The Mad Men generation could plop the kids down in the playpen, but for our generation the parenting mantra is more “put down your phones and be present!” Everyone from Gwyneth to Oprah talks about the impact of being present—or not—with your child in this era of non-stop digital distraction.
It’s easy enough to see why. Walk into any restaurant and you can see families gathered around a table, supposedly sharing a meal, while all individually looking at their own screens—a rare time at the end of a busy day when it’s often the best time to enjoy each other’s company and connect. And yet for parents, very often the reason we have our phone handy is precisely to capture and remember a moment with our children, so we can revisit it when they’re grown and flown.
After all, if there’s advice we hear more often than “be present” it’s “enjoy the moment because they grow up so fast!” As one of the first generations to raise children while having a phone and video recorder at the ready in our pocket—with Grandma’s voice in your head saying, “it goes by in the blink of an eye”—it’s no wonder we want to capture every detail.
But let’s be real for a minute. Have you ever pulled out your phone in an innocent attempt to capture an adorable smile while swinging at the park, or a first time ice skating or decorating holiday cookies with Grandpa and the next thing you know, you’re 15 minutes into a text session with a friend or a never-ending scroll through Instagram? We’ve all been there.
How do you strike the right balance between and capturing the memories while also remaining present?
Preserving memories is great for you and for your children, so try these guidelines for getting the right balance.
Breaking Bad (Habits, That Is)
There’s a fine balance between living through a lens and enjoying the moment. Do a little test. Look through your last 100 photos on your phone. If they were all taken yesterday (and it’s not a major holiday), it’s time to put down the phone.
Try to evaluate. Is it really something you want to capture for all of eternity or are you pulling your phone out out of habit and actually missing the fun of the moment? A good mental trick to help break the habit is to pretend that your phone camera is really a Polaroid—if you only had 10 shots to take today, would you REALLY take that picture?
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Remember that in addition to being present for your kids, you’re setting an example for them about how to appropriately use technology in their own lives. Have you already talked to your children about limits on screen time? Does it drive you bananas when you ask them to shut down the Fortnite and then another hour goes by and they’re still playing?
Challenge yourself to put limits on your own screen time, and it’s easiest to do this by using one of the many apps now available that tracks your activity time on your phone. Like many of us you might be shocked to see exactly how all that time adds up, so set a good example for your children and you might be surprised to see how they follow naturally.
Put on Your Storytelling Cap
Of course there’s a huge upside to having lots of pictures and that is all the opportunities they create for sitting down with your children and walking them through funny memories, vacations and family members they might not get to see very often. When we tell stories over and over again, those memories move from our short term memory to our long term memory and great photos can help that process along.
In addition to photos, be sure to write down the funny things they say, what their favorite things are right now like toys, books and songs. Children love to hear stories about themselves and it helps to create and cement a sense of self and a sense of family to go over these memories with them.
Capture Your Baby’s World
We hate to see them grow up and sometimes we also hate to see them outgrow that favorite outfit or toy. I always find that when these precious, but no longer necessary items are captured on film, it’s easier to let go of them and move them along to someone who needs them more than you do. So get a snap of the darling baby outfit, or that handprint turkey they made you for Thanksgiving and then, as they say in Frozen, just “Let it Go!”
And a final note… Don’t be a hater. The Mommy Wars are so 1990. If you’re enjoying a moment with your children, don’t judge your fellow parent who’s sneaking a peek at their phone at the park. We’ve all been there and really, it may be the only five minutes of quiet they’ve had all day. Spare the snark—and instead, send a smile. We’re all in this together.