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Jenny Witte Headshot

In Defense of My iPhone

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JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images
JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

If you asked me what my most important material possession was at the moment, I would have to truthfully answer, "My iPhone." It reminds me of appointments (which I try very hard to be on time for), it helps me to keep up with the business I run single-handedly from home (read: no assistant, no intern, just me, myself and I) and is an all-around time saver and helpful tool in juggling the 70 billion things I feel like I have up in the air at any given moment. But lately, I've seen more and more mom bloggers talk about the dangers of paying too much attention to your phone when your kids are around, wagging their fingers and warning that if you scroll through your Facebook news feed one more time you could miss an entire childhood.

I see articles titled things like, "How I Put Down the iPhone and Started Being a Mom," or "Dear Mom on the iPhone," designed as wake-up calls (pun intended) for moms who are tuned out from their kids and tuned in to their smartphones. I've read them all, I've seen the comments (usually along the lines of "I'm putting my phone down immediately!") and the main gist of what I get out of it is, "You are a BAD MOM." You are a bad mom for paying more attention to your phone, you are a bad mom for not paying attention to your kids, you are a bad mom for not even realizing you're doing it. And you know what? No one needs that kind of judgment passing, no sir. The whole smart phone thing has just become the new arsenal in the mom-shaming game, and it's got to stop, especially when it is paired with those anxiety-inducing phrases like "This time will pass by so fast" and "Play time at the park will be over before you know it." Helpful, supportive? Not so much.

A blogger commented recently that they "chose family over social media" over the holidays, and besides being totally self-righteous, also went further to allude that anyone else who chose to be on social media during the holiday (I believe it was around Christmas) was then in fact choosing social media over their own family. Does there really need to be a "choice" of one or the other? Not really. Should you spend hours on Facebook while your kids are enjoying the day? That would be no as well. But checking in on Facebook for a couple of moments here and there, maybe to share some special photos with friends and family in no way is taking away from your family experience. Making people feel as if they need to choose between being a good mom and being on social media will make everyone a loser. You lose for being judgmental, they lose for feeling like crap now because they posted a photo of their kids opening gifts so grandma and grandpa in Florida can see it. Me? I Instagrammed a bunch of photos from Christmas, much like I would take a bunch of photos with an actual camera; I just took the extra fifteen seconds or so to upload it to social media. I might have scanned through Facebook now and again in some down time as well to see photos of my own friends and family. What a horrible parent I am!

Here are things I do with my smart phone when I'm with my kids:

Take their photographs and/or record videos. Now, I'm the farthest thing from a photographer, but I have to say I really do get great pleasure from taking photographs of my kids, my dogs, our experiences, things I see/eat/like/am struck by for whatever reason. You know why? It helps me remember. It helps me hold onto that tiny moment in time and freeze it forever. I only wish I had such a great smart phone when my 7-year-old was a baby because I would have even more photographs. It is easier to take photos with my phone, I can just whip it out and snap a picture, I don't need to set up a shot or grab a camera that would most likely be hidden out of reach of little ones lest it get smashed into a million pieces. I can't tell you how many times I look back through my photos whether it be on Instagram or just in my phone's albums and remember an incredibly priceless moment in time.

Someone once chided me about taking photos while on vacation, "Put down your phone and enjoy it now." But you know what? I was enjoying it, because I enjoy taking pictures. So there's that. The other thing I like to do is stay in touch with family that is far away, and an easy way to do that is to snap a photo and share it. Doing so in the moment sometimes helps me feel closer to the other half of my immediate family that lives on the opposite side of the country. It takes two seconds, and it makes me feel connected, and that is a good thing.

I also check on work stuff, and, because my work involves social media, that involves checking social media every so often. Being able to quickly go through email on my phone rather than open up my laptop is a major time save, and it goes without saying that it also frees me up to actually leave the house without my laptop or without worrying that I am missing any important work related correspondence. Should my kids feel slighted because I have a job to do that helps pay the bills and I sometimes have to do that job during the day when they are around? No. I have explained to my children that I have a job, one that helps me earn money to pay for stuff like ski school and American Girl doll clothes and little things like electricity and food, and they should be proud that I work hard, not feel bad about it.

