Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Turning Off and Tuning In

I sat in a pizza place one Sunday evening, waiting for my order to be ready. On the other side of the restaurant, I spotted a dad and his young son. The boy couldn’t have been more than two or three years-old. I assume they were waiting for their dinner as well. The little boy was cute and curious. He didn't appear to be doing anything you might consider out of control. Yet all I heard was the dad correcting him, telling him to sit properly, to be quiet. To each his own, I thought. He wants to be stern with his kid, that's his choice. But every time this dad spoke to his son, he had to tear his eyes away from his iPhone. When he was finished parenting, he would quickly glance back down.

A few days before that, I was standing in line at CVS, waiting to pay. I saw another dad engrossed in his iPhone as his two children – a boy and a girl - stood about five feet away from him eating a pack of M&M’s. We've all been there. Throw a snack at them to keep them quiet. But I heard the little girl, who was maybe four, call her dad’s name. Her attempt to get his attention fell on deaf ears. Whatever had filled his inbox was much more important.

I don’t like to judge other parents. I'd rather give everyone the benefit of the doubt. What works for you might not necessarily work for me. But in all honestly, it bothered me so much because that used to be me. I was that guy. These dads - and me before them - are just a few in a sea of distracted parents who are missing opportunities to engage and enlighten their children. Knowing I was that guy, watching other parents do it is heartbreaking and frustrating.

They're all off
About a month ago, My Director and I talked about going hands-free around Peanut. Especially during those two precious hours we have with her every night during the week. Turn off our phones. No laptop or iPad. Shortly after we talked about it, almost serendipitously, we found the blog of Hands Free Mama. She's started a movement, urging parents to tune out the technology and tune in to their children. We were on board after reading this post, where she lists the ways you can miss a childhood. The one that really hit home for me: checking your blackberry at a red light while your child sits in the backseat watching you.

What going hands free has done, more important than actually talking to Peanut, is force us to listen to her. When we're done listening, we respond. We have a conversation. That email, that game of Angry Birds, that tweet can wait. As hard as it has been for me to admit, the world can wait for my witty retort to someone's status update. It’s so trivial compared to what Peanut is saying, asking, wondering.

Technology is not worth interrupting my time with Peanut. She deserves more than two hours. But that’s all she gets right now; so she's going to get my undivided attention. If you include commuting and wireless communication, work gets me for at least twelve hours a day. That’s plenty. Everything can wait until Peanut is tucked away in bed.

I must admit, it's not easy. But at the same time, it's wonderfully liberating. Eye-opening, even. And Peanut notices. She's happy. Content. She is getting what she deserves: all of us.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit there are slip-ups. I’m just sharing what I consider a revelation. An awakening from a tech junkie who can very well become consumed with Facebook, Twitter, email, and blogging. But not at the expense of my daughter. Not at the expense of what she considers important. Not anymore. What she wants to do, and talk about, is what matters most. Even if she's vegging out on the couch watching Doc McStuffins after school, I am right there with her. Singing, commenting, engaging. The laptop safely tucked away, no longer on my lap.

One day Peanut will look back at her childhood. She’ll remember the big things, of course. And she’ll remember some little things as well. I just want to make sure she remembers her dad was watching her and not consumed by the glow of a little screen.


20 comments:

  1. I was guilty of the same thing. Now I make it a point to put down my phone when the kids and I are together. While I slip from time to time, its been amazing what I have heard and been apart of with them.

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    1. Yes.. it's amazing what you hear when there are no distractions.

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  2. Dad's especially need to watch out for sports. I know a lot of engaged Dads who seem to tune out when a ballgame is on. Also, I spend a lot of time watching and playing Wii with my kids, I rarely let them play alone, and, as a result, I share their triumphs and failures, wins and loses. It's great.
    Rachel at handsfreemama.com is really changing lives, as are you.

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    1. Rachel deserves the credit here. She really opened our eyes. We'll see how good I am when football season starts.

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  3. Yep ! me too. Few months back when I got fully involved with social media my phone got a lot of attention ! So bad, the family would ask me to put it away when we went out for dinner together. A little while back I had an experience which changed my life and made me realize the value of real people and relationships esp family. So now I am hands free too when I get home and on the weekends. It's a nice feeling and feel good about spending " quality time with family" hands free. I do check a bit, but it's under control. Nice post !

