Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s boggling you.
This week… what do you do when your spouse or partner is obsessed with scrolling through their phone and isn’t fully present for you or your kids? How can you constructively tell them they’re missing out on life in favor of YouTube videos and social media? Have your own question? Email email@example.com
Dear Scary Mommy,
My husband comes home from work every day, gets changed, greets the kids, and then he spends most of the evening on his phone. He has it next to him at the dinner table. He brings it to the bathroom. He scrolls through it before he goes to bed. The limited time he has daily with the kids is spent with the kids trying to get his attention because he’s always looking at his phone.
I work too, and I understand having emails to tend to, but this is ridiculous. He also wears headphones, so I find myself screaming to get his attention because he never hears me. How in the hell do I get him to understand how damaging this is to our family? Am I being dramatic? It’s also hard to impose screentime with the kids when their father is literally constantly on the phone. I fantasize about throwing it against our brick walls. HELP.
First things first: please know that you are not alone. I’m starting to get a twitch every time I see my husband’s phone. We have every excuse in the world to have our phones on us at all times; we use them to pay bills, stay connected to the outside world, bond with our BFFs, and judge our acquaintances. As parents, we’re also using our phones to document (way too much) of our kid’s lives. We all have a phone addiction. But there has to be some boundaries — especially if you’re feeling totally neglected.
If your husband’s phone habits are, as you say, affecting his relationship with your children and yourself — things absolutely must change. Feeling engaged with the outside world and current events is one thing, doing that at the expense of connecting to your own family is unacceptable. Simply put, he’s gotta put down the f*cking phone. PERIOD.
Your frustration is completely valid. I don’t want you to end up running over any electronics with your car or smashing the phone into smithereens (yet), so let’s try attacking this issue constructively. Put the kids to bed, pour yourself a glass of wine, and sit his a*s down for a discussion about this. A full eye contact, active listening, phone-out-of-sight, “come to Jesus” kind of talk. Tell him his phone use (especially while wearing headphones, dear LORD) makes you feel disconnected from him, and that you feel a.) he’s missing out on precious moments with his own children, and b.) trying to regulate their own screentime feels like a “do as I say, not as I do” situation.
Also, electronics for the children at a restaurant? Necessary for survival. Electronics for dad at the family dinner table? Absolutely not.
Our relationships with our kids are directly responsible for their social and emotional health, resilience, and life success. According to a study performed by Dr. Jenny Radesky, in the long run, parent technology use during parent-child activities leads to more difficult child behavior. Which then, more often than not, leads parents to escape that behavior by — you guessed it — distracting themselves with their phones. It’s a vicious cycle and it sucks! Luckily, it is extremely preventable.
Now comes the work. Come up with solutions that you both adhere to. When he comes home, you both put your phones in a drawer or in another room altogether — the volume can remain on, in case you’re worried about emergency calls. But the distraction has been removed, literally, from the room. If either of you feels it’s necessary to respond to work-related issues while at home in the evenings, you can make it a point to check your phone every hour or so IF NECESSARY. But do try to leave work issues for work hours, if you’re able to. Being part of our current hyper-connected, always “on” society makes it difficult to create boundaries for sure, but as an old supervisor of mine once said, “We’re not curing cancer here. You can wait to hear from me until 8 a.m.”
Additionally, try making it a “parent rule” that you’re only on your phones when the kids are in bed. Or, at the very least, busy doing other things that will not require your direct supervision or attention (hey, sometimes kids just want to play by themselves — and that’s a good thing!). No one is asking him to disconnect completely, but making strides to be present with his family is the priority here — full stop.
If he needs something to read on the john, he can grab a book or a magazine. Or go old school, and read the ingredients on the back of a shampoo bottle (if you know, you know). Both you and he will be amazed at how much faster those bathroom breaks go once the phone is out of the equation.
As parents, we have to be deliberate and intentional in everything we do when setting an example for our children. It will take a conscious effort on your husband’s part to leave the phone far away from the dinner table and be more hands-on in the evenings. Bottom line: he can get in his “phone zone” on his own time, not your family’s.
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