The Parenting Problem with My Cellphone

When Julio and I did our weekly check-in on Monday night, one of the prompts was “I will do less…” and my answer was immediately “messing around on my phone.” No question or pause.

As a person and, more specifically a mother, in 2021, my cellphone is obviously a big part of my daily life. It’s how I contact friends and family. Send silent memos to Julio from across the house. Shop for our grocery pickup. Read books. Listen to podcasts or music. Track baby meals and naps. Keep track of library books. Play Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. You get it.

For a long time, my daughter didn’t really notice the phone. Then, when I started to take pictures of her, she would stop what she was doing and stare, her face saying, “What is that?” Now, she reaches for the phone. In my defense, reaching for the phone emerged during phone or video calls with family members. But still. When she reaches for the phone, I just picture battles over screentime down the road. I do not want that. As an older millennial who can remember what her brain was like before the internet, I do not want to plant the seeds for an obsession with gadgets. But I am modeling it.

This afternoon, when my girl did not go down for her nap as scheduled, I snuggled up with her in the bed for a “chat.” She babbled at me and I asked her questions and we looked at each other’s faces and it was perfect. It was the exact carefree timelessness that I envisioned when I said I wanted to do less messing around on my phone.

We started exploring the difference between being under the sheet and not under the sheet. When I pulled the sheet up over our heads, the afternoon sun shone through the flannel and we could see the floral print from the other side. Baby girl reached up to the sheet, feeling the fabric and looking at the flowers. It was a perfect moment. I tried sneakily to take a photo. Immediately, she tracked my phone and reached for it. I decided that I had to just paint a mental picture or write it in my notebook, because if I kept trying to get a photograph, the moment was going to stop being about the sensory play we were engaged in.

This, of course, is a 21st century quandary. For most of human civilization, babies have been born and grown up without every day of their lives being photographed, documented, and shared. I get that. And there are days that go by without me pulling up the camera. But many times, this child I so fervently hoped for is so sweet and precious and I want to drink up every second of her infancy and childhood, saving it in a little digital archive to keep her forever. Of course, the risk of this impulse is living her childhood through the filter of technology, not being in the moment with her. As in most things, I am sure the key here is balance.

This post is not a full-fledged essay or a post with anything resembling answers. It’s just a quick reflection on a small problem I’m facing while trying to be intentional about how I parent my child. Julio and I have an Unplug Box for our cellphones to go into when we are having family time, but it currently sits on the coffee table in a room we use less frequently. Maybe the first step is to move the box.

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