitty cat tutu whenever the inspiration hits. Or maybe she’ll say “doctor,” with all of the heart checks using a real stethoscope and mandatory shots with the fortunately not-real syringe. But no, when I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she jumps and shouts, “a mommy!”

One time, the morning after my writers’ group, she says, “Maybe I will be a writer sometime.” When I ask her what she’ll write about, she doesn’t even have to think about it. “Jesus,” she gleams. And it makes me gleam to see her loving what (and who) I love, and wanting to do what I do.

But there are some things I don’t want my kids to pick up.

Last year, around Mother’s Day, my son brought home one of those sentence starter sheets with information he had filled in about me for a sharing time at school. Apparently, I am “a lot of years old” and make a pretty amazing mac and cheese. I’m good with all that. But then after the prompt “She likes to…” he wrote “…go on the computer.” I don’t think he sees that as a bad thing. It’s his favorite special in school. But it got to me. I don’t want him to see the computer as a central part of my life.

This is a hot button in the mothersphere. Tonya of 4 Little Fergusons has 319 comments on “Dear Mom on the iPhone,” a post she wrote last fall about all the things a mother can’t see when she’s focused on her portable screen: “Your little girl is spinning round and round, making her dress twirl…. She keeps glancing your way to see if you are watching her. You aren’t. Your little boy keeps shouting, ‘Mom, MOM watch this!’ I see you acknowledge him, barely glancing his way. He sees that too. His shoulders slump, but only for a moment, as he find the next cool thing to do. Now you are pushing your baby in the swing. She loves it! Cooing and smiling with every push. You don’t see her though, do you? Your head is bent, your eyes on your phone as you absently push her swing.”

Six months later, Ashlee of Where My Heart Resides offered words of grace to the Mom on the iPhone. “Maybe you were catching up on e-mails, or confirming a dentist appointment. Maybe you were RSVPing to a birthday party, or looking up recipes on Pinterest to accommodate your daughter’s peanut allergy. Maybe you were googling your dad’s recent health diagnosis, or glancing at your friend’s baby registry on target.com. Maybe you were texting your friend whose mom is battling breast cancer, or your friend who just suffered a miscarriage, or your other friend who just went back to work for the first time since having a baby.”

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She’s got a point. There are a lot of things going on in that one tiny device. It gives us an opportunity to take our business with us and multitask to make some progress while our kids are at play.

Before I got my iPhone and iPad, I scheduled everything and wrote my to-do list in a leather bound planner. I took photos with my Canon. I jotted down writing notes in my spiral bound notebook. I carted around paper books instead of invisible e-books and I read Scripture exclusively from my leather bound Bible. I checked the weather by stepping outside, or turning on the news. I blogged and edited photos and checked Facebook, Twitter and e-mail on my home computer. My phone served as a phone (with a little texting). That was pretty much it.

I was moving around in time and space, interacting with different objects that looked the part of their function. My kids could tell when I was writing or reading or planning or taking snapshots or even checking my “messages” on social media (I try to spare them the brand names) by looking at what was in my hands.

I enjoy the convenience of having everything in one handheld device, but there’s something disconcerting about it, too. The attention that used to be dispersed across these multiple items is now focused on one single screen. And it looks like it’s my most important thing. It looks like I’m addicted to it, whether I am or not.

Here’s the issue. Maybe there are other mothers to give me grace, but my real concern is what my kids see. Dr. Richard Graham, the physician treating a 4-year-old iPad addict says, “We really need to be thinking about early intervention, perhaps in antenatal classes, in the same way that [soon-to-be] parents are advised on diet and sleep. From the beginning, parents need to be aware that when your child sees you on your device, they will want that, too.”

Even my baby has noticed the phone, always in close proximity. As she has started reaching for it, I’ve made a conscious effort to use it less, and even to hide it from view. The smartphone can help me be efficient in getting my tasks done, but in the process it can render me less effective as a parent. When I’m looking at the screen while I nurse her, I do so at the expense of one of the best bonding methods, the mother-baby gaze.

Along with my iPhone interventions, I’ve experimented with avoiding the computer as much as possible while my kids are awake. I do better in some seasons than others, depending on my projects and commitments. When I do get on the computer, iPhone or iPad, I try to clue the kids in on the specific task I’m working on, whether I’m communicating with a friend about a particular question, or editing a photo to share about something special our family did together, or checking the date and time on our next doctor’s appointment. When I finish the task, I do my best to close out and get right back to face-to-face interaction.

Pediatrician, Dr. Rani Gereige told The Huffington Post that parents need to set limits and “be role models, turning off the television or cell phones during family times, like meals, and not texting while they are all together.”

Not only do I want to be fully present with my family, I want my children to be able to be present in their own face-to-face moments as they grow up. What I do, they’ll try to do. What I want, they’ll want, too. They’re watching me, and I hope they see a mom who uses the available tools to manage the schedule and home, to document sweet moments, to read good books and write good stories, and to stay connected with loved ones far away…but mostly, I hope they see me truly seeing them.

Here’s a little Internet break for you. Right now, before you do anything else online….
Act as an audience to a child or another family member playing, performing or working on a project they enjoy.

 

 

{I’m linking up with Nester for her annual 31 Days blog get together. Don’t want to miss this series? Be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box on the homepage sidebar. Find all posts in the series here.}

One thought on “Who Wants to Be the Mom on the iPhone? {A Less Digital Life…Day 18}

  1. Darcy, it is good to read that you are thinking about all of this. It is much easier to go on autopilot and not think about how kids see all of our device time and miss eye contact. Sharing with them what you are doing online is brilliant.

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