What I realised when my phone was broken for a whole week

Every morning my four-year-old hops into bed next to me and wakes me up with his squirmy cuddles (he needs to wee). After a little snuggle, I reach over to my bedside table and check the time on my phone … and then I get distracted. There’s a new Facebook notification AND an email alert! Ohhh, I better see what this is, I think to myself as I tell my little boy to go to the loo and remember to wash his hands.

But for the last week my mornings have started very differently, because I haven’t had a phone. It died and consequently it’s made me realise a few harsh truths about myself.   

My phone carked it on holidays

A day into a short family holiday, my phone keeled over and died. I didn’t bother getting a new one while we were away, instead spending the days wading through knee-deep water and looking for fishies with my little guys. We got sandy and I forgot the time, because it was bliss and also because I didn’t have a phone in my back pocket to check it.

But in all this I realised …

1. I had become addicted to it

It was weird not having a phone and being unable to receive or send texts, flick through my social media feeds while waiting for my coffee, or just to check the time. It was also strange not to feel compelled to ‘record’ our holiday with endless mobile snaps. But it also felt nice.

It made me realise though that I had turned into a bit of a junkie with my phone. I had needed it with me always and now I felt shaky and a bit at sea without it. I was having withdrawals.

2. I had developed phone anxiety

You know that panicky feeling you get when you can’t find your phone? Or just knowing there’s a text waiting for you but your phone needs charging before you can read it? It’s called phone anxiety and a week without mine made me realise that I had it.

3. I had become distracted

Without my phone diverting my attention from what was right in front of me, I was able to fully immerse myself in it. There was no phone cheeping at me to alert me to a message or to pull me away from my family. My phone had been distracting me from life.

Mum on smartphone

4. I had become dependent on my phone

I’ve never been good at getting bored and while I don’t allow myself to zone out on my phone instead of watching my kids at the playground, I’ve become dependent on it for amusement.

When we got back from holidays and my phone was still dead I took my eldest son to an OT session. With my youngest hanging out with me in the waiting room, it hit me. I had been using my phone to fill in whole chunks of time.

Looking around, every other parent in the waiting room was doing what I usually do. They were staring at their phones. As I didn’t have mine, I instead got down with my toddler on the play rug. No one was interested in talking to me, they were more interested in their phone, but my little guy was thrilled to have me play with him. We read a story about a lady beetle, played with a car wash toy and I felt like a better mum for giving him my time and attention.

5. I had become anti-social

Then when we went to swimming lessons, again sans phone, I realised another thing. My phone had been making me anti-social.

As I sat on the sidelines next to two other mums who were looking at their phone, I took in what was happening. There was my little boy with his spiderman goggles on dog paddling like crazy and looking at me with pride. I smiled. Then the mum next to me looked up and realising I didn’t have anyone to talk to, we started chatting. Her name is Penny and next week we are going to grab a coffee after swimming together with our munchkins. I made a new friend.

Three simple phone changes

My fancy new phone arrived this week so I decided to make some healthy phone use changes. I’ve only done three things and so far, they have been game changers. I feel more present, more in touch with my kids and a less distracted mum all round as a result.

Here’s what I’ve done.

1. Bought a watch 

Instead of checking my phone 10,000 times a day for the time, I bought a wrist watch. This means I don’t look at my phone much at all these days. 

2. Given myself screen time limits

Just like I insist on screen limits with my sons, I’ve given myself ‘phone time’ for things like social media and checking the news. This happens when my toddler has his day sleep and my preschooler also indulges in some screen time.   

3. Out of sight, out of mind 

Just like the toys I’ve confiscated from my boys when they won’t share or the sharp scissors, I’ve started putting my phone up high and out of reach when we’re at home. This way I can hear it if it rings, but I’m not tempted to just look at it whenever.

I’m also just more mindful all round with how I use it and why. I don’t pull it out in waiting rooms anymore, for instance, just because I’m bored or while on the couch watching my kids play.

If I was more techy I would also turn off all social media notifications, but I’m not. I’m finding these simple changes are enough for me now, but if I fall off the phone wagon and find myself back to my old bad habits, then that will be the next step.

I know I need to be disciplined. I’m a phone addict after all, but the first step to my recovery is admitting it. 

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