In the early days of new parenthood, my phone was my lifeline. I used it to take a million pictures of the little human I had just created and birthed. I endlessly scrolled Facebook while my daughter endlessly nursed. It was a flashlight in the middle of the night to check that she was still breathing. It had apps that allowed me to connect with other new parents and make sure that, yes, that shade of poop was indeed normal. Texted my husband while he was at work with every adorable new thing our kid did. FaceTimed with long distance family and friends. It really was a savior for me in many ways, and had so many great applications. I don't know how people parented before its invention!
But for me, my phone usage started to take on a darker side, too. Once my daughter got a little older, aware, and mobile, I began to realize that I was missing out on some of the new, cute things she was doing because I was still attached to my phone. Now I didn’t just find it a handy distraction for marathon nursing sessions, I needed it, craved it, in my hand before we could sit down and start. As she started walking and talking, I was distracted at the park, and even at play dates. Here are some things I’ve been doing to try to kick my phone habit:
Step 1: Start My Day Off Right
I try not to touch my phone for the first hour after waking up. I feel this helps set the tone for my day, and if I can get involved in the cooking, housework, work, and my daughter’s play right from the beginning of the day, I'm less apt to want to check my phone multiple times. It helps if I keep it plugged in for the night out of reach of my bed. If it’s too close, it’s too easy to roll over and grab it as soon as my eyes open, and once I see I have a few texts, I get sucked in! I also try to end my day right by plugging it in and putting it away for the night at least an hour before I want to go to bed.
Step 2: Keep it Quiet
I usually first spend some time on my phone after I've cleaned up from breakfast, and am sipping on my tea. I return texts or calls, and catch up on Facebook and emails. After my “morning break”, I try to put it out of sight (a drawer or separate room works best for me), and make sure the sound is turned off. If I hear a text come in while I'm playing with my kiddo or doing the dishes, curiosity usually gets the best of me and I interrupt our play or work to go see who it's from. I can’t do this step when I'm on call as a doula for a birth, or expecting an important call, of course, but overall, keeping my phone on silent when possible has helped me the most.
Step 3: Control the Content
When it became second nature to unlock my phone screen and click on the Facebook app, sometimes without even realizing what I was doing or why I was on my phone, I knew something needed to change. So I started deleting apps that were too distracting or that I used too frequently. The never-ending scrolling of some apps is just too tempting! I can still access most things from my phone’s browser, and since it takes a few more clicks to do, it makes me consider for a moment whether I really need to be checking it right then. I also turn off notifications for almost all apps.
Step 4: Leave it at Home
My main reason for taking my phone with me when we went on nature walks or to the park was always that I wanted my camera in case we found something really neat. But then I’d also be tempted to check ‘just one more thing’ while my daughter was exploring or playing. Leaving it at home while we go out and taking our nice camera instead has been a great way to stay connected with nature and my family. And as a bonus, I’ve gotten some really great shots with our “real” camera!
Step 5: Schedule Some Me Time
One of the strongest correlations I found with my phone usage is that it skyrockets when my proverbial cup is empty. When I’m low on sleep, alone time, healthy food, energy and patience (which, let’s face it, as the parent of a toddler is a lot of the time!), I just want to turn off my brain, veg on the couch, and do nothing for a while. While I certainly think I deserve to do that for a little bit each day, for me it’s way too easy to lose track of how long I’m zoning out for, and I end up saying a few too many, “wait just a minute”s and “I’m almost done”s to my toddler. If I can do some things to fill my cup - even a bath, or a tea for myself while we’re running errands - I feel like I have more of myself to dedicate to my family. I also make sure to schedule some zone-out time with my phone for myself every day, too. My morning tea, nap time, and bedtime work well here.
What to do Instead
Since I still need to occupy my brain with something during the day, I’ve found reading (either actual paper books or on my Kindle) to be a great substitute. For some reason, it’s easier for me to put down a book and come back to it than it is my phone. I’ve found that keeping a notebook and pen nearby as I’m sitting and playing with my daughter allows me to jot down notes and make observations that I might have otherwise written on my phone (or missed while I was on my phone). And if it’s your thing you could always try some meditation.
I have found some personal success with these steps, but I am certainly not perfect! If I can do 2 or 3 of them in a day, I give myself a pat on the back and consider it a win. There are days where I’m totally disconnected from technology and in tune with my family, work and house, and then there are days where we all spend way too much time staring at various screens. I also know that I’m able to do most of these things because I work mostly from home. If you’re wanting to cut back on your phone usage because it’s interfering with your family life or work but these steps don’t work for you, here are some apps that might help you on your journey (since you’re on your phone already ;) ).
Break-Free (manages and tracks your phone usage, and notes that the average adult checks their phone 110 times a day!)
Moment (automatically tracks your phone usage and helps you set limits)
Forest (motivates you to put down your phone and focus on what’s important to you by growing trees for the time you spend offline)
Have you ever been too attached to your phone? Let us know in the comments!
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