I am a recovering phone addict, and on days when I’m tired, touched out, and overworked, I relapse.
How can I not? After all, there’s a tiny dopamine slot machine in my hand which features intelligent AI and algorithms that seem to know me better than my own therapist.
Before my smartphone, television was my comfort zone. I turned to binge-watching when I needed to relax, not feel. When I was feeling especially bad, I preferred it over the company of people. I would avoid sleep to finish whatever season I was on, and kept coming back for more and more.
Then, once a phone was in my hand and the distraction possibilities were endless, I was a lost cause. I often check my phone not because I have received any notifications, but because not holding it feels wrong.
I knew my own screen use was out of control, and with everything I knew about child development, when my first child was born I bet on my gut and vowed to raise my kids without screens.
Our kids—who are 5 years old, 3 years old, and 1 year old—have been completely screen-free since birth, and I have no regrets. I was privileged enough to be a stay-at-home mom when my first child was born, and the early days were the easiest.
At first, my husband was in a different boat. “How will they learn about Star Wars?” he asked before we found Star Wars children’s books, which they were later able to read and effortlessly talk about all the characters together.
His fear was rooted in bonding, but from the moment he first held that brand new baby, it was gone. He was on board. Anything to protect the innocence of childhood.
Of course, he can’t wait to watch movies with them one day, but the further into fatherhood he’s gotten, the more he values the decisions we’ve made for our children. Now, he sees how fleeting time is, and how everything will eventually happen, in seemingly the blink of an eye.
As our children got older, we filled our days with reading, outside time, and play. When I needed to get things done around the house they were right there with me. We did chores together, and when some days were louder and the feelings were bigger, we saved the mess for after bedtime instead.
By the time we welcomed two more littles, it didn’t even feel like something we were avoiding anymore, it was just life. It was normal.
Now my husband stays home, and I work, surrounded by more screens than I’d like, but it just re-affirms the reason I want to keep my children from this. It will all come. Eventually, they’ll be in front of their own work on a computer, glued to whatever fancy hologram phone exists in a few years.
So right now, we’re enjoying it. Exhausting as it may be, we’re so proud of ourselves and our tiny humans—but that’s not to say this is for everyone.
I get it. Modern-day society is not made to help parents succeed. Most, like us, are parenting without a village; without that built-in support system. In many cases, there aren’t grandparents or siblings or aunts coming to watch our children, to help around the house.
Sometimes, on the days when emotions are running hot, and sleep the night before is almost non-existent, there’s nobody around to tap us out, so I can see why people would turn to screens in these situations.
We are choosing the less comfortable road, the same way we choose to break the generational cycles of trauma our own families before us left us with, and parent with respect, intention, and mindfulness. For me, this is just another cycle to break. Just another boundary to uphold. It is hands-on, 24/7—but it’s our norm.
Most days we have our heads in a book, reading anything from Disney 5-Minute stories to listening to me read from child development books. Those books often end up in an overflowing pile on the ground, uncleanable because one of the three will just run and pull them right back out of the shelves immediately.
Our goal isn’t a perfectly clean home. Though, habitable and healthy, of course, it’s a temporary madness, a temporary mess, that we know one day we’ll miss. When the kids are gone, and the house is quiet and clean.
We’ve been honest about why we haven’t introduced them to screens, yet. That we’re prioritizing the first seven years of their lives for brain development, for play.
They know that at 8 years old, we plan to slowly introduce screen time to them one by one, and they’re patient with us, because we answer all their “why’s” and keep them in the loop.
I can’t say other people don’t give me funny looks when I answer their questions about my kid’s favorite shows with, “Oh, we don’t do screens quite yet,” but the kids on the playground don’t care as they dive into their own made-up worlds together.
I’m not worried about how fast they’ll catch on to technology once they get access to it. Some of the smartest people in the world grew up before this level of technology existed and still managed to create it.
I’m not worried about the movies or things they aren’t watching, because we have books that tell most of the popular stories out there. And mostly, I know that my children are not in a competition. Not with each other, not with their peers.
I feel no pressure for them to know “more” or do “more,” or as much as any other child.
There is no track. I feel no pressure to keep them on one. There is just life. And we only get one, and everything will come in due time, but for now. They are children. I am choosing to give them unlimited time for play, choosing to give them experiences, include them in housework and the day-to-day.
We are asked why we chose to parent the way we do, why screen-free, why homeschool, why respectful and mindful parenting—aren’t you worried about something or the other?
No. I’m not. One day my children won’t be children anymore. They’ll have jobs. Bills. Chores. Maybe even kids of their own. They’ll have to schedule these moments of simplicity instead.
So, we’re choosing simple for now, simple and screen-free, and often messy; and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Rachel Steinmetz is a mother of three and a parenting coach. You can visit her TikTok page at @mamatoafox or Instagram at @thefamilybed.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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