My “Phone Guilt” As A Parent

A few months ago, while I was scrolling through work emails on my phone, I looked over to see my toddler walking in circles around our kitchen counter while yammering away on her plastic cell phone. She then sent a few texts to Elmo and checked her emails because she was in the “tree business” and had a lot of work to do (I am still not sure what the tree business is, but apparently it is very demanding work).  

My initial reaction of “how cute and funny” quickly turned into a feeling of dread as I wondered if I was a poor role model for my child. This was not some inherent behavior she was displaying, but something she had learned from me. I taught her this. I pulled out my phone to search “how much phone use around my kids is okay?” and was immediately hit by the irony that I was using my phone to solve my phone problem. Ugh.

When it came to phone use around my kids, I felt like I was in a lose-lose situation. My phone was genuinely needed throughout the day, but I felt guilty EVERY TIME I used it. I use my phone for work, to stream workout classes, to find answers to my daughter’s endless “why” questions, to Facetime family, to look up recipes, and yes, aimlessly scroll social media sometimes. But I felt guilty every time I pulled out my phone, no matter what it was for. So inevitably I was ending every day questioning my parenting and feeling terrible about myself.   

My kids are a billion times more important to me than my phone. But did they know that?

My worry and paranoia had been created by what felt like a constant onslaught of advice by mental health experts, articles, and studies that highlighted how destructive our phone use as parents could be for our kids. There is no shortage of articles declaring any amount of parental phone use can be destructive to kids. I was especially distraught to learn that I apparently should have been gazing into my child’s eyes every time I breastfed her, and never looking at my phone (BIG fail here).

I felt like the goal was to use my phone as little as possible. Which is great in theory, but I am a mom trying to live and survive in a world of smartphones. The expectation of not using my phone around my kids was unrealistic.  

 I realized that I needed a conversation around phone use that was more focused on balance, rather than eliminating phone use. So, to get out of this endless cycle of “phone guilt”, I started to change my focus to finding a balance between using my phone and giving my kids my complete, undivided attention.

I accepted that I needed (and wanted) to use my phone each day, for better or for worse, and that my kids are living in a smartphone society. Rather than pretend we are living on Little House on the Prairie and trying to live out the values of a pre-phone society, I want to model healthy phone habits for my kids.

I sat down and started to write out what balance looked like for me, and I didn’t use google or scary research articles to help me create my plan for how I wanted to use my phone in front of my kids.  The easiest starting point was eliminating any phone use at the dinner table while we were eating. But most other balanced phone use was not so black and white for me. 

My next commitment was to keep my social media scrolling and reading the news or latest celebrity gossip for times when the kids were not present. I could do that after the kids went to bed or even in the bathroom. I made a big exception here for breastfeeding – I love to gaze into my baby’s eyes and often do, but sometimes I just want to scroll through Instagram and that is okay. 

For all remaining phone use, which mainly was work or texting friends and family, I decided to be more intentional about it. Rather than constantly letting it interrupt the flow of our day, I would have chunks of time where my phone was not on me (and preferably in another room), so I could just focus on my kids. Then I would take a break from playing with my kids to check email or catch up on texts.

Video chats or phone calls with loved ones I decided was always acceptable and encouraged – my kids loved it and it was a time of connection. And that was it, that was my simple plan for balance.

I am not an expert in balanced phone use, not even close, but I am glad I got away from the mindset of thinking all my phone use is ruining my kids. I am also grateful I have learned to give my kids more of my focused attention, because now I don’t immediately turn away when I hear a text come through. My measure of success is if I can lay in bed at the end of the day and think of several times throughout the day where my only focus was connecting with my kids, phone free.

Is my phone use optimal and balanced every day? Definitely not. But I always get another chance tomorrow to do a little better.  

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