“Just a minute, let me finish this email first.”
“Hang on, let me check the weather.”
“Oh, let me look that up.”
These are the kinds of phrases that come out of my mouth every single day, most often directed at my 4-year-old. But what goes through my head as I say each of them is something like this:
“As if my preschooler knows what an email is … ok, he probably does.”
“We certainly couldn’t walk outside and see what the temperature feels like.”
“I suppose we could go to the library and make this an adventure … or I could just find the answer right now.”
I work from home and much of my work is Internet-based. I’m clearly not opposed to technology and all that it makes possible. But it also attaches me to my devices almost all day long. In order to get everything done, I’m constantly working in snippets here and there throughout the day, which usually means jabbing my thumbs incessantly on a tiny screen, day in and day out.
Since my smartphone is rarely farther than my back pocket, I turn to it for everything: playing music, seeing what friends are doing, looking up activities and recipes, and sometimes just checking it because I haven’t in the last five minutes. None of these are necessarily detrimental things (aside from the absent-minded checking). And some are even good — listening to music puts me in a better mood and heaven knows I’d never be able to come up with a craft or activity without the aid of Pinterest. But nonetheless, when I listen to the constant technology-based narrative I’m directing at my preschooler, I can’t help but feel I’m sending the wrong message and doing him a disservice.
My gut reaction is to cast all technology aside. Dock my phone upstairs. Turn the computer off. Hide the TV remote. But then I’d lose my job, my husband couldn’t reach me, and I’d be clueless about the world. A technology strike, or even a vacation, isn’t the solution. But seeing how much my kids are soaking it all in, I needed to make some sort of a change.
I’ve always been a pen and paper girl — my calendar and to-do lists aren’t real unless they’re on paper. So for the past few months, I’ve turned back to my roots. I downsized my massive planner so I could carry it with me (and actually use it). I color-coded it by life tasks: work lists, grocery lists, daily tasks, weekly menus, and appointments I’d otherwise forget. Every time I look at it is one less time I’m pulling out my phone for a reminder (which we all know leads down the rabbit hole of Facebook and Instagram).
A paper planner is great, but it wasn’t enough. So we started turning back to “analog.” I replaced every task that required me to pull out a glowing screen with something that made me more “present.” I’ve now become attached to my old-school analog watch. Again, every time I didn’t pull out my phone to check the time was another win.
We put an actual thermometer outside the kitchen window, so instead of pulling out our phones or turning on the Weather Channel, we simply read the temperature or stepped out the front door. It’s a bonus that it’s a learning experience for my oldest, practicing reading numbers and taking measurements. Win-win!
Notebooks lay scattered around my house, so every time I get a minute to work, I write myself a draft. Whether it’s an email or an article, it goes on paper first. Typing it into my computer later, when my kids aren’t watching, takes a heck of a lot less time than trying to start from scratch after they go to bed.
I’m not eliminating technology from our lives, just removing some of the unnecessary uses. We still stream music for dance parties and find educational-ish movies on Netflix. I think it’s important that my kids do know how to use it, because that’s how the world works. But every time I don’t check my phone for something silly is one more moment they’re getting all of me.
Like most things parenting, this intentional reduction in technology led us towards something unintentional: more constructive, fun time together. Writing in my paper calendar or journal lets me sprawl out next to my son on the floor as he colors. Not to mention using pens, pencils, and markers is therapeutic for both of us, as we color side-by-side. Plus, I’m setting a much better example of what work looks like, as opposed to just “playing” on my phone again. Looking at my analog watch has helped him learn visibly how time moves or how far away something is. Going to the library to learn about volcanoes or dinosaurs instead of just glancing at my phone creates an adventure that my son remembers, instead of just another fact flashing by him.
Above all, I’ve found myself less scatterbrained — I’m not constantly doing a million things at once. I’ve been able to pay more attention to my kids and really make those minutes count, instead of trying to juggle it all. And trust me, there’s enough juggling in parenting, I don’t need to create any more unneeded tasks for myself.More On