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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

A two-phone family

We are now a two cell-phone family, and I’m a little nervous.

For the longest time, we had just the one cell phone to use when we were traveling or out in the city. We basically just kept it in the car for when we left the house—we did not need a phone at our fingertips for every update and instantaneous communication, and it was kind of nice.

We’ve all seen people on the other end of the spectrum—unable to spend a moment alone or in silence without diverting their attention to a screen in their hand.

A few things have lined up to make it a reasonably good idea for us to have a second cell phone. Increasingly, Stacey and I have communication responsibilities to different groups of people, and my work, in particular, has a significant amount of writing for webpages that will be viewed on a smartphone.

So, now both Stacey and I each roll with our own phones. Though I will say that my phone is smarter than hers.

While I’m still learning the googadgets and flippertywhistles on my pocketcomputer, I have already become more mindful of its potential for changing my dispositions and habits.

For example, Oscar is at a summer sports camp this week. At the end of the first day, I went to pick him up early from camp, just to observe the coaches interacting with the participants. There was a period of about 10-15 minutes when kids were playing an end-of-the-day game and parents were starting to congregate.

Nearly every parent, if not in conversation with another parent, had their eyes on a smartphone screen in their hand.

Not that they were missing anything, but it struck me that while their bodies were in the gym, their minds were elsewhere. Had I been looking at my new whirligig, I would have missed the toddler looking at me and waving, then smiling when I returned the wave. I would have missed Lucy’s smile as she tried to help her big brother collect balls after a game of dodgeball.

These are very small moments, granted, and my day would not have been much diminished by missing them. But what kind of a presence would I have been to these kids had I been looking at a screen?

So much of parenting is about just being present—seeing, validating, commenting, observing. The very act of being in the presence of children and relating to them changes things. To a child, I represent a moral worldview and I can guide children into values simply by watching what they do and either approving or correcting, even if implicitly or with a glance. A smile is so much more than just a smile to a kid. It is a sign that they are valued and accepted and safe and doing the right thing and that everything is right in the world.

Now I’m not saying that I am utterly present to my children at all times. I tend to be easily distracted by my own thoughts sometimes. But I certainly won’t let artificial light steal my opportunities for forming our children. I refuse to surrender quiet smiles to an app.

And this doesn’t even touch on how a smartphone might impact a marital relationship, but that will have to be a post for another day. For now, as we live in to our new lifestyle with two cell phones, I hope I can keep my wits about me enough to recognize the in-between times—waiting in line, walking across a parking lot, sitting at a baseball game—as an opportunity for mindfulness, not distraction.