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I'm the One Who Needs Limits on Screen Time

For the entirety of our life together, my husband and I have been living it out online. Michael is a Web developer for a media company, takes on freelance Web projects on the side and is also working on a personal project with a handful of Web dev friends. I am an online writer and editor who has worked for a number of online magazines, dabbled in social media management for several clients and who now manages and creates online content for a professional organization.

Both of us dutifully manage our online brands, staying fairly active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, etc. And each of us has always had trouble maintaining boundaries between our personal and professional lives.

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Michael is always on call, his iPhone pinging during dinner dates, Netflix marathons and vacations. And I compulsively refresh Twitter and check email whenever I have a free moment. This constant connection to the Internet has managed to bleed into the rest of our life, conditioning us to always be online and available, so that there's hardly a moment when we're not staring at some screen.

Now that Emily is in the picture, however, I worry we're not as present for her as we should be. Michael scrolls through Facebook on his iPhone as he gives her the bottle every evening. He suggests we watch our DVR'd shows at night, even when we can't get Em down to sleep at a normal hour.

I don't want her to turn out like us. I don't want her sitting in front of a screen 24/7.

I've been trying to simultaneously—and singlehandedly—work from home and care for my daughter. This means that I spend hours at my laptop every day, writing, editing, emailing and tweeting as she naps, as she nurses, as she stares at me mournfully (I imagine) from her Rock 'n' Play. This makes me feel so damn guilty. Especially when the following plays out several times a day:

Me: Starts typing up a blog post or editing an article

Em, whilst cradled in her Rock 'n' Play: Starts crying

Me: Pauses, turns away from computer, and starts making silly faces and fart noises at Em

Em: Tears turn to delighted laughter, because life is obviously the best thing ever, and Mommy is awesome.

Me: Decides it is safe to turn back to the computer and continue working

Em: I HATE YOUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!! (communicated, of course, via screams)

At which point, I feel terrible. Terrible that I'm not doing tummy time with her, or reading her a book. Terrible that I'm not taking her on a walk around the neighborhood in her stroller. Terrible that I'm not walking her around the house and pointing out objects and teaching her words and sounds and numbers. Terrible that I'm not helping her practice sitting up so she can work on her neck control.

In our line of work, we can't afford to go dark.

After all, I don't want her to turn out like us. I don't want her sitting in front of a screen 24/7, drool pooling on her chin. I don't want her to be a slave to her future devices. And I have lofty, surprisingly Luddite-like ideas (in spite of my own habits) on how we should raise her so as to avoid such behavior.

But how are we to avoid such a fate when the example we're setting is so screen-centric?

I'm taking baby steps. Since Em was born, I've broken up with Tumblr and Pinterest and also several TV shows. I have my mother-in-law come over on Mondays, and my mom on Fridays, so that I can get several hours of work done uninterrupted while Em gets to actively engage with another human being. I take Em to Mommy & Me yoga, and also to a Mommies' Moods group, so she is exposed to other babies (and I am exposed to intelligent, IRL conversation). I've tried to cut back on work so that I can take more breaks throughout the day, during which I play with Em and read to Em and chat with Em. This is something I feel privileged to be able to do.

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But I still continue to worry that it's not enough. And every time I sit her on my lap while I try to finish something up on my laptop, or turn on the TV during a lunchtime nursing session, I worry that her brain is turning to mush because of the extra screen time.

But I don't know. Maybe it will all turn out OK. After all, in our line of work, we can't afford to go dark.

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