A Challenge of Being Present

A Challenge of Being Present

Put the Devices Down

If you’ve ever been to one of my sessions, you know I want teachers to feel empowered to put aside devices–or use them to design opportunities– to teach, talk, and play with their students.  I attempt to model this in my own classroom.  

Currently, I am home on maternity leave and struggling to practice what I preach.

Being Present as a New Mom

Two months ago, I had my first child.  Before Nouarie’s birth, I knew that I would have to decrease my use of technology to care for her. I read Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five by John Medina and learned about the relationship between eye contact and the development of emotional intelligence in infants and decided that I would begin by not looking at any screens while feeding her.  I tried.  

Staring into my daughter’s huge brown eyes as she ate was captivating…for the first few weeks.  

Newborn Nouarie looking up at me

The Phone Temptation

However, sitting in a quiet house for hours a day with a newborn gets pretty lonely.   Most of my family and friends live out of the area or work during the day and I rarely watch TV.  In the beginning, when Nouarie napped, I snuck in all of the physical tasks that I could not get to while she was awake.  As she nodded off in my arms at night, I often scrolled through social media and news on my phone.  I knew I should be reading, but I had become far too curious about other people’s lives now that my days typically only contained interactions with a cooing baby and her dad.

This balance worked for awhile.  

Then, I broke my own rule about no screens during feedings one night around 3:30AM to keep myself from falling asleep.  This was the start of breaking my own rule. I succumbed to the strong pull of my phone and all it connects me to–all the things that make me less present.   Eventually, my phone was in my hand all day.  I convinced myself that it was for a positive purpose: to photograph her, of course!  I filled my Google Photos albums and Instagram story with photos of my curious little girl, but Nouarie began to notice.

Remembering to Be Present

In one of my favorite books, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle explains, “Conversations with phones on the block empathic connection.  If two people are speaking and there is a phone on a nearby desk, each feels less connected to the other than when there is no phone present. Even a silent phone disconnects us.” Well, my daughter and I are not two adults participating in one of the many studies cited in the text, but I’ve noticed that my phone already affects how she interacts with me.

Nouarie recently began smiling and having full cooing conversations.  When she smiles, I grab my phone to snap a picture.  But, as soon as I move the phone between our faces, her expression changes.  

The smiles decrease.  

The coos stop.

She even does this when I just try to film her playing with her dad, Nishantha.  Even though she doesn’t even know what a phone is, it seems like she can already sense when I am not being present.  I have been able to capture quite a few of these moments, but they are not the same as when the phone is out of my range.

An attempt to sneak a photo of Nouarie smiling before she notices the camera positioned to the side.

My little two-month-old is reminding me that she wants all of my attention.  She wants me to be present.  She wants me to put my phone away and just be her mom.  

This should not come as a shock to me since I love to preach about balancing facetime vs screentime.  I encourage teachers to have students close Chromebooks to participate in face-to-face lessons.  I want families to turn off ringers and notifications during meals.  I think friends should leave cell phones in pockets and purses while socializing.  I am deeply aware of the importance of giving her my undivided attention, but, honestly, it’s really hard sometimes.

My phone continuously tempts me.

I am beginning to empathize with teachers and students who spend too much time on screens.  I want to be digitally social because I am lonely.  I want to record and post snippets of my day because they are funny and cute.

However, with Nouarie’s help, I am making myself put my phone aside to be completely present with her as she learns to play, eat, and talk in order to help her grow to become a successful student, daughter, and friend.  


So, how do you resist the tug to pick up your phone at times when you should be present?  How do you encourage your students and/or children to do the same?  Please leave a comment below.

To learn more about how you can use technology to support face-to-face relationships, connect with me and Teachers vs Zombies:

The links to Amazon in this post are Amazon Affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through them, I will make a little bit of money.  Thank you!  

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