This evening I noticed a small opportunity for digital detachment, and I seized the moment.
On most nights, my wife and I share bath and bedtime duties for our two-year-old daughter. Pretty reliably, my wife first handles the bathing, then both of us get in on the dry-off and pajama fun , and finally I step in as “the closer” for book-reading, lullabies, and “put down.”
Usually it takes about twenty minutes from when my daughter and I crack our first book to when I lay her in her crib. These minutes are usually exhausting, occasionally infuriating, but always rewarding and special.
There, are, of course, no devices in sight or within hearing during this time. Just me and the slowing breathing and fluttering eyelids of my little child.
When I finally put her down in the crib, I tiptoe out of the nursery, making sure not to disturb the careful foundation of peaceful slumber I’ve constructed. And then…
Despite being the proprietor of the digital detachment blog, I more often than not head straight to my phone to check in on any end-of-day work emails I’ve missed while providing child care … or I move to refresh the Dodger score … or I just to zone out and read some Nytimes.com headlines.
I know heading straight for my phone is a mistake and a curse that brings me mental clutter rather than peace, but the habit is just very difficult to break. I find the child care labor so consuming that my brain simply cries out for “a break” to stimulate the old monkey brain reward center.
But tonight I did something different.
I consciously abjured picking up the phone and instead went to sit down for three or four minutes of quiet reflection. I took a minute to think about how wonderful it feels as my child fall asleep in my arms. I took another minute to recognize how lucky I am to have such a healthy and bright child. With my last minute or two, I reflected on what went well with our evening together and also what I could have done better.
I was able to rewind to 90 minutes earlier to when we were leaving the playground.
When I first picked my daughter up to put her on the bike to go home, she kicked and screamed and wouldn’t cooperate. So … I let her head back to the sandbox, where she went straight for a dirty yellow cup, which she played with for a few minutes before I picked her up again to leave. This time, she sweetly said “bye bye” to the sand and the park and the other kids. There was no struggle, and she relaxed into her bike seat like a real professional.
It wasn’t until my quiet moment of reflection that I realized I should have noticed that all she wanted to do was check out the yellow cup. The first time I picked her up to leave, she’d had her eye on the cup but hadn’t gotten to handle it yet. So basically I quashed her sense of flow and agency full stop.
If I’d have been paying closer attention, I would have picked that up the first time.
But if I hadn’t stopped to reflect (instead of looking at all star home run derby results), I wouldn’t have gained this insight that I’ll be sure to apply in the future. (The insight: “If possible, be considerate of interrupting your child mid-task-or-goal. Stop to notice what she’s really doing or wanting or you’ll probably misinterpret the situation and create hard feelings for her and for yourself…”)
And to think I’d have missed out on this hard-won parenting knowledge if I’d have given myself a nice little digital media break before moving on to cleaning up the kitchen…
From now on, I’ll be pausing for at least three minutes after I finish my child’s bedtime routine. This will be a good for me … and for her.