It happens all too often: my two-year-old son gets tired of my attention being focused on my cell phone and not him, so he grabs the phone and puts it in a favorite drawer or a special hiding place on a bookshelf—or he just flings it down hard on the floor (I’ve gone through quite a few phones in the last two years). This is never an enjoyable experience. When I have been reading or scrolling on the phone I feel guilty about neglecting him for something so unimportant; when I am talking on the phone and he does this it’s embarrassing. I am learning, though, to take it as a little wake-up call. My kids need not only my presence but my attention, a lot of the time. And that is a good thing for all of us, but it can be very challenging.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have always had a tendency to get lost in my thoughts and that, like so many of us, I’m addicted to my phone screen. Motherhood is a challenge to these habits in many ways. Not only are the tasks of caring for a toddler and baby constant, but these little people need me to look at them, talk to them, praise them, and comfort them—all of those things can’t be done on autopilot, even if making a bottle or changing a diaper sometimes can. What really poses a challenge for me is that checking out sometimes seems like a natural response when you are dealing with mundane tasks, and caring for small children is full of mundane tasks. It’s easy to reach for my phone when I’m nursing the baby or to start thinking about something that seems more interesting (politics, home improvement projects, work, gossip . . .) while I am getting through breakfast, clean-up, or getting the kids dressed.
This kind of distraction, however, can be detrimental to getting the necessary tasks done, and more importantly, it’s detrimental to my happiness and my children’s. They are not their happiest if I am checked out. I’m less likely to deal with what comes up patiently and resourcefully, to take and make opportunities to help them learn and explore the world and to simply enjoy being with them.
So I am trying to embrace the “interruptions” to my own agenda for getting things done, my own thoughts, and, yes, my own scrolling, that comes from my kids and their needs throughout the day. My little boys are good at bringing me back to reality if only I don’t resist or get too frustrated with the chaos.
Rather than give in to the feeling that I should be more “productive,” I’m finding that it’s best to simplify my priorities for each day and go easy on my expectations for the boys and myself. That also means a conscious effort not to constantly check Facebook or prioritize some task done online or in an app. More than just a mindless habit, I now realize that the draw of my phone is that it is a distraction from my feelings of frustrated perfectionism. Instead of feeling the frustration of so many out-of-control moments (from not knowing where to start with household chores to dealing with toddler meltdowns) I can choose some “task”—even if it’s just mindless scrolling—that I have control over. The phone is an escape from feeling defeated. As humbling as this realization is, it is helpful because it has made me realize that the place to start is not self-criticism and the gritty resolve to be a better mother and housekeeper, but in changing my attitude and expectations. It sounds cheesy, but deciding that the goals for the day are to all stay alive, and enjoy the gift of being together, can make a big difference in my outlook. Gratitude is a better motivator than self-reproach.
These little habits are slowly changing, and although I find it difficult to make the changes, I know it is worth it. I don’t want to miss out on my real life right now and really experiencing the wonderful little people to whom I am so lucky to be a mother. And I hope that when my days of changing diapers and making bottles are done, I will have learned how to live in the present a little better because of them.
Editor’s Note: Making of a Mom is a Readers Write column. Share your own story here.