Here are things I don't do with my smart phone when I'm around my kids:

Play games on it. For the most part if I have the time to play a game with my kids and I don't need to work, I'd rather hang out with them sans smart phone.

Have unnecessary phone conversations or text conversations. This is more true for the phone conversations mainly because having a phone conversation with three kids in the background isn't the most pleasant experience, but for the most part I try to turn my phone onto silent and just ignore any calls or texts if I'm doing something with the kids. That being said, I have definitely sat and had conversations with friends while at a playground, or watching them in the park, just like I would have a conversation with a friend who happened to actually be sitting there. I have also shooed them out of the room to be on a conference call when I need to, and they understand that.

So, moms who write stuff like "Dear Mom on your iPhone" I ask you this, what about moms who work outside the home? Do you have a special "letter" to them detailing what they are missing out on while they not only aren't watching the children who are twirling and swinging and playing on the playground, they aren't even there in the first place? Do you suggest that kids who "know the phone is more important than they are" also think the same thing about the workplace, and should working mothers feel even more unnecessary guilt about that? Contrary to what your posts might suggest, you can be a good mom even if you aren't around 100 percent of the time paying attention to all of their waking moments. And no matter how much you "put down the phone" you will miss stuff, and the years will pass by too quickly. Reminding oneself to slow down and appreciate the small moments is great, but insinuating that you will miss all the magical moments because you are staring at your iPhone isn't exactly helpful.

Regardless of whether I'm using the iPhone for work or not though, as moms aren't we entitled to have some sort of social connection as well? If a friend is having a rough day and messages you on Facebook for some support, is it wrong to want to log on and have a quick chat? Maybe someone just had a baby and you want to see the Instagram photos, maybe there is an interesting news story that you're following on Twitter, or maybe you just want to read the recap of the latest Downton Abbey episode. Whatever it is, would doing any of those things without your smartphone be wrong? No. So why is it so much worse because it's on a phone? Are we not entitled to our own interests and friends and social connectedness? Yes we are. Does it make us selfish to have those interests, friends, hobbies? NO. Do not lose sight of the fact that you are your own person, and should not feel selfish or like a bad mom for needing an outlet once in a while, be it reading a book, reading something on your phone, or taking part in something that isn't 100 percent focused on your kids.

Kids, too, do not need to be eagle-eyed at all times of the day. If my 2-year-old is happily playing with his little choo choos on the floor and I have some other stuff I need to get to, am I being a disconnected parent? No, whether I'm folding laundry or checking my email, my children don't have every second of their time around me devoted entirely to them. That's just not the case. And my kids happen to be pretty normal, happy, well-adjusted kids. When they do need my focus, they have it, but they also respect the fact that mommy has work to do, be it "work work" or "house work," and that when I'm off doing something else it doesn't take away from the fact that I love them, care for them, and think they are the most important thing in the world. Believe it or not, when kids (and most adults) realize the universe does not revolve around them it can be a good thing.

Now, all of that being said, if you are using your iPhone as a distraction, rather than feel crappy about it, maybe take some time to think about why you might be doing it. Putting your phone away isn't going to make you feel more connected to your life as a parent if you have something else that is preventing that feeling. Adding "spending too much time on your iPhone" though is only going to make you feel like more a failure. Start with baby steps, carve out a little space of time where there are no distractions, find something you and the kids all want to do, and just do it. If that feels good, try it for longer times. If you want to take some photos or snag a few quick minutes, go for it. But most of all, do what YOU think you need to do, not what bloggers or other moms try to shame you into doing or not doing (bloggers including myself, although I don't think I spread any shame personally). As for me, I've got about five texts to respond to and a new photo to upload to Instagram. Maybe I'll bump into you the next time I check into the park on my iPhone.