I look up from my phone to see my toddler still slowly munching away at the five crackers I placed in front of her over an hour ago. I ask her how she’s doing. We have a short chat about how much she loves crackers, and then I go back to my phone and wait for her to finish.
By this time, the mom I used to be would’ve become impatient. I mean, who takes this long to eat a snack? I sometimes feel like I spend the whole day at the table, waiting for her to finish her food. I probably would’ve already told her she has five more minutes before snack time is done. And she most likely would’ve already yelled, “No, Mom! I’m eating crackers!” and a power struggle would’ve ensued.
That’s exactly how snack time went when my older two were little. But that was a decade ago, long before I had a smart phone to distract me while they took infinitesimal bites and talked to their food. I always felt like my patience was running low. I was constantly telling them to hurry. I would yell if they got distracted. I was rarely calm; I was burnt out.
When my toddler was born, I really wanted to be better than that. I didn’t want to yell or hurry or threaten. I wanted to have extraordinary patience. But I also wanted to be attentive 100 percent of the time. I was not going to be one of those parents who ignores their kid, I naively told myself. I was going to live in the present, be mindful and regulate my emotions, all without ever even glancing at my phone while my child was awake.
It was easy at first. Having patience for a baby, who only cries when she needs one of four things and naps more than 50 percent of the time, is completely different from having patience for a toddler whose main goal is to test that patience. But I didn’t realize this until she wasn’t a baby anymore.
I remember sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office for her 2-month checkup and judging a dad who was looking down at his phone, only half-listening to his little girl list her observations. I had forgotten how difficult it is to give a child all of your attention 24/7. I really thought he could do better. And I really believed I would. I was sure of it.
But I was wrong. So very wrong.
When my toddler first started walking is when I realized it. I struggled watching her struggle to learn new things. Sometimes I felt like I had to help her, even though she wasn’t asking for it, and others I just wanted to move on from one task to another. I started losing my patience. I yelled, I rushed, I threatened. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t be patient and attentive 100 percent of the time.
In fact, trying to be attentive all the time was making it even more difficult to really be present. Without a short break here and there, my mind would start to wander. I would start thinking about the emails I needed to write, the friend I forgot to wish a happy birthday, when the last time I updated my Facebook status was, or my favorite mobile games. I zoned in and out of the present moment. My eyes weren’t glued to a screen, but they might as well have been. My mind was forcing me to take a break. I needed balance.
So, I started taking small breaks throughout the day. I check Facebook or Twitter when my mind starts to wander. I play a game when my toddler is taking forever to finish lunch. I check my email while she tries to put her own shoes on. I don’t rush. I rarely yell. And I never threaten.
I know some might judge me for burying my face in my phone instead of giving my toddler attention, but this is what’s best for us. It allows me to really be present most of the time. It helps me stay patient and calm. It keeps me balanced. It has made me a better mom.