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Fine, I'll Put Down My Phone

Fine, I'll Put Down My Phone

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As a mother, I find that there is a lot of pressure, from within and from without, to be the perfect mother, or an excellent mother, when being even just a good mom seems elusive and confounding. There are groups of moms everywhere telling other moms about their particular parenting successes, and often guilting others into parenting as they prescribe. No matter the philosophy; it seems that whatever we are doing as parents, there is always a mom who does it better.

One parenting philosophy I’ve encountered in these groups is the call to eschew our beloved electronics. Many of the failures in parenting today are attributed to an overuse of our devices.There is always a mom who does it better

I got really caught up in this dilemma, and certain of my own culpability, when I read a viral post from a mom in California. She exclaimed that while her twin boys were playing on one particular day, she noticed that they looked up at her 28 times. Had she been on her phone or otherwise occupied, she would have missed the chance to connect to them—28 times!

I must have read this during a sleep drought or when my brain was especially vulnerable because I fell right into the self-pity trap. I gulped and cringed, thinking about what an awful mother I am. My child might be looking toward me countless times during her play and would not see my loving face, cheering her on, providing needed encouragement. I have spent years watching my children play, and while I watch, I also read a book, magazine or Psalms, or talk to a friend on the phone or in person. I can’t imagine being so exacting that I count how many times they look up to me!

Then the agony wore off, and I forgot about this bout with guilt. I moved on. Recently, the viral post niggled back into my brain as I sat relaxed on my couch, watching my twin 4-year-old daughters playing on the rug in front of me. They played and played, and jabbered, and moved spots, and got more toys and some dress-up clothing, and attached more blocks and invited some toy people in, and basically seemed encapsulated inside a big bubble of playland. No matter how hard I stared at them, I could not pop it.

They did not look up at me once. They were wholly engaged in their world of make-believe. I took out my phone and got some video footage because simply watching them play seemed too selfish. My parents and in-laws, and the aunts and uncles, should be able to enjoy this idyllic scene, too.

The beep of the cell phone beginning to video didn’t even raise their interest. The play was that enjoyable and engaging for them, giving my heart a soothing mommy balm. I thought about how watching my children play was positive and enjoyable, but not because I was guilted into doing it or because I would feel like a neglectful parent if I did not.

Of course, I should be spending less time on myOf course I should be spending less time on my devices devices, because as with all things of this world, limits are important. Whether I am visiting the zoo with my children, or it is carpool time, or I am greeting my children when they get home, my hands should be free. But for me, when my children play, it is often the best time to get work done. They say that play is a child’s work; my children should be playing so hard that they don’t need me. They don’t need my approval, my reassuring smiles or my permission to turn the stuffed dog into their baby. I know that my kids will find me when they really need me.

The reason not to be on my phone or computer while my children play is because it usually ruins their play. Inevitably, I will click on something that makes a sound and pop! goes their play bubble. And then they are standing over my shoulder, wanting to watch whatever it is I have clicked on (yes, even the YouTube tutorial of how to polish silverware, a TED Talk about organic gardening or the latest Jewish Educational Media clip).

Another reason not to be on my device is because I want to be present, to be fully there and enjoy what is in front of me. (This is probably what the mom in California wanted to get across and what I should have heard, without the guilt). My children are so precious and adorable, and I want to remember these youthful moments, the times my twin 4-year-olds sit on the floor side by side, together in their own fantastic world of play.

And then I think of a deeper reason that it is importantI want to fully enjoy what is in front of me to sit with my children, totally focused and present, even if it seems they do not notice me at all. It says in Psalms, “G‑d is close to all who are close to Him, those who call to him in sincerity.” He is there, close by. Feel his closeness. Be busy with your work, but do not forget who you can turn to for reassurance, strength and to give meaning to your daily grind. So as I sit and watch my children at play, or even when I am in another room working, I want them to know that they are my priority, that I am there for them, that although they might not need me in this specific time and space, I am there when they want my help or input—just like I know that He is there for me.

Dena Schusterman is a founder of Chabad Intown, the Intown Jewish Preschool, and the Intown Hebrew School. Dena writes about parenting and applied Torah and Chassidic thought and teaches women's classes. Dena and her husband Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman are native Californians living in Atlanta together with their children.
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Arieh York, PA March 17, 2016

The Root of All Evil The telephone is the root of all evil. When my wife answers the phone and begins a conversation, the house could catch fire, everyone burnt to a crisp, and she will still be talking on the phone. When she is on the phone, she is oblivious to her surroundings, including her children and husband. When she gets on the computer...it's even worse. Ignoring everyone and everything. G-d forbids if someone interrupts her. She starts screaming at me. That's one selfish person. Reply

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