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How I Put Down The iPhone & Started Being a Mom

Photograph by Getty Images

I finally cracked the code to my acutely emotional and sensitive child’s happiness. After years poring through how-to parenting tomes and enrolling in pricey classes, turns out the answer was right under my nose the whole time. It’s so simple that I can’t help but feel a sense of shame because all I have to do to make my daughter happy is shut off my iPhone.

“I wish there were no such things as phones!”

“I’m going to throw your phone in the toilet!”

“Mom, put the phone down and play with us!”

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I got this all the time. So, it wasn’t like the verbal cues weren’t loud and clear since making the switch from Blackberry to iPhone. I shrugged them off for obvious reasons. Denial. Also when you’re in obsessive love, you don’t listen to anyone. Not even your kids.

It’s not like I wasn’t there for them, physically speaking. I was there. Tending, cooking, cleaning. Basic mothering. Needs being met. But I was doing this while simultaneously Facebooking, Instagramming, emailing, Googling and not to mention creating a Vine series based on our lives. My body was there, but my gaze (emotional, creative, intellectual, spiritual) wasn’t.

With a daughter prone to lying on the floor kicking, screaming and crying over the littlest thing, this mom was off and running, reading books, and attending parenting classes and therapy. Unable to resuscitate her from these catastrophic, volcanic emotional collapses, I resorted to a host of distraction techniques. Here’s some food, TV, 10 hugs. None worked. I’d brace myself, breathe deeply and claw at an imaginary arm stronger than my own to keep me afloat while I tried to help her.

“I’m not as interesting as mommy’s phone.”

While I couldn’t help Aria reconstitute, I could help stabilize myself. Not with alcohol or Xanax like normal people but rather with my seemingly innocuous instant gratification device. My iPhone. A quick hit off Instagram, “liking” a meaningless post on Facebook or some checking account balancing and I could feel InstaDistance from the discomfort of the present moment. I could be there but not be there. And Aria knew it. Turns out that all she wanted, and still wants, is more of me.

Who isn’t aware of the escapism our smartphones have to offer? They’re just this endless pit of discovery and engagement. But from my kid’s point of view, it’s a distraction from being 100 percent with her. And that in turn diminishes her sense of self-worth. “I’m not as interesting as mommy’s phone.” And it’s such an insidious anesthetizer. Hey man, everybody’s doing it! I wonder if in 2014 we’ll see Digital 12 Step programs popping up all over the place.

Guess what happened when I put down the iPhone, got on the floor and muttered a simple, “Hey, you wanna play?” to my daughter. Unicorns, rainbows, puppies and butterflies.

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I am all the medicine my daughter needs when she’s having a rough emotional spell. The tricky part is it means all of me. Not the me who's checking email, or cooking or looking for dust bunnies on the floor—it’s the me who's fully committed to being present on my daughter's terms. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Have you ever suffered an hour of hardcore Barbie play?

Next time your kid is having a meltdown, try it. “Do you want mommy to play with you?” Put down the books and by all means put down the phone. Get down on the floor. Ask your kids what they want to play and just say yes. Get yourself out of the way. Don’t lead. Don’t control it. Just let them run the show. Put a timer on for 10 minutes to start if need be. Tell them they get to choose what they want to play, and you should just follow along. And watch what happens, I dare you.

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