The Time I Tried to Unplug My Family

Do you feel like your family is saturated with all things electronic? That’s not just me, right?

I’ve recently started thinking about how much time my kids spend plugged into their various devices, and it makes me feel a little guilty. OK, a lot guilty. Sure, some apps teach them stuff, but they spend just as much time on fluff as they do educational apps. I usually have to say: “Get your nose out of that tablet and pay attention to me!” at least twice. OK, maybe that actually means saying their names seven or eight times in an increasingly loud voice, ending with me yanking the iPad out of their little hands in frustration. I yell, and they cry. I declare war on all things with a screen and take their tablets away. This usually lasts less than half an hour. Ahem.

Please tell me this isn’t just me.

Of course, there’s the other side of the coin, which is how much time spend plugged in and on social media. Aren’t there better things I could be doing instead of getting sucked into the Pinterest vortex, mesmerized by the craptillion varieties of chocolate chip cookie recipes? Wouldn’t it be better if I stepped away from the computer and made more effort to interact with my small humans…maybe herded them into the kitchen andgasp!actually made one of the craptillion varieties of chocolate chip cookie recipes I’ve pinned?

I’m a freelance writer with a popular blog (and when I say popular, I mean my mother and a handful of other people read it). I also manage social media for a major parenting website. I’m on my computer a lot. And, when I’m not on my computer, I’m on my tablet or phone, both of which have 347 social media apps. I can tweet, stumble, and scope wherever I happen to be. I try to convince myself that being plugged in is necessary and that I’m being productive.

I’m multitasking, I tell myself, viewing the ability to do too many things at once as a badge of honor. But trying to be good at everything usually means I’m failing at something.

Have you been there?

I decided it was time for a break and arranged to have my smart phone surgically removed from my palm. (There’s a Groupon for that, you know. Kidding.) But, I did declare the July 4th holiday weekend electronics-free. We’d rented a beach condo and planned four days of doing nothing…the perfect time to unplug, right? I hopped onto Alamo City Moms Blog’s editorial calendar and entered my August topic: “What I Learned from Unplugging.”

I had a plan, you see. I understood up front that letting go of our electronics for a long weekend would be a challenge, and I looked forward to sharing the lessons I’d learned with other moms. I envisioned reconnecting with my husbandyou know, actually talking to him instead of messing around on my phone mumbling “mmm-hmm, whaaat?” every few minutes. I’d make sandcastles with my kids without reaching for my tablet to see what I was missing on Facebook. We’d play checkers and I Spy. I expected to come away satisfied that our little break had done our family some good and that I’d help other parents by sharing my strategies on what worked and what didn’t.

Yeah, not so much.

Technology touches every bit of our lives, and after the first few hours, we found complete unplugging to be stressful. We wanted to get directions to an attraction or find the nearest ice cream place. I wanted to snap pictures and video of my kids at the beach and share them with my family and friends via Instagram. And, after 10 minutes of playing I Spy in the van, I caved and turned on the DVD player for my cranky kids.

If you want to be Judgy McJudgerson, yes, I could have bought a map or asked a real live person for directions. You could scold me for even bringing the electronics in the first place instead of having them at the ready so we could grab them at the first signs of maybe this isn’t going so well.

Our family didn’t unplug, but we did scale back. I used my phone as a camera and a GPS. I used my messenger feature to chat with my daughter and one of my editors, both important conversations.

We spent hours at the beach and in the pool of our condo community (because nothing makes your kids scream to go to the pool like sand and saltwater) without any devices, save our actual camera, which doesn’t count. We spent our evenings on our deck enjoying the smells and sounds of summer at the beach and actually talking to each other and laughing. There were a ton of times when I thought, I should tweet that or I wonder what so-and-so is up to, but for most of the weekend, my phone stayed in the bottom of my bag while I was having fun with my family.

My laptop (I took it with me because I thought I might want to write) stayed by the door of our condo, where I’d dumped it upon arrival. I took a few social media breaks here and there and found that seeing what so-and-so was up to was not really that interesting. My kids kept busy doing beach stuff for the most part, but I did cave and let them have a few minutes of screen time in the evenings. And, I’m glad we did.

We were in a strange place, and we were off our regularly scheduled programming. Having something familiar reassured my kids that things were normal. Would you go on vacation and purposely leave your kid’s lovey or security blanket behind? And before you go calling my comparing electronics to security items lame or bad parenting, I say there is comfort in routine, especially for children.

Like it or not, our society is plugged in. There are things to be learned from unplugging or dialing back on electronics and social media. But, my main takeaway was not to feel an excessive amount of guilt for the life we live. Technology is woven into our family fabric, and that’s OK. I’ve experienced the benefit of limited electronics, and maybe we’ll make some changes to how we do things at home. Maybe we’ll leave the devices at home next time we go on vacation. OK, not gonna lie…the thought of that makes me twitchy.

I’m not gonna say we failed at unplugging. I’d rather go with marginally successful. And you know what? I’m OK. My kids are OK. I am still shooting for less screen time, but I’m not a lousy parent because I didn’t leave the devices at home.

Like a lot of moms out there, I’m just figuring this stuff out as I go along.

Jill Robbins is a wannabe wine snob and lazy runner. She moved to San Antonio when she was 18 months old, so she considers herself a native. She has a degree in social psychology, which so far has been unhelpful in understanding the behavior of her husband and three children. Jill writes about adoption, motherhood, and midlife on her blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals, and freelances for various magazines and websites such as The Huffington Post, She Knows, Babble and Scary Mommy. She is the Director/Producer of Listen to Your Mother: San Antonio, a live show featuring readings about motherhood. You can follow Jill on Facebook and Twitter.