This morning as Aiden sat sleepily eating his breakfast at the counter, I was curled up in a chair next to the fire in the kitchen chatting with him. My year and a half old Lab Luna crawled halfway on my lap for some morning snuggles. I scratched her ears and she snuggled me with her cold wet nose and licked my hands. My phone was sitting on the small end table next to my chair and it chimed loudly – breaking in the quiet of the morning. Leaving one hand on Lulu’s head I reached for my phone … Luna took her paw and pushed my hand away from the phone and then crawled the rest of the way on my lap (which is quite a feat in my small sitting chairs and her 68 pounds) blocking me from my phone. I giggled at first, she was clearly asking – demanding – my full attention for a few minutes and didn’t like being interrupted by a text message.
I didn’t answer the text right away and helped Aiden finish up with breakfast and got him off to school. On my ride home it occurred to me that my puppy had given me a clear message that the phone was disrupting our time – but Aiden hadn’t batted an eye.
When the boys were little I had strict rules on time allowed on technology as well as what they were allowed to watch, interact with. The only way to get online was at the computer that was plugged into the wall at the kitchen desk where I could easily monitor their activity and screen time was limited to 30 minutes a day. Fast forward to two teenagers and five iPhones in the house and my control over technology has dwindled to virtually nothing. I monitor the boys’ phones, take Aiden’s downstairs at night and have limits on the television – but I have lost control.
It’s not as if I haven’t recognized our use (or overuse) of technology before; I am known to throw small fits when I walk into our great room – which purposely doesn’t house a television – and all three boys and E are sitting together, looking at their phones. I turn off the TV in the middle of shows if they are watching when they aren’t supposed to be, they aren’t allowed to be on their phones in the car with me (I want to talk to them!) and their PS3 is down in the furthest corner of the basement – but somehow I have still lost control.
And it starts with me. It occurs to me now that I have tried to curb their technology use by demanding rules, but not by example. My heart hurts that my puppy was willing to put me in my place and ask that I please just take a minute and snuggle with her – while Aiden went along eating like it didn’t matter that he was in the middle of an elaborate story about his first fantasy baseball draft the night before. He so deserves my undivided attention – at least some of the time – and instead of using those few precious moments before school to connect with him before I sent him off into his world I was carrying on a text conversation that wasn’t an emergency. It was important – I just could have waited until he was at school and didn’t want to talk to me. The times where the boys want to interact and are engaged and ready to talk are dwindling every day – I am embarrassed that I interrupted that time for even a second.
I have rules for myself about Facebook and television – I do not use either when the boys or Eric are around. I didn’t always do that, and honestly it’s embarrassing to me that I didn’t. I do not get on my computer, write or work, unless it’s absolutely necessary while they are home (keep in mind I am a stay at home mom with three kids at school – I have plenty of time to do those things while they are there) and I don’t watch TV without them if they are home. I have all these “rules” – and somehow – I still can’t manage to control my compulsion to check my phone, answer texts or emails when what I should be doing is focusing on the people in front of me. What the hell?
I don’t want his memories of me to include my head down turned, distracted and my fingers furiously texting away. Don’t get me wrong – I know that I need to use my phone, that those text need to be sent, that I schedule and organize our – their lives – via text and that it’s important for me to have friendships that are supported by texting. But, I could certainly choose to focus on them, particularly when they are engaged with me, and not allow my brain to be hijacked by my list of things that need to be done.
A few years ago a friend (on Facebook ironically) asked the question: “If you could leave your kids with only one lesson, what would it be?” While my answer to this question has changed over time, I have kept with me the concept of creating a legacy. Everything that I do with and for my kids creates a tapestry for them, a quilt of memories that they will take with them when they walk out into their own world. Memories and lessons to keep them warm and help guide them as they face tough life decisions and challenges. In looking at parenting from the end rather than the present provides me with the freedom to look at the big picture – not just what do I want to teach them, how do I want to guide them – but how do I want them to remember me? Who do I want to be in their eyes, when they look back?
I know for sure I do not want them to look back on their years in our home and remember me with my phone always in my hand, at the ready, to interrupt our time together. I don’t want them to remember asking me questions while I lazily scroll a news feed, or answered an email on my phone that could have waited. Boys are more of a challenge (as a very stereotypical rule) to plug in with, to get them to talk. I have employed many tactics over the years to get them to share with me – sitting in the hot tub, playing catch, riding bikes and going for walks were particularly successful while forcing them to sit down and talk it out blew up in my face – and I don’t want to spend any of that time not focused and distracted.
If I want the boys to limit their time on their phone -If I ask them to keep their phones in their pockets while they are with their friends – If I ask them to let their Clash of Clans battles wait while we are having dinner – If I ask them to not be on their phones during car pools with other families and to instead chat with the kids and parents – If I ask them to play a game of cards with me instead of check their Clash of Clans (again with this game!) – I had better be willing to do the same.
Leading by example is one of my most powerful tools in teaching them about life, values and morals. In my last post I wrote about seeing the boys for who they really are – not who I want them to be. The same could be said for myself and who I am as a mother.
Thanks, Lulu, I needed that.