It’s OK to leave your phone behind when you leave your kids behind

Last week my sister, her boyfriend, my husband, and I embarked on our yearly trip to Ontario to attend the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Stratford is a charming little city, and a great place to take in excellent professional theatre, eat fantastic food, and browse shops and galleries. It’s one of the very few trips Jon and I regularly take without our kids that isn’t work-related.

It’s awesomely relaxing.

As our car approached the Canadian border on Thursday, I checked my texts and emails one last time. Soon we’d be moving into the land of international roaming charges, meaning I’d have to use my phone for emergencies only.

That’s OK, I figured — I’d still have my computer to check my Google voicemail and email, and could turn the data on my phone every so often to receive texts.

But when we reached the bed and breakfast, I realized three things. 1: Our B&B’s wifi absolutely would not work on my laptop, not even when I took it out on the veranda, into the breakfast room, or into the bathroom at the very back of the house nearest the proprietors’ living quarters. 2: I had forgotten my iPhone charger. 3: I did not want to spend one of my only kid-free, work-free vacations on a mad quest for internet connection.

Well, at least Jon still had his phone in case of emergency. So I closed my laptop, shut off my phone to preserve what battery it had left, took a deep breath and headed out to the restaurant.

Jon brought his phone along that night “just in case.” But when we left the next morning, he forgot it back at our room. By Friday afternoon, when we needed to know the time, we realized that apparently nobody wears wristwatches anymore, and also, no one in our group had brought along a digital communication device.

At first, that realization made me anxious. What if my mother-in-law needed to get in touch with us about the kids?

But then I recalled that when I was younger, parents left their kids places all the time without being immediately reachable. School, for example. If you got sick and your mom was at the grocery store or on another call at work, then … you waited. If your parents went out to dinner, they left the name of the restaurant for the sitter and went on their merry way.

And though, for the first day or so I kept finding my fingers reaching unconsciously for my purse, by Friday evening I had gotten used to it and by Saturday I had reached a state of extreme relaxation. There is something so nice about just being with the people you are with, instead of always feeling that pull toward the outer world or being tempted to surreptitiously check your phone under the table. (What, me?)

The whole experience left me committed to shutting down and/or leaving my mobile behind more often, on short trips and long, both when I’m with the kids…and yes, when I’m without them. Here’s why:

1. A phone-free vacation gives you more bang for your buck.
If I’m going to go to the trouble and expense of taking a vacation without my kids, why would I want to feel like I’m both parenting and working from the road? Sometimes it’s necessary to get a little work done on a trip, but everyone needs a true break from time to time. Likewise, managing kids via your phone means all the trouble with none of the rewards. My mother-in-law (or anyone else I would leave my kids with) is capable of handling pretty much anything that comes up during the time we’re gone, so there’s really no reason for me to hover over my texts.

2. With a little planning, you can still be reachable in an emergency even without a phone in your pocket.
Because we’ve become so reliant on mobile phones, it’s easy to forget that hotels, restaurants, bars, stores and theatres generally have reliable land-lines. Leaving the sitter with a handwritten note detailing where you’ll be — and perhaps the phone number of a close friend or neighbor she can call as a backup – means she’ll be able to get in touch in an emergency. A note left with the hotel or B&B about your whereabouts will make it possible to track you down if it’s really, really needed.
The vast majority of the stuff parents end up managing from our phones aren’t really emergencies, don’t require an immediate response, and will probably do nothing but interrupt your good time and make you feel anxious. Do you really want to field your son’s request for a later bedtime or hear that he lost his T-Ball game while you’re trying to enjoy a nice steak with your significant other?

3. Taking regular breaks from your phone can lessen its hold on you, making it easier to stay connected – in a real way — with your kids when you’re home.
Developing — and breaking — habits requires practice. Regular, short breaks from your mobile device can help re-train your brain to focus on the person you’re with … instead of the far-off people who do not need your attention right this minute. Longer mobile blackouts almost feel like a reboot, re-wiring your body and mind to stop responding to every vibration and “ding!” and reminding you that there is a lot of life going on outside that little screen.

One day after our return from Canada, I’m just as plugged in as ever. Yes, there was a pile of email waiting for me, but I worked through it easily enough, and found that only one or two messages really needed a response. Would staying on top of it all in real time have been worth the 100+ interruptions?

And as it turned out, there were exactly zero kid-related issues that would have required me to stay tethered to my texts during our trip.

I’ve felt more focused and less scattered all day, moving from one item on my to-do list to the next, without feeling flustered because I can’t get to them all at once.

Best of all, I’ve been able to ease back into family life and reconnect with my kids, without hearing the siren song of my phone and all its noisy, bright notifications that somebody, somewhere, would like to get my attention.

In fact, I’m not even sure where my phone is right now. And I think I’ll let it stay lost for a while.


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