As a parent there are so many decisions to make on behalf of your child. One of these is what to do about “screen time” – TV, iPads, phones. I find this relatively straightforward; my husband and I are in full agreement that we don’t want Frida exposed to screens before the age of two at the very least. We don’t have a television and only watch TV on the laptop (hello House of Cards S4) once Frida is asleep in the evening, so this isn’t hard.
Once she is older I’m less sure about how we will balance her desire for technology with our desire for her not to get sucked into screens, and to develop other skills and interests. I am sure I will write about this topic more. But what I want to talk about today is not Frida’s screen time, but my own.
Being alone with a baby all day is a tough gig. Often we meet up with friends, but on the days where it’s just the two of us, I will admit that I crave a bit of adult conversation. Even on days where we meet others, the long morning hours can drag when you’ve been up since five and exhaustion is set deep into your limbs. And the witching hours of late afternoon often have me clock-watching, counting down the hours and minutes until my husband gets home and I can relax a bit in the knowledge that I’m no longer 100% responsible for our small daughter.
It’s no wonder then that so many parents find a life-line in social media. I certainly have gained huge amounts of knowledge, support and advice from fantastic groups on Facebook (if you live in the UK do join the Gentle Parenting UK group – what an amazing bunch of people!) and inspirational Instagram accounts, as well as countless brilliant parenting and Montessori blogs. I have been given fantastic book recommendations, met like-minded parents who have become friends “in real life”, and, perhaps most importantly, found welcome 24-7 access to other adults in the same, cereal-encrusted, boat.
But I have been wondering lately if all of this social media is taking more from me than it’s giving back. I found myself sneaking looks at my phone whilst my daughter was trying to get me to read to her, or whilst my husband was talking to you in the car, or in the toilet (we’ve all been there…right?), or when we were out at the park or in a cafe, or late at night when I really should be asleep, or or or…
Information and connection with others can be hugely nourishing and liberating. But I really feel like the balance had tipped; there’s nothing liberating about addiction. I was feeling stressed if I wasn’t checking in constantly, a sort of virtual FOMO. And worse I was getting worried that my daughter’s image of me would be as a mum hanging onto a screen, reading about why screens are bad for children. Can anyone spot the irony?
I think there is still a space in my life for social media, but I want it to be a deliberate and mindful space which I use consciously, rather than the mindless and constant clicking-and-checking habit I was falling into.
So I’ve tried to simplify my online life a bit.
I’ve deleted my Facebook app from my phone (and no, I can’t log in from Chrome either). I did this on Saturday morning after feeling horrified that practically the first thing I did after waking up was to check it. I did have a few moments initially of going to check it then realising it was gone, and (tellingly) even thought to myself once “maybe I’ll just reinstall it for five minutes then delete it again”. Just having that thought made me realise how vital ditching it is! I can still log on but using the laptop; in practice this means a couple of times a day, when Frida is asleep or she’s with her father.
I’ve also switched off notifications for Instagram and Twitter, meaning if I go to send a text or take a photo I don’t immediately get sucked in.
Having to make a conscious decision to check social media often makes me realise I don’t need to and I would be happier doing something else. Whereas before I would scroll through Facebook if Frida napped on me, now I read. Before bed I try to meditate for a few minutes to allow my body and mind to switch off, rather than setting it racing with new information. I feel happier and more able to throw myself into whatever Frida is doing.
I’m not perfect and I think it will be a long journey to find the right balance. But I think it’s important to try, for my sake as well as for my daughter’s.
I would love to know how you balance your social media consumption and need for adult conversation with mindful parenting! Any tips gratefully received.
(Photos from a recent trip to Dulwich – this post seemed a bit grey without some photos)