The Lost Art of Being Present
A Life Lesson Re-Learnt from a Toddler
Toddlers are probably one of the purest forms of humanity before life hits. They are initially unbiased, full of pure energy and emotions. They lack the filters that we, as adults, have hopefully mastered. They know nothing of societal rules or expectations.
They are as is and forever present in the moment.
A life connected to screens
We all know or heard of the ‘dangers’ of screens for children— depression, insomnia, behavioral problems, educational problems and risk of obesity due to lack of physical activity. If your child has an issue, the screen is probably to blame in some way — as suggested in the plethora of popular studies.
But no one has really talked about the three-way relationship we have with technology, with ourselves and with our children — especially the young digital natives born in the last few years. If there has been any research or studies, I’ve probably missed it somehow.
Over the past few months and with my one year old’s latest developmental leap, I hardly look at my phone anymore. On the rare times, it’s because someone took the effort to ring me. She enjoys those moments. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’m talking to a flat device pressed to my ear. It probably makes no sense to her but she mimics me anyway, with a book or something flat pressed against the side of her head.
Detaching myself from my phone
It didn’t take me long to notice how connected I am to screens. My attention gets divided frequently and the child is old enough to sense herself going down the priority ladder.
The thing with children, especially small children, is that they know when they don’t have the undying attention of a parent or caregiver. They expect to be at the center. It’s part of their nature. How else are they going to test for the edges of rules and boundaries? They need the space to move and learn. They need us to be an audience for it.
When I’m on my phone, I’m essentially telling her that she is unimportant. She automatically gets pushed to the edge by no fault of her own. She is powerless to do anything about it except to escalate via means of kicking, screaming or crying for my attention. The longer I stay connected to a device, the worst the escalations get. Some people called it the pre-terrible twos.
I’m sure the actual terrible twos will happen at some point, but that’s months away. But these pre-terrible twos symptoms were my own doing.
Longer Filling Days
I went to the park today and walked through a nice looking neighborhood. Yesterday was spent cleaning the spare room. The day before that I did some decluttering with the ‘help’ of the child.
The uninterrupted hours without my phone has made me realized how often I used to look at it. It must be such a strange sight for her to see mommy constantly staring at the flat rectangular object and not do anything much in particular. The intrinsically unnatural occurrence is not primed into the human DNA and the child knows it.
We’ve just grown accustomed to our inventions and the magical allure of all things digital.
A Disconnected Life
Without my phone, I find that I’m doing more — even with the toddler weaving through my legs. I’m thinking more, talking more and even singing more. The day moves much slower while the rest of the world rushes on. I still have work at night but it feels like I’m able to achieve more. Without the constant habit of checking my phone, I am able to double down on my speed and complete tasks faster. But most importantly, I feel like I’m no longer rushing for time.
I am much more present in my daily activities and it’s funny how all it took was to disconnect and limit my online activities. While it seems like I’ve dropped off the map completely with my lack of social media interactions and updates, I’m doing more in a week than I’ve ever done in a month.
The anxiety of constant comparison and sudden simplicity of life makes me feel, as cliche as it sounds, like a brand new person.
The concept of time
Toddlers have no concept of time. Not really. The only time they know is the concept of now. There is no such thing as consequences. There is no such thing as a clock or being late. There’s no such thing as tomorrow.
So when we connect ourselves to screens, what they see is a magical device that has taken their caregiver away from them. While we may still be physically present, our minds are elsewhere and it probably scares them witless.
When children feel as if they have no control over their environment, it lowers their confidence and self-reliance — Julie A. Ross
How I govern my day in front of her sets the stage on how she’ll feel about herself and the world in the future. By disconnecting from my devices, I’m telling her that she is, at the very least, important to me and that her voice won’t be ignored when she speaks.