I have come to the conclusion that putting our three kids to bed is a lot like herding cattle. Just when you think you have them corralled, one goes rogue and sneaks off from the herd. All of a sudden you are in need of a lasso and a stiff drink. Needless to say, the bedtime routine is not for the faint of heart.
My tendency is to behave like a commanding officer in the army: Brushed teeth? Check. 30-second bath? Check. “Hurry up!” I bark (as if I have an urgent matter to which I must attend—Netflix). I rush through the bedtime story by skipping pages and bedtime songs by speed singing through the nightly tunes (although this becomes harder as our children get older).
Lord help me if they want to have a life conversation at this moment. Seriously, don’t you know mommy is tired? Mommy has things to do! Why didn’t you ask these questions when it was daylight?
I don’t say these things with my words, but they get the point with my body language. I answer in a quick and efficient way, trying not to show that I am rolling my eyes into the back of my head.
Something Needed to Change
The other night, while wrapping up the bedtime extravaganza with the kids, I suddenly sensed that I needed to slow down.
So I cuddled up beside my eldest (8), and he started to pour his heart out to me. Just a few days prior, I had told my husband that I didn’t feel connected with him, but here he was displaying incredible vulnerability with his feelings. It felt so good to hear his heart.
He had wanted to play basketball with some friends, and they told him that he couldn’t. They didn’t choose him. My first inclination was to take names of these honoree children and have an intervention. How could they not want to spend time with my amazing son? It was probably because he was obviously far superior at playing ball and they were intimidated. The little bullies who made him feel unloved were going to pay; I had some serious poignant statements rolling around in my brain that would have rocked their little worlds.
It broke my heart that someone had made my son feel like he didn’t belong, that he wasn’t wanted.
Hiding my anger about the entire playground drama, I ran my fingers through his dark hair and looked into his big, blue eyes. My job is to reassure him that he is an amazing young man, and I told him that I was very proud of him for being brave enough to tell mommy his feelings.
I said, “Sweetie, I want you to know that you can talk to mommy anytime. I am on your team. I want you to know you can tell me when you are scared, hurt, or angry.”
Then, his words came at me like a wrecking ball. “I want to, but I can’t.”
“Of course you can!” I said.
“No, I can’t—because you are on your phone. Every time I want to talk to you, you have your phone in your hands.”
The scariest thing: admitting he was right. As of late, I had become a serial scroller. I was choosing my iPhone over him.
Until I loosened my grip on my phone, I was not allowing myself to be available to love those around me.
I had been angry at the ball hogs that had made my son feel excluded, but I was the real antagonist of this story. I had been making my son feel unloved and unwanted every day. It wasn’t with my words, but with my actions. I had sacrificed my son’s emotional health for the sake of Facebook.
Mommy is unavailable. Mommy values what is on her phone more than you. Mommy thinks her phone is more important than hearing your story. Mommy thinks her social media friends are more exciting than watching you play in the yard.
Every time he saw me with my eyes aimlessly scrolling through another world, he saw a mommy who wasn’t choosing him. I was the bully.
I apologized to my son.
But here is the thing, I can say a lot of words, and I can apologize over and over again, but if my hands are continually on my phone, they are not free to love those around me.
My actions speak louder than my words.
I don’t know about you, but I am sick of living like this! I am the only one who gets to be a mother to my children and a wife to my husband. These are my greatest gifts, and I have been wasting so much of my time by being distracted.
Social media can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse. So there has to be boundaries to it. If we are not controlling our time with entertainment, it will control us.
The greatest gift we can give our loved ones is the gift of being present.
Here are 6 ways that we can practice being present:
1. Admit it.
I had to admit I was an addict. Just like any other drug, our brain becomes accustomed to the high and we think we need it because it gives us pleasure and instant gratification. When our phone is not around, do we freak out or feel anxious that we are missing out on something? Like any addict, I was hurting those around me.
2. Look into the heart.
Are we on social media because we are power hungry, praise hungry, fearful, lonely, or to escape boredom and mundane activities? I have found myself scrolling mindlessly through Facebook in an attempt to escape my own life. If we zoom into the heart behind all of the scrolling, we would find not so much a desire to be seen but a desire to be known—a desire to belong.
I am planning to take a week and go completely dark with my cell phone. I bet the world will keep running.
4. Set boundaries.
In order to connect with one another, we have to disconnect. If we don’t, there is always someone beeping us or dinging or buzzing every second. It is not realistic to say that we will never get on social media ever again. I have friends that do not use social media at all, but my entire business is on social media. I am not suggesting we never use the “evil iPhones” because that ship is going down like the Titanic! I am suggesting that we learn to steer the ship to safer waters. I would also suggest having an accountability partner that you check in with daily. My accountability will be my husband and some friends who I know are not afraid to ask tough questions and remind me of my priorities.
5. Live by our priorities.
I have found this activity to be helpful in determining how to spend my time. Take a piece of paper and fold it in half, long ways. On one side of the paper write your priorities. A priority is what is important to you. What makes you happy? What do you want to accomplish? How do you want to be remembered at the end of your life? My priorities are my faith, family, and fitness. Then on the other side write your daily activities. Cross out anything that does not help or support those priorities. How can you invest in these priorities? How will you use your time? Resources? Energy?
6. Understand the benefits of being disconnected.
Contentment. Silent reflection. Focus. Productivity. Creativity. When we stop consuming, we are free to live. Sing a song, write a book, paint a picture, take a picture (without posting it), plant a garden, make something beautiful!
Most importantly, live life in such a way you connect to those around you. Let’s loosen the grip on our iPhones and free our hands to reach out to those we love!
Let’s make an effort to be hands-free and if we do we may find our hearts will be light.
For more articles on being present in our loved ones’ lives, start here:
We Worry About Screen Time for Kids, but What About Us?
Establishing Healthy Boundaries in the Grit and Grace Life
I Might Be a Good Mom, Can That Make Me Be a Bad Wife?
To the Mom Who Feels Like It Never Ends
5 Tips to Build Healthy Relationships
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