Techsperiment day 1: the difficulty of unplugging with kids

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24 hours into our vow to unplug — for just 3 hours a day! — and I am the weakest link. We’ve sworn to give up computers, iPhones and iPads between 6-9 every night (“family time”) but it’s day one and I’m already struggling.

And that’s after our daughter did a good job reinforcing our will to unplug with an end-of-day meltdown that reminded us just how much she needs more sleep. We agreed to do a full-court press over the dinner hour so that we could get bedtime underway a bit earlier, and to divide and conquer at bedtime so that we could get the kids to go to sleep earlier by getting them to go to bed separately.

The TV was on when we got home — not a violation of the plan we had laid out, but out of keeping with the quieter evening we were aiming for. We turned off the show our son was watching, without too much protest, when it was time to sit down for dinner. So far so good.

But I forgot that Monday night is also the night that we typically sort out the week’s logistics with my mom, who often helps out or lends us her car. Once we got into a conversation about the week’s schedule, I had to pull out my computer so that I could check my calendar. What started as a 2-minute calendar check oozed into fifteen minutes on the computer at our dinner table, in which I sent a couple of short emails, while Rob got the bath running.

While the kids had their bath I hung out in the bathroom with them. Because they’ve been so overtired they were quarrelling much more than usual, but I was able to intervene quickly: “If you keep squabbling I’m getting you out of the bath.” Not a threat I’d have been so eager to make if I was enjoying a little iPad time.

The plan was for me to lie down in one room with our daughter (aka “L’il Sweetie”) while Rob lay down in the other room with our son (L’il Peanut). But the prospect of lying wide awake for half an hour was not appealing — even more worrying was the possibility that I’d fall asleep rather than staying awake to do some more work. And I had just the solution: listening to a podcast on my iPhone. So much for our device-free resolution.

I brought the iPhone into the bedroom with a pair of headphones, hoping my daughter wouldn’t notice. “Can I have some iPhone time?” she asked right away. I explained the iPhone was just for me to listen to while she fell asleep. We compromised by putting away the headphones so that she could listen to a PRI podcast about innovation in China with me; if that couldn’t put a young kid to sleep, what would?

But no sooner had we snuggled up than Sweetie told me, in her typically direct way, than she objected to sharing my attention. I put the iPhone away, and negotiated on song choice with my daughter so that she’d let me sing her to sleep — which has the added benefit of keeping me awake. Ten minutes later she was sound asleep, a full hour earlier than she’s been going to bed for the past month!

Day 1 makes me realize that for all my claims about how Rob is the more tech addicted of the two of us (a close race, to be sure), I’m the one who has a harder time disengaging when I’m around the kids.

As a dear friend of mine told me when I was pregnant with Sweetie, “parenting is simultaneously completely overwhelming and utterly under-stimulating.” The older our kids get, the less overwhelming — and the more stimulating! — they become, but I haven’t let go of the gadgets and props that got me through the long months before baby’s first sentence. When I finally put the props down, I can experience the joy of noticing the exact moment that my daughter’s breath slows to the gentle rhythm of sleep.

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