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Confessions of a Distracted Parent

I recently came across a news story out of Austin about texting while parenting. It talked about the consequences of parents constantly being on their phones or computers — some call it “distracted parenting.” The report spoke to local specialists to get their take on the trend, and according to University of Texas associate professor of psychology Dr. Catharine Echols, “The best language learning happens with focused interaction between the child and adult. In that interaction, parents should be talking about what the child is interested in. If social media is interfering with that, then it could be harmful.”

And Austin psychologist Carrie Contey warned, “The child is going to take their cues from the parents, and if the habit of the parent is I’m busy, I’m busy, I’m busy… I have to do my work… I have to check my thing, then the child will eventually realize, ‘Oh, I better go be busy too, because they don’t have time for me.’ ” While I can try to pretend I’m not almost always connected either via the laptop or my iPhone, I guess sometimes I miss what it looks like from the outside in. And this report made me stop and think about it. I work online so a lot of what I do is somehow connected to work. But a lot of is also being social in the same way people who work in an office sometimes hang out a little to long chit chatting in the break room. And I’ll admit to that.

Over the summer I got into a pretty good habit of doing work in the evenings and weekends, freeing up my weekdays to hang with the kids. But that habit has dropped off and lately I find myself constantly stuck with my face in the computer. Playing catch-up, trying to meet deadlines, trying to get ahead, etc. And the time while my kids are at school is always divided between work stuff, housework, errands, and of course time spent at the kid’s school and in meetings or calls. So when the kids get home from school, I’m still working.

But there are things I can do about that. Today, despite getting caught on calls for a good chunk of the day and not getting everything I needed to get done finished, I still shut off the computer after the kids got home. I did check my email a few times during the afternoon via my phone, but aside from that I stuck to my goal.

We (moms) are connected a lot, and there are many benefits to that connection. For many of us stay-at-home and work-at-home moms the work or connecting we do online is some of the only adult interaction we get each day. Something working parents or non-parents would never get.

But that doesn’t make taking out attention away from our kids even remotely OK. So join me in making an effort to shut off our devices.

  1. Budget Your Time: If you work from home set working hours and stick to them. Though some days will get the better of you, do what you can to shut off the computer when the kids get home from school or wake up from their naps.
  2. Set Specific Limits: On when and where phones are allowed. No phones at the game, at the dinner table or during bedtime, etc.

It’s important to remember that as moms, we’re not perfect. We never will be. But as long as we recognize the stuff we can fix, and fix it, we’re OK.

Are there aspects of your parenting you want to change? What steps are you taking to change them?

  • karla

    I believe this is the sad reality we live right now, with so many medias to interfere with the quality time we can spend with the children, I'm not a mother (yet) but still watch what happen with other people than can not notice the damage this behavior cause in their life, this can apart completely the relationship between then because they feel like can count with their parent.

    That suggestion to have some schedule is good you ca still have time to do your work have fun or anything, but take care of your children first. I really like what you do you know anybody is perfect but is so good to figure it out what are we doing wrong and change, that's beautiful you are showing you are better mother than you think. Congratulation!!! xoxo

  • Rena

    I get very focused on work and sometimes its hard to focus on my family. I have been trying to take time out everyday and remind myself what the important things in life are.

  • Charity S.

    Wow, was this story written about me? Anyway, I should be more focused as a parent, but that's easier said than done. I just have a million things to do, and not enough time in the day to do them.

  • http://ourtravellifestyle.com Tracy Burns

    I've been thinking about this a lot of the past month or so. We're travelling with our children while we work and I'm finding the longer we travel the worse it gets as I keep getting more and more involved online. Meeting more friends online, doing more and more work online, blogging, uploading travel photos, communicating with family … I keep finding excuses to be on the computer and you're right – even if you have the whole day to work while your kids are at school you still end up trying to do all your errands and need to get more work done while the kids are home. I can't remember the last time I turned the computer off for three hours and just played with the kids. I've made a rule for myself of no computer in the mornings until everyone has had breakfast and is showered/dressed. Now I just have to manage my afternoons better!

  • http://www.justahappyhousewife.blogspot.com Kathie

    wow. Are these the hypocritical adults I hear complaining about texting teens? probably. I wonder where disrespectful kids/teens learn such bad habits. Maybe before parents complain about their children, they should look at their own actions first.

  • http://brokenwon.blogspot.com won

    Please, look at this MSNBC video of children speaking about the issue. I don't have a direct link to the video. Here is a link to where I have it posted. It ought to be required viewing for every parent. I feel very strongly about this.
    http://brokenwon.blogspot.com/2010/09/heads-up-re

  • http://www.hotexchangerates.com/ exchangerates

    Here’s what I do about phones while I’m driving. The biggest child sitting in the row behind the driver is in charge of communications. I leave my purse where he can reach it. If the phone rings he answers it. Everyone who has my cellphone # knows I don’t want calls on it so it’s either my husband or someone who is going on the same field trip we are. If a situation comes up where a call needs to be made (running late for field trip, tree has fallen across road and is disrupting traffic), he makes it. I can’t see e-mails or the web from my phone, so that’s not a temptation.

  • paschott

    You know, this is the second article I've read recently touching on this topic. I think I'm being told something here, especially since it's really easy for me to be distracted by work, gadgets, games, lights, nothing, … when my kid just wants to tell me something that's really important at the time. (Book, tv, school, just babbling on about something that she made up in her head, whatever) I need to be better about giving her the same respect I expect when I talk to her. At times, that still needs to be a firm "it's not your time to talk right now" (especially when she keeps trying to interrupt), but I do need to give her more quality attention when I'm with her – real attention, not the half-hearted, sorta-listening attention.

    Thanks for the timely post and a great reminder to us as parents that these short people don't stay that way for long.

  • http://thesocialdad.blogspot.com Josh

    This is definitely becoming a hot topic. I'm absolutely guilty of "multitasking" with my social activities while watching my son. I feel horrible about it, and I try to change my behavior on a daily basis.

    On another hot topic related to this, how do you feel about your kid/baby having a digital/social footprint? A new study says that 81% of 2-year-olds have a digital presence. I just wrote an article about this and would love to hear feedback. Come read it over at http://thesocialdad.blogspot.com.

  • parentalliance

    I know, I know, in the connected world, this is old news. But I just came across this piece and really like it. Perhaps, because just 2 days earlier, I posted about the same topic, but from the perspective of how disconnected couples/parents can be from each other, AND their kids, in the thick of texting/smartphones, etc. Long way of saying, I really appreciate your perspective. If you're interested in my post, you can find it here: http://wp.me/pZuta-4o

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