Let’s Take the Guilt Out of the Mommy Smartphone Debate

I feel guilty about everything. I feel guilty about the way I am not as patient as I should be first thing in the morning, while my children chatter on and I wait for the hot water to boil for my coffee. I feel guilty about how much my children prefer teddy grahams over carrot sticks and about how I think my daughter might be slightly allergic to my dog. There is also the fact that I can’t convince myself to spend $7 dollars on organic milk, but I still buy myself a latte a couple times a week. (I know, I’m the worst.)

Above all else, I feel guilty about my phone.

My phone spends so much time at my side as I read to my kids, in my hand as I nurse my baby and close enough to hear, just in case I get a text or an email or have a few spare minutes to catch up on watching my friends’ snaps. Even though I have significantly cut back recently, I still feel like I am using it way too much, and probably ruining my kids’ childhoods as a result.

I’m not alone. I know this to be true because the amount of time moms spend on their phones is all the online world seems to talk about some days. While a sanctimommy is calling out a mom she saw texting at the park, another mom is defending her choice to snapchat while her kids play. Every time the topic comes up with friends, the conversation revolves around whether we should or shouldn’t be on our phones in the presence of our children, but it turns out this could be oversimplify the issue.

What if, instead of focusing on what is right or wrong, we started paying attention to how our tech use is making us, and our children, feel? What if we cut back, not as a salve for our guilt, but because we feel equipped to put what we value most above what is easiest?

“This is about freedom in technology, it’s not about freedom from,” explained Nancy Colier, author of The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World. “The truth is, we don’t want to give up technology. Technology is fantastic and that is part of what makes it so challenging. We have to learn how to form a handshake with this new reality.”

How exactly do I form a handshake with a device that seems to control my time? How do I strike a balance, allowing myself to use it as needed without using it as my go-to distraction when my days are feeling boring, stressful or hard?

Mindfulness is the key, according to Colier.

“Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment without judgement,” Colier said.

Using the practice of mindfulness, parents just might have the power to cut back on their own screen time, not out of guilt but out of self preservation. By beginning with an awareness of how our time in front of a screen makes us feel, parents can find the motivation to prioritize what they really value in their life: their families. According to Colier, when it comes to our use of tech, we need to answer the question, “How is this working for us?”

“After a full day of teching, most kids feel pretty crappy and I would say almost all adults feel pretty crappy, too,” she asserted. “We can’t lose touch with our own experience of it. People describe being ‘twired,’ they’re simultaneously tired and wired. They’re exhausted, but they’re also kind of jacked up and amped up.”

OK, so spending too much of my time on my phone makes me feel like crap. What’s next?

According to Colier, we need to use mindfulness to catch the impulse to connect, before we ever log in.

“What you’re doing is trying to separate the urge, to catch that impulse, without having to indulge,” she explained. “Then we start out by acknowledging that we want to have quality relationship with my children. We want to build a life that is in alignment ultimately with what really matters to us—getting to know our kids and doing the hard work that is being a parent, which means not bailing out every time we don’t know what else to do. We really have to own that for ourselves, since that is really a very private kind of thing.”

From there, we allow our connection to those values to drive our decisions. Personally, this means I catch myself tempted to check in online and I remind myself that I love my children and enjoy being with them. If necessary, if I am feeling bored or struggling to really connect with my children, I change things up. Maybe we head outside or grab some books. Maybe, I don’t need to be actively connecting with them, maybe we just need to be near each other doing non-screen activities, so I clean house or read a book while they play nearby.

Lastly, it is important to not only notice when overuse of technology makes us feel bad, but to also pay attention when we spend time with our family, disconnected from tech, and how that makes us feel. By noting how we are calmer, fight less or feel more relaxed, we can come to appreciate the time we spend together, without our smartphones creating a wall between us.