Working Mom: Failures & Successes

I have so much respect for mothers and the choices they make as far as what is best for their families. Choosing among working full-time, working part-time, or staying at home full-time is a difficult decision. All scenarios require sacrifice, and we know moms excel in this department.

I can share my perspective as a full-time working mom. The first thing I worry about is how I’m going to have enough energy to get through the day. I wake up before 4 A.M. to get to the radio station before 5:30 A.M. Coffee and adrenaline push me through my work day, but I’m wiped out by the time I get home. I want to give my daughter the best version of myself so we can laugh and learn together. Between breast-feeding and the early start time, I’m exhausted, and because of that I often feel like I’m failing. Monday through Friday my body and mind are fully taxed. I know my Saturday-Sunday version of myself is better for my baby. I try my best. And I know I’m not alone because ALL moms are tired. If only I had the answer on how to overcome mom fatigue…I’d share it with everyone.

My other biggest concern related to being a working mom is related to technology. To what degree is my use of technology detrimentally affecting my child? I must admit, I was failing at first, but the more I settle into motherhood, the more I realize I can find the right answers. I’ve always known I’ve wanted to be a mom so that I could shower my child with love and attention. I know that’s what is in my heart and all moms’ hearts, but every day I have to discipline myself when it comes to the use of my devices.

It scares me to think what we are teaching our children when we choose to respond to a buzz from a cell phone rather than focus on our play with them. Children use their powerful tools of observation to learn about the world around them. They are always watching Mom and Dad, and they will learn to mimic our behavior. New studies show we begin developing attention span as an infant. If Mama and Baby are playing with a rattle and Mama, like a zombie, suddenly grabs her phone to answer a text, what does that teach the baby? The baby comes to learn there is no value in focusing attention for a solid period of time. What is even sadder is that babies are naturally equipped to focus on things at length. Watch them marvel over the little nuances of any toy, using the five senses to take in all the aspects. Watch them play in the crib, rocking back and forth in preparation for crawling. I watch my daughter do this. Nothing could be more important to her at that moment and nothing would interrupt her.

I don’t want to rob my daughter of developing her attention span to its full extent. Nor do I want to limit her opportunities for developing empathy. A parent who is constantly distracted by a device is missing the baby’s body language and facial expressions and isn’t responding in a way to teach empathy, which is so critical down the road when it comes to coping skills.

So what is the solution? The iPhones and tablets aren’t going anywhere. Our future will just offer more opportunities to interact with machines. I believe the key is always remembering that technology is a tool to better our lives. Make it work for us, not the other way around. Here are two ways I’ve found to implement this in my life:

Strive for conscious living. Living in a state of awareness is key. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be chatting with someone and the conversation is something like, “Have you seen that movie?” “Yes, what was the name of that actress? Oh, let me google it.” Instantly I have my phone in my hand. I’ve never been a shopaholic, a big gambler, an over-doer of anything, really. I enjoy moderation. But let me tell you, I am an information junkie. And as my mind goes in conversation with myself or others, I’ve relied on the internet to quench my curiosity. Step one is recognizing this, and reminding myself that in very few instances is it urgent for me to find out the name of an actress I can’t remember. Is it a wonderful thing that we have information at our fingertips? Absolutely, but the value is diminished when it interrupts socializing and human interaction.

I’ve had some days as a new, exhausted mom when I have an opportunity to grab a nap while the baby is sleeping or someone else is watching her. I’m in bed, but instead of sleeping, I’m on my phone jumping from one news story to the next, down the rabbit hole with no real purpose in mind. It’s time wasted that would have been better spent recharging, letting my subconscious select which rabbit hole to go down as I dream. The information gathering is out of control, and it’s my personal addiction with my device. I fight it every day. I take inspiration from Colossians 3:2 – “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” This verse can be interpreted in many ways to offer guidance about living. It also paints a picture in my mind to put my phone down and look to the sky, to live vicariously through my daughter in her wonder as she takes in the beauty around and above us.

Here’s one final note on conscious living. Multi-tasking is the enemy of conscious living, at least the 2017 version of it. Multi-tasking has long been a mom’s badge of honor. Women, we’ve been told, are naturally wired to be able to complete multiple tasks at a time. Twenty years ago, multi-tasking meant folding laundry and talking on the phone. Today it means paying an online bill, uploading an Instagram photo, and “caring for your child” all at the same time. It’s obvious which of those three tasks will not be done to its full potential. Furthermore, studies show multitasking is not good for our brains. It’s the quickest path to burn-out and hampers creativity. Eschew the over-touted mama super power, Multi-tasking, for the one that put us on the map, Creation.

The second way that I try to use technology in a way that benefits our lives, but doesn’t impair my daughter’s development is by setting boundaries and being proactive.

