A few months ago, I wrote a post about deleting all of the apps from my iPhone in an effort to be more present with my children. I’m sure none of you will be surprised to learn that those apps are back.
Here’s what happened. In the first few days after I removed the apps, I became intensely aware of all of the ways in which I had been using my phone. I was unable to share pictures of my girls with their grandparents and great-grandparents, and I missed reading the status updates from friends and family members. I couldn’t check the news or the weather or any of the blogs I read regularly. As we only have one TV, and it’s rarely on during the day, and my computer is up in our office, I felt quite disconnected. I quickly found myself using the internet app (which I hadn’t removed) to access everything online, which was fine, but certainly less convenient.
And here’s the thing: deleting the apps on my iPhone didn’t fundamentally change my parenting style or the extent to which I am present with my children. What really mattered was whether or not I chose to engage my awareness, to truly be with my kids. The reality is that sometimes my girls need my presence and my connection, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I have it to give, and sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I just get it wrong.
Life, and parenting, would be so much easier if there were clear answers, obvious rights and wrongs. The truth is that my beloved iPhone is an mobile double-edged sword. Yes, there are moments when it distracts me, as Tonya describes so beautifully on her blog. And there are also times when being constantly connected allows me to be with my girls when I might not otherwise be able to, as I wrote about on Kveller.com, and Megan Cobb wrote about so eloquently on Fried Okra. Both writers offer fundamentally different views of Moms on their iPhones, and they’re both accurate. We need to let go of our either/or mentality, and realize that it’s actually both/and. But both/and is hard. It’s messy. It requires us to use our own judgment, and it means that sometimes we are going to make the wrong choice.
Parents aren’t the only ones struggling with the role of technology in our lives, and the extent to which it may interfere with or support our ability to be mindful and present. It’s an issue for everyone. Michael Melcher believes that smartphones represent the opposite of mindfulness. Meanwhile, a forum at the Harvard School of Public Health described a number of ways in which our smartphones can help us be more mindful. It’s a both/and world out there.
My husband and I were recently discussing my decision to use my apps again, and I mentioned that deleting them hadn’t really made a difference. “Look,” he said, “the reality is that there are no short-cuts in parenting.” He’s absolutely right. There is an abundance of blog posts out there (my piece on deleting the apps on my iPhone is an excellent example!) that spell out all sorts of rules and ideas for how we can take short-cuts in parenting. Yes, there are things we can do that might make some of the tasks of parenting easier, but the actual work of raising children, the hard stuff, the real stuff, the meaty, thick, beautiful, confusing, painful, gorgeous interactions that really matter, that really show our kids who we are to them, and who they are to us–there are no short-cuts for those. Those are the moments when we need to do our best to show up, be present, and be kind. Sometimes we’ll get it right, and sometimes we won’t, regardless of whether or not we have a phone in our hand. There are a million things that can distract us, many of them constantly racing through our own minds.
The good news is that our children are resilient. They don’t need us to be perfect. They just need us to keep trying.
The question still remains, though. What should we be doing with our iPhones? Well, I’m going to keep using mine–to stay connected and at times, to return to mindfulness. The truth is that we can’t be mindful all the time, but we can take steps that can make it easier and more natural to re-engage with the present moment, starting with a regular mindfulness practice, both formal and informal. So I’m going to strive for both–using my iPhone AND returning to a mindful engagement in parenting whenever possible.