I like to say that I’m an extraordinary mother, and a slightly above-average parent.
My 21-month old daughter, Hazel, is a gorgeous little warrior. We collect pieces of life, beautiful life, all day, every day, and you can see that beautiful life in her enormous, gleaming, chestnut eyes. When it comes to growing her inner-spirit, and instilling joy and confidence deep within, I am killing it as her mom.
However, as her parent? Eh. I never pushed a consistent sleep schedule. I’ve enabled a nasty Sesame Street habit. She eats a lot of frozen pizza and expensive croissants and thinks those processed packets of fruit are, well, fruit. She points at wine bottles and screams, “Mama!” She steals other kid’s bubbles and fedoras and I sometimes let her. She calls rocks, “cocks.” (Not my doing!)
I could expand the Bad Parent list into a novella, but the point is, I don’t feel guilty about any of it. In fact, there is only one category that I’m truly ashamed of: the use of iPhones and screens. Texting, Facebook, Facetime, even just taking photos of her—which Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, says can objectify young people, especially young girls, even as toddlers! But I’ll get back to that….
Sure, I’m probably better about iPhone usage than some—I don’t play those farm candy games, I’ve never SnapChatted, I only really Text-Text with my mom and sister—but I’m hardly the Northern Cali friends who recently told my boyfriend and I that they have a strict screen-free policy. Their two-year-old has never touched, and hardly seen, an iPhone, iPad, or laptop! You might think that would make a chill mom like me roll my eyes ferociously, but it didn’t. It made me really admire them–and kinda hate myself.
Because, seriously, there is no worse feeling than when Hazel finds humor or pleasure in something—a blue tutu, a lithe Dandelion, a dead bug—and looks up jubilantly, only to see me completely absorbed, long gone, in my 43 frame options on Framebridge. (Framebridge rocks.)
"We were all unified by the guilt of the screen, listening carefully on how to be better about it."
The no-screen-friends-now-I-hate-myself thing happened the same week as my uptown pal invited me to a luncheon for the Child Mind Institute, with Steiner-Adair on stage. I showed up in a nightgown repurposed as a chic summer shmata. It was kind of embarrassing. Ladies Who Lunch are as impeccable in real life as they are on Odd Mom Out. That being said, my table was filled with lovely, warm philanthropic women who didn’t seem to mind my peasant-wear. In any case, whatever set me apart from all of them—homes and husbands, to name two biggies—was irrelevant in the face of the dialogue around our children and our screens. We were all unified by the guilt of the screen, listening carefully on how to be better about it.
The big takeaway, for me at least, was that it’s unrealistic to go screen-free for most of us, but there’s a mindfulness that can be applied and it makes a big difference.
"My Darling, I’m opening my computer to check if today is the free art class, and by free art class, I mean the recap of the Orange Is the New Black finale."
For me, this translated to things like: no screens during meals. No screens right before bed—because despite the notion that a movie helps kids unwind, the experts say screens are very anti-sleep. I try to text and Facebook in another room, if someone else is around to watch Hazel. And the rest boils down to communication: My Darling, I have to write some emails for work right now because Mommy works very hard … My Darling, I’m opening my computer to check if today is the free art class, and by free art class, I mean the recap of the Orange Is the New Black finale. Etc. I now consider myself Screen-light.
In a wild twist of fate, I lost my phone a few days after these digital lifestyle tweaks. It was only gone for 48 hours, but it was a wonderful 48 hours. I focused 100% on Hazel, and if it wasn’t Hazel, I focused 100% on my coffee date, or my dinner recipe. I felt extremely grounded. I couldn’t check tomorrow’s weather or the names of George Clooney’s twins, but my hands were free, my eyes were open, my daughter was skipping and the world continued to spin.
Alyssa Shelasky is a writer for New York, Cosmopolitan, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit and Bloomberg. She is the author of Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In & Out of the Kitchen and is currently working on a scripted TV series about her life for A&E Studios. She lives in Dumbo, Brooklyn with her daughter, Hazel Delilah.