We are so excited to launch this monthly column by #MINDRMAMA Neha Leela Ruch of Mother UntitledNeha is a wife, mother and writer in the Flatiron neighborhood of New York, and Mother Untitled is her lifestyle website for ambitious women making conscious choices to focus on family while finding ways to stay creative and connected.  Today, Neha reflects on remaining mindful during time spent with her son and friends, despite all the distractions.  It's an important conversation we'll be continuing in person, at tomorrow's Manhattan event with mindfulness expert Randi Zinn - you can register to join us here

When a dear friend yanked my phone out of my hand during a playdate at the beginning of the month, I was a little thrown.  Her rightful defense was I had disappeared into a black hole, my face apparently going blank, as I fixated on the screen.  I could quickly recall that my head had indeed gone down a rabbit hole after seeing one tiny picture during a quick check of the Instagram machine. I had felt instantly stressed about things completely unrelated to the present lovely moment as our boys played together.  Cut to as I fell asleep that night, feeling intensely guilty for invading on this time with Bodie and in our friendship.

I used to proudly never have my phone around me.  And I still don’t, not nearly enough as I should while equally proudly running a lifestyle site.  I am always apologizing for delay in e-mail or text and please don’t leave me a voicemail - I still have some from when my husband and I weren’t married.  Bodie doesn’t help the cause for my husband and mother who call each other when they can’t get in touch with me.  He isn’t a fan of anything that takes my attention from him (we’re working on it), device included. 

I consciously chose to focus this time on raising a little person but while I simultaneously find space for my creative work and relationships, when I can manage to sneak a “quick peek”, I get sucked in.  My brain quickly jumps from cute Instagram square to an internal monologue about how I could be moving faster and did I remember to get my nephew a present?  And then I’m as far away from my son as possible.

Phones are an incredible asset to modern mothers, I think.  The online and mobile spaces allow creativity, connectedness and communication so even if we choose to focus this time on family we have a bridge to the other parts of us.  But for me, if presence - emotionally and physically - is my intention as a mother then I have to solve for the intrusion.

It’s not possible to suggest that we put our phones away completely.  But my same friend who caught me in phone paralysis suggested I keep my phone in a separate space - a counter above Bodie’s line of vision or further still, my nightstand in the bedroom.  I can still check in on messages or e-mail every half hour or hour but keeping the device physically separate from Bodie’s and my shared space gives me the clarity of mind and sight so I can observe, relate and appreciate those moments with him.  It lets be more attune to his needs which leads to a calmer  toddler which results in a happier me.  Having to physically step away to engage on my mobile makes me more conscious that I’m away so I’m more apt to get done what I need and then step back as opposed to mindlessly scrolling or skimming triggering a tailspin of unfocused thought. 

Mindfulness has felt like an ethereal concept to me until this. This tension between motherhood and my other identities seems to have come full focus in this clash between physical presence and online connectedness. As with anything I imagine we all have a unique version of balance between the two, but for me, for now, shelving my mobile helps me see our world a bit more clearly and sleep a little bit better. 

Have you encountered a similar struggle? How do you manage your own screen time around your kids?