3 times everyday to be present and phone-free
A text message expecting my response. Ebooks waiting to be read. An inbox full of emails with coupons, sale alerts, and more to read. Birthday reminders. An unfinished Amazon cart (a hot water bottle for the boys’ winter camping trip and a few other things still up for discussion). To do lists, shopping lists, project lists and lists organizing my lists. And so many notes - thoughts for my next article, a new favorite quote or scripture I recently came across, and things my kids say that are too sweet or funny not to be written down and remembered forever.
Everything contained in one small device that I carry everywhere I go (even if it’s just going down to the basement to grab a new box of cereal). My phone. It’s in my hand while I wait. It’s sitting next to me while I read to my kids. It’s on the counter while I cook dinner. And with the chime of a new text message or email, it has my attention. One click leads to another that leads to another and in just a few seconds, I’m pulled in - even with the intention not to.
“All done.” Her little voice doesn’t break through the distraction until she says it again. This time with her face inches from mine, pointing to the small screen I’ve been looking at (for I’m sure too long). “All done,” my almost 2-year-old says. And other days it’s my Kindergartener calling me out on it, “Talk to me, Mom” or “Are you going to watch with me? And not look at your phone?”
In those moments there’s nothing for me to do but snap out of it, set the phone down, and feel like a kid caught with my hand in the cookie jar. I’m grateful for my little ones that keep me in check. Their gentle reminders aren’t full of resentment. Sometimes frustration and impatience, understandably. But never resentment. Only love and longing.
And the truth is, I get it. Maybe you do too. When you’re sitting across from someone who can’t seem to hold eye contact for longer than a few minutes, glancing down at the bright screen in their hand, even tapping out a quick response. Or when a text message or YouTube video takes priority over you, the human being that’s sitting right in front of them. They’re there but not there. And the conversation you’re supposed to be having together feels one-sided and empty.
From that perspective I’m glad my kids are direct enough to tell me they want my attention and aren’t getting it. And I’m choosing to listen. Because I want them to know they’re more important. Because I want them to learn how happy life is when it’s full of meaningful connection - real people, real conversations. Because I want them to see, through my actions, that I hear them. Because I want them to grow up being addicted to life, not a phone.
There's always a choice
Here are a few times everyday I’m dedicating to being present and phone-free. Times that I’m kindly bringing the conversation to an end and hanging up. Times that I’m closing my email, ignoring the ding of something that just came through, and turning off the podcast. Times when, no matter what, I’m choosing people over my phone. Hello’s and goodbye’s: How long will my little ones be anxiously waiting for their mama when they wake up from their nap, walk through the door after school, or want a hug and a kiss before they head out the door? How long will they want to talk about dinosaurs and things that rhyme with “lime” before they leave for the day? How long will they want to spend their final minutes before bed snuggling and singing? Hello’s and goodbye’s are daily spaces for connection. They’re built into the day without me even trying. I want to make them count.
During meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They come around everyday, and I’m happy that distractions usually don’t interrupt this time for talking, planning, and wiping sticky fingers clean. If ever I let my phone pull me away, I always wind up feeling like I missed out on something I shouldn’t have.
When emotions are high: When my toddler comes in bursting with excitement to show me the tractors she’s discovered digging and dumping outside, it’s time to be phone-free. When Shadyn is swimming his little heart out and looks across the pool to wave, it’s time to be phone-free. When someone (or everyone) is on the verge of an inevitable meltdown, it’s time to be phone-free. When tears or frustrations from a hard day finally bubble to the surface, it’s time to be phone-free. When emotions are high, my family needs me… a lot more than my phone does. :)
Presence, a life-giving art
Yesterday, Shadyn came hustling through the front door. Home from another big day at Kindergarten he had lots to say, as usual. The more I listened and encouraged, the more details of the day spilled out as he happily took off his coat and snow boots. This is what being a mama is all about. I couldn’t help but smile.
Then as if my heart wasn’t already bursting with joy from these little ones I call mine, I watched my 2-year-old run with excitement into the arms of her big brother, “Shay!” With arms open wide, his smile was just as big as hers. Miss the moment or watch it unfold. I’m glad I didn’t miss this one.
In this fast, noisy world, it’s hard to be fully present. But maybe that’s why it’s more important than ever. There’s so much distraction within arms’ reach, it’s no wonder we’re so desperate for the relief, love, and life that could never be found in these devices we cling to. We’re missing out on connection that runs deep and fills us up. I crave more of that connection. And I hope I’m teaching my kids to crave that too.
But presence goes beyond craving. It’s making the choice, day by day, moment by moment, that the here and now is worth experiencing. That the emotions are worth feeling. The details worth savoring. It’s living life through breaths, not clicks… Connecting with people through hugs and laughter, not likes and emojis... Putting our families first through small moments shared together, not eyes glued to a screen. Embracing this life-giving art means deciding that each moment (and the people within it) matters more than the distractions or noise.
All it takes is looking into my son's eager eyes or seeing my daughter's sweet smile, and I'm wholeheartedly convinced that they do matter more. Each and every moment.