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    1. That's great! Striking that balance is key. You don;t have to give something up. Just turn off for a while. It's more relaxing and makes your time with your kids more enjoyable.

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  4. So I shouldn't get my kids am iPhone and a twitter account? I'm guilty.

    Being a stay at home dad is tough. My only lifeline to the outside world has been my phone. It's been really hard for me to realize that the outside world doesn't need me as much as my kids do. I'm an addict.

    Slowly recovering.

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    1. I don't judge you, buddy. Like I said, to each their own. I know (and you know) that when I'm home alone with Peanut I get a little stir crazy. So I can just imagine doing it every day. With us, I'm talking about 2 hrs a day and most of the time on weekends vs. ALL DAY every day. Apples and oranges if you ask me. But if you notice it, and try to make it a little better, that's great in my opinion.

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  5. Great post, and as I was reading it, I realized my son was calling my name over and over! LOL, I got work to do! My husband and I talk about this all the time, if we are outside in the pool, or we are out working in the yard and we don't answer our cell phones right away, here comes the family wanting to know where we have been and if anything is wrong. It's so frustrating to not even feel like you can spend time with our little family unit, without explaining it to every person we know. I miss the good old days like when I was a teenager, and I could only go as far with the phone as the cord on the kitchen wall phone would let me!

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    1. We've always had a strict "no phones at the dinner table" policy. We don't even answer the house phone, even though we know it's probably one of our moms. My mom gets SO mad because she knows we're there. LOL. But that's a big chunk of our family time right there and we don't want it interrupted.

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  6. I came to this same realization last year and did really well for a while. I would keep my phone out of my hands during those precious few hours with my kids, but lately I've found myself slipping and checking things that really don't need checking.

    Thanks for the reminder, I'm going home tonight and putting it down until the kids are in bed. :)

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    1. Glad I could be a help. Don't beat yourself up. I have slip-ups too. Keep at it.

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  7. I was going to comment on this earlier but waited until the kids were in bed so I wouldn't look like a hypocrite.

    Like it's been said in earlier comments, I do my best to be there for my kids but I will admit that when they're busy playing or I'm on the deck waiting for the steak to be done on the BBQ, I'm on my phone. This is a great topic and something every digital parent should be aware of because our kids are watching us.

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  8. Thank you for this powerful post. I am especially drawn to your "realness" -- by sharing your own insights in a very honest way, you allow others to do the same -- no judgement, just newfound awareness. We all know there are times when parents need to use their electronic devices, but the message that comes across so beautifully here is that sometimes those interactions can wait -- which then gives us an opportunity to hear, feel, experience the most beautiful connections in life -- the connections with the ones we love.

    I got goosebumps when I read your point about listening, really listening, to your child. My distractions cause me to forget how much wisdom and wonder come from my children. Being "Hands Free" is truly a gift in my life because I can really HEAR what my kids have to say. It makes me incredibly happy to know someone else has found that joy, too.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am truly honored to be mentioned here.

    Rachel
    Hands Free Mama

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    1. When I listen to her, and comprehend what she's saying, I can give her a thoughtful and meaningful response. Even if it's the most mundane topic.

      Thank YOU for your response, and for your overall effort. It's an honor to have you visit DKL and comment in such a profound way.

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  9. This has hit hard for me...I am so guilty of it. And I trying to break the habit as well. My seven yr old was the one who pointed it out to me...which made it even more profound. I also long for the days when we only had one wall phone in the house. As a teenager I used to cram myself into the kitchen closet so no one would hear me talk on the phone, that was our only phone and the chord only stretched two feet. Lol! I am also going to go "hands free" with my girl...she deserves ALL of my attention. Love your blog....<3

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    1. Thank you. What I am also realizing in our 'hands free" journey is that we need to give ourselves a break too. Don't be too hard on yourself. We just try to make sure we're present when she's present. It's simple. But expect slip up. Recognize them, fix them, and move on. Thanks for reading and I'm glad that it made some impact on you.

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  10. It is true that one of the best things about the 9700 is its battery - the thing can can still be up and running when you are textcoque iphone 4

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