My friend and new mom, Danielle, posted this article http://bit.ly/J5eMKX on Facebook this week. She said it is a "must read" for parents and I agree.
Rachel Stafford, the Hands Free Mama, shares her insight about parenting amidst the constant demands of technology and hand held devices.
While reading it, my heart started beating quickly. My palms began to sweat. How often have I interrupted my kids - mid thought - to answer the phone? The sound of the email beep is magnetic. Even if it winds up being Drugstore.com's latest offer for 10% off, by the time I've glanced at my phone to realize it's nothing, I've already lost precious kiddy eye contact. Sure, I play with my kids all the time. We do lots of fun stuff and I love being with them ... but we are rarely alone.
I have a Pavlovian response to my iPhone.
The distraction is bad enough. But what's worse is the obligation to respond. Sure, sometimes it's nothing. Or sometimes it's my mom. But sometimes, it's "important." A call I "have to take." An email I "have to reply to real quick." And sometimes, the email I glance down to read, completely shifts my mood. Maybe I had just offered to play catch outside, but now I'm suddenly aware of 27 pages of dialogue I have to memorize and 3 days worth of babysitters I need organize and oh shit I was supposed to go the grocery store ... and blah blah blah. If I just hadn't looked at my phone, I'd be outside playing catch right now.
What starts out as an innocent glance evolves into a full blown affair. And the causality is the kid in the yard with the catcher's mitt on - waiting.
Hands Free Mama made me ask myself - when did I become a slave to this device? And what am I teaching my children with every text tone?
For many parents the pressure to be available feels intense. Everyone knows we are all walking around with mini-offices in our pockets, so there is no longer an acceptable excuse for not picking up, texting back, or replying to an email right away. It used to be if you weren't at work - you didn't work. And if you weren't at home - you couldn't answer the phone. Now, the line between work and home is ill defined. Even more so for those of us who work from home. People can't even take real vacations anymore! I had three conversations just yesterday where I heard myself saying, "Well, I'll be on a family vacation, but I'll have my cell, so I'm available if necessary." WHY?!! The fear of unplugging - whether for 5 minutes or a week - is palpable.
What are we - what am I - so afraid of? If Steven Spielberg ever really calls, I'm sure it'll actually just be his assistant (who will be used to leaving messages anyway).
I read Rachel's article and decided - in that moment - to put my phone away for the rest of the afternoon. When I am working (in rehearsal, writing, in the VO studio) I put my phone away. I check messages on 5 minute breaks every 90 minutes or so. Why should playtime with my kids garner any less respect? Though dinner time and bed time have always been "phone free" - I was inspired to add play time to the list.
I put my phone upstairs and turned the ringer off. I played. Uninterrupted all afternoon.
We had chocolate milk and strawberries outside. We made up a game called base-dodgeball which inspired high pitched squealing from all 3 of us. We evaluated the blooms on our rose bushes and measured the boys' heights against the tomato plants. We rode bikes and scooters into town for a family pizza party and played tag on the way back. I was fully present the entire time. I didn't miss any calls from Steven.
When bedtime approached, two things happened. First, my older son said, "Mom that was an awesome day." Second, I had 32 emails, 8 texts, and 3 phone messages waiting for me.
It took me 2 hours uninterrupted to respond appropriately to everything. Not bad at all. It's worth noting that not one person asked, "what took you so long?"
As a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom, delineating time and space for work and time and space for play, is critical. My afternoon experiment proved to me that I can control my own accessibility, it's simply up to me to make it happen. I don't expect to live hands free overnight ... but I think I can manage hands-free...ish.
(DISCLAIMER: This blog was written during nap time).