As a stay-at-home mom, the ways in which I use and rely on my smart phone have certainly evolved from when I used it in the workforce as a reporter and online communications strategist. But out of habit, I held onto this sense of urgency that was embedded in my work of needing to have my phone on me at all times.
Sure enough, just as I found it mentally exhausting to keep up with in my career, it also became mentally exhausting to keep up with in motherhood. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love and hate what smart phones are doing to us.
So I had mixed emotions when I broke my iPhone for the third time in two months (having a toddler can really do a number on your belongings).
“This is why we can’t have nice things,” my husband joked.
When I let people know that they would have to reach me temporarily via Facebook, the panic set in, and it was comical. What would I do in an emergency? Never mind that having a smart phone is really only a recent development in history, and mothers of past generations seemed to leave the house just fine with their trusty first-aid kits and print-out maps. But my mom raised a good point in saying that while she didn’t have a cell phone when she raised us, she did have a house phone. There’s definitely merit to having SOME means of reaching help should I need it, which is why I ultimately ended up ordering a replacement *and a life proof case.*
And while I’m happy to share that I was not placed in an emergency while going the day phone-free, there were some other awful things I had to cope with. Here’s the rundown:
My morning started earlier. I had been in the habit of spending the first 30 minutes of my morning drinking coffee and browsing my phone. My brain was in FOMO mode – fear of missing out. “What did I miss overnight?” This dragged out my mornings until “I felt caught up.” Waking up without my phone still led me right to the coffee pot, but it also placed my butt right on the floor where I finally set up all those sensory bin ideas for my toddler that had just been sitting on my Pinterest board in digital neverland. His interest in independent play soared as I watched our house get lived in before the sun had even fully risen, and suddenly our day had begun on a much more fulfilling note as we jump-started our day.
I wound up using my big, clunky computer. What I hate most about smart phones is this fear-based idea that we need to be accessible 24/7. While that may have been true in my previous career, it’s simply not true for my reality right now as a mom. I don’t need instant notification that my Amazon Family subscription box has just shipped; I don’t need instant notification on what is going on in everyone else’s days; I don’t need Carter’s to ping me again that there’s a baby clothes sale.
Truthfully, I was no less disconnected to the world without my phone than I am with it. Instead, I gained control of this connectivity by having structured times to log on via my computer. It became much more manageable to weed through what I did care about rather than having hundreds of groups and companies try to reach me round-the-clock. Having a home computer is more than enough accessibility, it turns out. It’s also kind of nice staring at a screen that’s bigger than the palm of my hand.
I had to confront this impossible idea of balance. We want to document their childhoods, but we don’t want to overdue it in a way that’s invasive. We want to connect with other moms, but we don’t want to compare our motherhoods based on picture-perfect images and click-bait blogs. We want to Pinterest our days, but we don’t want to over-schedule. We want to be truly present in our family lives, but we don’t want to isolate ourselves from friends and family across the miles.
And all of this can honestly be so damn hard to balance at the end of the day as we navigate motherhood online and offline. Where technology is supposed to simplify these things, it somehow ends up cluttering everything. This felt like such a daunting equilibrium to achieve, but it turns out, it’s literally as simple as actively choosing to unplug more. Bam.
I was forced to make more human contact. Going to the store, hanging out at our favorite cafe – places where this introvert no longer had the crutch of her cell phone. I had to wait in lines free of looking down at my screen and instead at my surroundings, smiling and ready to engage in small talk.
It made me feel much less like a zombie and like a better role model for my toddler. I was able to focus on the task at hand without that “and…” There was no eating lunch and checking my email. There was no grocery shopping and double checking Pinterest recipes. There was no driving and turning on my Bluetooth to answer that not-actually-urgent phone call. I was allowed, for once, to just run my day and see it through the same lens as my phone-free child: for what it is in that moment. It made everything feel slower-paced, which was such a nice change from our otherwise rapid-fire newsfeeds.
Okay, Jenna, but you’re getting a phone again: I’m kind of dreading the distraction I know my smart phone is capable of bringing to my fingertips when it arrives in that sleek little box tomorrow. It’s up to me to use it as intended so that it doesn’t become something that is overwhelming. What does that look like for this mama? It was painfully easy to see what I needed to do in order to simplify my life:
1) Minimize my network so that I have less to sort through in the first place. If I haven’t seen you in years, are we really friends? If you are family by blood, but we’ve never actually met, do you really need to see what I’m eating for dinner? If you use Facebook to run a business, do I honestly have the financial means to join your weekly and monthly shopping parties? Of all the groups I’m in, do they simplify and better my life or do they add stress?
There’s this idea that if we unfollow a business or a person, we are unsupportive. But my question is, how the hell am I supposed to find time to be engaging and supporting to all 800-something-plus of you? My social capacity will simply never be able to fulfill that, and that’s not personal against anyone trying to connect more than it is allowing myself to be a better person to those closest to me.
2) Going back to a time when I use my phone, and my phone doesn’t use me. I don’t need push notifications to alert me to frivolous announcements. I don’t need my email synced to my phone, and I don’t need the Facebook app on it either. I can check these things on my own terms and not the other way around.
All I need is my ringtone turned up so I can catch old-fashioned calls. (Ok, and I also need the Panera rapid-pick up app for car naps and my camera roll for capturing candid moments).
3. Leave it out of sight. If I have my ringtone turned on, why would I need to make sure my phone is out on the table with me at lunch? Why would I need to place it in my GPS holder in my car when I’m just going down the street? Why would I need to ensure it’s in my hand like a security blanket as I go about our morning walk?
I don’t need to be accessible 24/7; it’s really that simple. There’s this nice little zipper pocket on the front of my diaper bag designed perfectly to hold my phone for me. I shall use that little slot much more frequently.
Ahh, I feel better already.