WHITNEY: Balancing kid time with personal time

Olivia ran over, plucked my phone out of my hands, sauntered away and placed the phone on the coffee table across the room. She started muttering, something about the “phome” and shoved her pink, plastic play phone up to my ear.

I was caught. I try really hard to leave my phone on the shelf or in my purse when I should be paying full attention to Olivia, but every once in a while it finds its way into my hands.

Yes, I’ve written before about being mentally present with your children. And yes, I left my full-time job in thePioneer office to spend more undistracted time with my kid, yet I’m writing this column one week later. But sometimes it’s a struggle not to check out or check in.

Since I’ve committed to staying home with her full time, I’m having a hard time not checking in with the outside world by flicking through my feeds a couple times a day or sending a couple texts. I guess “they” call such a new-world phenomenon FOMO – fear of missing out. Kind of the antithesis of YOLO.

It doesn’t help that I’m running on a few hours of sleep and the fumes of pure frustration after more than a week of hellacious teething and unidentifiable sickness. God, please send us those two-year molars as fast as possible.

“They” also recommend against exactly what my daughter caught me doing – getting absent-mindedly distracted from whatever my kid was doing, but kind of acting like I was still paying attention. You know how this looks. The kid is jumping on the couch, nearing the edge and a broken arm with each bounce, and you’re across the room mumbling, “Maybe... don’t do that?... Hold on. .. Mom’s... coming. Just... don’t fall yet.”

Catherine Newman wrote in June for The New York Times about the idea of giving your children all of your attention or none of it. Be fully present when you can, and make it clear when you can’t so your kids can entertain themselves.

Her idea works. Granted her children are actually teenagers, I’ve tried it myself, letting Olivia play on her own with her babies or blocks while I crank out a 20-minute dinner. When dinner is done and our bellies are full, we head outside to swing or explore and the dishes sit in the sink until after bedtime.

But since Newman’s piece ran, many other parents have chimed in, including Kristen Howerton for the Huffington Post. She makes the important distinction, albeit one that’s convenient for me, that parents have always had preoccupations that take them away from doting on their children.

She writes: “Checking email is the new churning butter. I don't need to sew a dress today, but I may need to pay bills online. Mothers still have things that need to get done, and there shouldn't be shame just because some of those things require us to sit with a laptop or a cell phone.”

I wasn’t paying bills when I got caught on my phone, but I think the point stands. We should cut ourselves a little slack and ease off the shameful naysaying. Before we became parents, we had interests and great, big adult lives. I’m feeling this now too as I step away for the hustle and bustle of daily newspaper life.

Still, I think I’m doing OK so far. More often than before, I’m leaving my phone at home during our nightly walks around the block or afternoons in the park. And that feels really good.

Whitney is the Pioneer’s parenting columnist. After four years reporting and editing at the paper, she’s stepped back to spend more time with her family. Read more here each week and reach her at whitney.buffa@gmail.com.