Unplugging matters. And cellphones, iPods and computers are not the only screens that need to be unplugged. At some point my father said to me "your kids don't even know what their mother looks like; all they see is the camera on your face". I glibly told him that I don't often hold it in front of my face, and that the blog is part of their memory-bank. They enjoy these photos! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. When I'm behind my camera, I'm wearing my design-hat; thinking about the aesthetics of the situation; the eventual look of my photo and potential uses for it (Should I put him in the top right corner so I can use this for a blog background? Should I zoom in on the details and use it for Nature Club purposes? Should I over-expose this so I can use it for a poster??) And I miss my kids' joyful experiences. I miss the energetic connection that happens when they look into my face to show me something. I miss our relationship.
There is so much information about the importance of unplugging2 and attachment3 in parenting babies and very young children, but, although the research is broad, we often write off the importance of attachment in the later years, including with our spouses. When I come out to the living room in the evening and find my husband sitting glued to a screen, I usually go back to my own screen. If he looks up, leans back, and speaks to me, I feel attachment. If he turns off the computer I come sit with him. That same feeling is, I am sure, what my 8- and 11-year-old children experience when I'm using a screen. They need me to care, and they need me to express that I care. They need me to respond with my own ideas, and they need me to consider their thoughts in the way that I hope they would respond to me. Because, as I seem to mention all the time, their greatest teacher is the behaviour of their parents. Screen-time is an addiction, and if I'm going to help them walk away from addictive substances and activities, I need to be strong enough to do so, myself.
There are many arguments for carrying technology; for being non-present with our families. But my work depends on these photos! My career depends on my being reachable, so I need to carry my cellphone! I have to answer this email, now, or I could lose this contract! Well what were we doing setting ourselves up to be on-call 24-hours-a-day in the first place? Or even 10 hours, if those happen to be the same hours we spend with our families? I had children so that I could be a mother; not just so I could say I had children, and carry on with some other non-family pursuits. So damn it, I'm going to have to make sure that my pursuits somehow feed into my mothering. When my husband easily got a job with a cover letter that opened with "my family is my priority" and went on to explain that he would leave work every day at 4 and would work a maximum of 3 days/week in the city, I knew there was hope for our family. There is hope for all of us. We just have to set our priorities.
As I'm writing this, my daughter calls out "Mama, when will you be done?" I've promised her that today we can do some sewing, together, and this is one of her special Mama-time-activities. And while I know that me-time is healthy -- that it's good for the kids to see me have my own pursuits -- I also have to make sure that when this screen-time is over, I dedicate myself to her. I will turn off the computer.
What I already do:
- I try to keep my screen-time to mornings, while the kids are busy with their own activities, and evenings, after they've gone to bed. Sometimes I need a whole day to get my work done (graphic design, volunteer activities, art management, etc.), but I tell my kids that I'm going to be quite a while on the computer, and generally, because they are older, now, this is not a problem. They do understand the concept of parents having work obligations!
- When I'm finished my morning email/computer/screen-time, and am not waiting for specific email-communications that effect the day's activities, I turn off the computer.
- Even when the computer is on during the day, I try to remember to turn off the speakers, so that I don't hear emails come in, and don't feel the urge to go check them.
- I take my camera on selected adventures, only - about 10% of them, I think, and this allows me much more time and opportunity to actually connect with my children.
- When I'm with my kids, I'm with them. I am not reading my own book, beside them, or talking on the phone, etc.
- When I'm doing my work, I let them know I need to be left alone, so that I can get the thing done more efficiently.
What I could improve on:
- I still answer the phone whenever it rings, and make time for whomever calls, for whatever reason. I have let food burn, because I didn't have the guts to tell somebody I couldn't talk. I have spent an hour on the phone talking to some unexpected (and probably well-loved) caller, when my kids had been expecting my attention. Obviously this has to change.
- I often stretch-out my screen time, when it seems to be taking longer than expected, or something exciting comes my way. Not good. And especially not good for setting a good time-management example!
- I turn to Google for many things that we have very excellent paper-resources for, at home -- like species identification, music, health research, etc. I'd like to show my kids more variety in resource access. We have these excellent resources at home -- a library full of them -- as well as a local and a downtown library... and I need to make use of those.
1My own article on electromagnetic radiation and why we don't have cellphones, cordless phones, or other such devices: http://rickshawunschooling.blogspot.ca/2012/12/why-we-dont-have-cellphones-cordless.html
2Cellphone use during Pregnancy can seriously damage your baby: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/06/03/cell-phone-use-during-pregnancy-can-seriously-damage-your-baby.aspx
3Effects of mothers' screen-time on children's psychological health: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/9280194/Mobile-addict-parents-guilty-of-child-neglect-warns-psychologist.html
3Helpguide.org's article on Attachment Parenting and Bonding: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/bonding_attachment_bond.htm
And finally, a hokey-sounding but really wonderful informational video about reasons for and methods of creating secure infant attachment (22 min):