Step One

You have to observe the way in which you use your phone or computer to discover what’s not working. It’s like writing down what you eat before you begin a diet. Here is what I observed about myself:

  • I touch my phone constantly throughout the day. Fail.
  • I wake up and the phone is the first thing I look at: texts, emails, and social media. Fail.
  • Even once I’m home, I keep my phone nearby in case I get a work-related text or call. Fail.
  • I grab my phone if I suddenly “need” to google to find out if it’s okay that my daughter is drooling so much. (Uh…she’s teething. Like I don’t know that?) Fail.
  • I grab my phone to read an app about her development. (I should spend more time observing her development and use common sense to assess her myself.) Fail.
  • I grab the phone, I kid you not, to check the temperature before I take her for a walk. (How about walk outside and see for yourself, Roxanne? And by the way, it’s Florida. It’s hot.) Fail.
  • I stare at my phone before I go to bed, binging on news till I’m numb. Fail.

Every scenario I’ve described is reactionary and habitual. In our world, we value urgency, immediacy, and availability. Self-control has gone by the wayside.

Step Two

Create your personal list of tech boundaries. It’s a very individualized process. You have to do what works best for you and is still going to allow you to be effective in your profession. I grouped all of the activities I do on my phone into the following categories:

  • Correspondence, i.e. text & email communication
  • Errands, i.e. paying bills, buying tickets, shopping, etc.
  • Social Media
  • Research, i.e. googling, reading articles, using apps

Here is how I set boundaries for my at-home tech use, which I try to follow: (While I’m at work, however, I keep my phone nearby and I’m always available.)

  • My text messaging is on silent and I use it sparingly. I only check my texts a handful of times a day. My family and friends know they’ll receive cute photos of the baby, and I love seeing their photos, but my days of back and forth text conversations are over. My time with my daughter is too precious. I still love to talk on the phone, so my ringer is always on. I put the phone on speaker so my baby can listen and hear a two-sided conversation, learn vocabulary and tone of voice, and watch my facial expressions as I react to the live conversation.
  • I’m very conscious of the chores I need to do and which ones are beneficial to the baby. I can easily fold clothes and talk to her about colors, fabrics, styles, and garment utility. I can prop her in her Ciao Baby seat, and she is mesmerized watching me prepare food as I talk to her about cooking and health. I cannot engage with my daughter when I am working on my writing, answering emails, doing computer errands, or checking social media. I save these activities for when she is sleeping or when someone else is watching her.
  • I’m proactive and efficient, selecting ten minutes here or there when she’s not watching me to correspond, complete errands, check social media, and do research. I do all of these activities at separate times so I’m not lured off-task.
  • As I go through the day and I’m tempted to look something up, I question the urgency. Usually it’s not urgent, so I’ll do it during a later designated “research” block of time. As my baby gets older and I’m tempted to say, “I don’t know, google it,” instead I’ll try to talk out the answer with her. If we have more questions, we’ll remember our questions for a later designated time. We’ll research online and write down or try to apply what we learn.

Notice I said “try to follow” because I mess up all the time. We have an expression around the house when someone aimlessly grabs the phone and dives down into the internet abyss. “Mama (or Dada), you’re in the matrix. Get out before the baby sees you.”

You might be reading this and thinking I sound like an old-fashioned nutcase---having actual phone conversations, not fully embracing text or readily-available information. But my child has the right to have the same love and attention that was lavished upon me, uninterrupted by blue light and buzzes.

These rules are all for her, but I’m reaping positive results in all areas of life. No devices at dinner means more intimate conversations with Daddy. My memory and focus are improving. I stay on-task and simply remember something I’d like to later google or tell a friend the next time we chat, rather than “thought” immediately followed by “text.” All of this breeds greater peace of mind, clarity, and imagination that’s free to roam in open space, less hampered by constant devouring of data.

Tech executives limit their own children’s time with devices. And while we’re on the topic of executives…If you ever worry about taking too long to respond to a text, ask yourself if most CEOs feel urgency to text someone back ASAP. When you’re calling the shots, you text and email on your time. Why not act like that even if you aren’t the CEO?*

When I see my five-month-old try to hug and comfort another child who is crying, when I see her take her time exploring her favorite stuffed animal, or when I see her exquisite store of communication skills, her smiles and coos, I know that despite all the distractions in this noisy world, I’m succeeding as a mom.

Once I find the solution to bags under the eyes…I’ll let you know ;)

- Roxanne Wilder, Radio Host; AKA Author Sabrina Simon

*Disclaimer: Plenty of jobs mandate time-sensitive communication. Be judicious in weeding out what’s not time-sensitive, and create pockets of time to unplug.