There are some things that happen to you as a first-time parent that are, for some reason, entirely unexpected. You could have been told to be prepared for them a hundred times, and still, they catch you off guard.
-The first projectile-type bodily fluid aimed at you from your adorable, innocent newborn.
-The first time your sweet, compliant one-year-old screams, “No!”
-The first time your previously ravenous two-year-old refuses to eat yesterday’s favorite food…or any food.
And for me, the most shocking to date:
The first time my mellow almost-three-year-old yelled in my face, “Mommy, be off your phone!”
You see, when I was pregnant for the first time, I was determined to be an “unplugged” mom. I read the studies. I skimmed…er, read multiple books. I knew the value of connection, of being present, and of interacting with toddlers on an eye-to-eye level. I knew these years would fly by and I would wonder where they went once they were gone. I was going to be intentional, present, loving, interactive, caring, and in-the-moment. I was going to be, as I saw it, the perfect toddler mom.
But then I had a toddler. And you guys…I’m just going to come out and say it. Toddlers can be super boring. They are also emotional, demanding, exhausting, and completely lovable, yes. But I can only stack the same tower of blocks or have the same imaginary conversation between monkeys so many times before my mind starts to implode on itself.
I can engage with the pretend kitchen play for only so long before I start thinking about how I need to respond to that friend or answer this one question or finish the last few minutes of the podcast I started during nap time.
On the other hand, one quick text can easily become a short scroll through Instagram, which turns into meaningless scrolling through Facebook, which suddenly becomes an upset toddler screaming in my face, “Mommy, be off your phone!”
Talk about instant mom-guilt. Here I am, sitting in front of the small human I am trying to be an example to, flipping through a Facebook quiz about which Disney song best represents my life, while he quite literally is begging for my attention. How does that even happen?
But after the initial mom-guilt and vowing to never look at my phone in his presence again, I always come back to the question of, “How do I stay sane during the day?” Which is probably just as important as setting a good example of human connection for my son, right? Is there a balance? Is it okay to not want to spend all my time focused on interacting with someone who’s favorite conversation topics include toots, trains, and pee?
After some conversations with real-life moms (not just magical unicorn book-writing moms), I discovered a general consensus that yes, it’s okay to “be on your phone” sometimes. It’s okay to take care of your outside life, respond to messages, post some pictures, and text a friend. It’s healthy for everyone to do some things throughout the day to keep your brains from melting, especially if most of your time is spent at home.
But there is also the realization that these little lives we have in front of us are the most important thing. We have a huge responsibility in their early years to give them the time and attention they need to thrive. And the thing is, that will look different for every mom and every child. Some moms I know are experts at toddler-play. Some toddlers are experts at self-directed play. Some moms run businesses from their phones and are excellent at setting aside time to do that. Balance will look different for you than it will for me, and that’s okay.
In my own life, the reminder from my toddler to “be off my phone” has forced me to try a little bit harder to find that balance again. Because no, he’s not the only thing that exists in my world, and it’s okay that he knows that. But I would like him to know that he’s more important than another random Facebook quiz.
Besides…they always choose the wrong song for me anyway.
*Originally published November 2018*