Practicing Re-Focusing on Family this Summer

playoutsideWe did nothing this past weekend and it wasn’t an easy feat to pull off. I like a schedule with lists, plans, and the high probability of met expectations, which means turning off the phone, computer, and most difficult, my personality, is a challenge. It’s summer, I keep telling myself, and surely, it shows, even though we still have things to do and places to be each day. When my husband was pressing the kids to get out the door last week, it was time for a reminder that this is summer camp and not school. Who cares if we are late? Even our one outside of camp obligation – lacrosse – is optional.*

Summer is a good time to break (my) bad behavior. This past weekend was a perfect example as we spent the time doing family things and not running from sporting event to grocery store to Home Depot, leaving us ragged on Monday morning, (even if I did drag us to an awful Farmer’s Market when everyone wanted to go home). Lately, I’ve made a better effort to not look at my phone when out with my kids. I don’t let them take electronics out to dinner, which makes it unfair if I were to pull out my phone to check email or Twitter while waiting in line or during any other downtime. Recently, at the Disney Social Media Moms On the Road conference in Berkeley, this thought was reinforced. Maria Bailey of BSM Media challenged us to look at the whites of our kids’ eyes when they spoke to us. Later, Mindee Doney of Juicebox Consulting, echoed the sentiment, saying, “You have to physically be there to see them, not on the sidelines on your phone.”

This isn’t easy, as not every second of Little League is fun and not every “mom, watch this!” is worth watching, but I see my attention span shrinking away as technology immersion grows, and that’s not the example I want to set for my kids. Keeping my phone in my purse when out to dinner with my kids is hard, and I am embarrassed to admit while I turn to look my son in the eyes as he prattles on about Lego or some crazy idea, I find myself fighting the urge to check Facebook. I feel silly and guilty for the desire to multitask while my child is describing her (sleeping) dreams in great detail – actually, the dream recall has always been hard to sit through. I hate listening to other people’s dreams, even if it involves me. Sometimes actively listening feels like a victory. Not picking up the phone is hard. Learning not to multi-task is hard. But they are habits I need to break.

My goal for summer has been to spend the time my kids are in camp all over the internet. Yes working, but also checking my phone to my heart’s content, then unplugging at pick up time. It’s not easy, and I often have to remind myself that this time with them is fleeting and will be gone in a blink. Any minute they want to spend with me, I need to take because in a few short years, they will be out of here, choosing to spend their time with friends. Moms of older kids warn to appreciate this time before it is gone, and while that’s almost as effective as telling a first time expectant mother to rest up because she won’t see a good night’s rest for a decade, I know I don’t want to look back and wish I had looked my kids in the eyes when they spoke. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy. Glancing is easy, but turning your body to fully engage with them and make eye contact through a full conversation is something I’ve had to remind myself to do. With practice, it’s a skill that I am re-acquiring.

This weekend we went to the movies, played board games, read books, visited the library, and more, all as a family. We accomplished nothing else – our house is nowhere close to unpacked post-remodel, thank you notes from a recent birthday still need to be written, rooms did not get cleaned – but it was a needed break, like summer is the needed break from the rest of the year. It’s seeing the good moments that could have been missed by looking at my phone.

*Summer ball lacrosse has a great approach which while probably set out of convenience for them, resonates with how I see the obligation. Summer ball lasts nine weeks, but you only pay for six…or something like that, my numbers may be off, but you definitely can go for two or three more weeks than which you pay. For them, they don’t need to listen to parents ask to negotiate a lower fee to account for vacation absences, but for me, as a parent, I feel like the pressure is removed. I don’t need to worry about getting to practice because we paid for it. We’re getting more than our share out of it, and now we go because my son loves it, not because we NEED to be there.

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