How are we supposed to get anything done when our phones beckon us like a popsicle on a summer day? And here’s your baby, adorable as ever, just waiting for you to smile at them, play with them, and sing with them.
It’s impossible not to berate ourselves as we look at OTHER babies on our phone, or watch a viral video telling us how “you only have little kids for 4 years and if you miss it it’s done,” while our baby is sitting right there.
I’m a therapist and my work is to help parents connect to their babies, but I’m just as challenged as everyone else when it comes to tearing myself away from the phone. In the last two years it’s gotten worse; parents report being even more attached to their phones, and although we’ve spent more time with our kids, the quality of our time together has gone down.
I don’t need to mention all of the benefits of smartphones. It’s clear that in many ways our lives have improved by having the world at our fingertips. In fact, one study shows that at low levels, phone use was actually associated with better (not worse) parenting.
One could argue that our impulsive scrolling has nothing to do with phones at all.
Parenting a baby is hard
It’s relentless. And although you love your baby deeply, you also need to escape the constant, soothing, changing, feeding, bouncing, all on an empty tank of sleep. The phone just makes it that much easier.
So what do we do about all this?
First of all, we change our mindset. Part of the reason we feel guilty is because we have a fantasy of the “perfect parent” who is forever singing The itsy Bitsy Spider and reading “Goodnight Moon” to her baby, connecting with them ALL the time.
But the fact is, it’s impossible to be engaged with our babies all day long. It isn’t even suggested. One much needed aspect of Attachment Theory is respecting the parent’s inner state and making sure we tend to our own needs as well.
Rather than strive for 100% focus on our babies, we need to aim for moments of attentive engagement. If you can find a way to have a few of these moments a day, you’ll feel less guilty, more gratified, and much more confident as a parent knowing you’re connecting deeply with your baby.
How to Consciously Balance Your Phone Time
Here’s how to consciously put down the phone enough to make sure you go to sleep tonight gratified and guilt-free.
1. Scroll Away
What? But you just said…Yes, we want to find moments of not scrolling. But what we end up doing is neither. We think we’re great multitaskers, but the fact is, there’s no such thing. What we call muti-tasking is actually shifting our attention quickly from one focus to another ineffectively.
Instead, give yourself an allotment of scrolling time guilt-free. Set a timer for 15 minutes (or whatever feels satisfying) and then fully stop.
2. Put it Away
Now that that’s done, take some physical distance from the phone. We both know that having it in your pocket or by your side doesn’t do the trick. I know it takes inhuman strength these days to detach and put the phone in the other room for a few moments, but it’s worth it
3. Choose Your Own Adventure
Pick an activity that you love to do with your baby. Perhaps it’s singing? dancing? reading a book? walking outside with them in the carrier? Tune into your instincts and choose something you love doing. The more it feels like a chore, the more you’ll fantasize about your phone. Lying in bed with your baby counts as an activity.
4. Be Open to Whatever Happens
Rather than trying to teach or enrich your baby during these moments, let them lead. Go into it with curiosity and without expectations about how your baby should act or how you should behave as a parent. When you’re open to anything happening you learn more about who your baby is and how best to parent them.
5. Be Present
This one is the most important. In order to counteract the moments we’re away from our baby, on the phone or anywhere else, we need to make sure we have fully present moments with them. The way to do this is to focus on sensations. Listen to your baby’s sounds, touch their skin, smell them and even taste them.
Ok, dear parent, let’s do this. Your homework today is to find at least one moment to follow these steps. And while you do, take a deep breath knowing that tonight you’ll fall asleep smiling as you remember the moment you had together, instead of thinking about any time wasted scrolling.