It's a Tuesday night and my daughter is colouring at her table. I join her, but then I mindlessly start checking my phone — as I often do. There's always something that I need to see, right? I haven't checked my email in 10 minutes, or I just remembered something I need to buy from Amazon right this second, or maybe I missed a video of my nephew on Instagram today. I put my phone down after a minute or two and scold myself internally. I know that nothing on my phone is more important than the precious few hours I get to spend with my daughter every day, and I know that smartphones can harm your relationship with your children. I decide I need an intervention, or something that will force me to stop checking my phone mindlessly and constantly. So I go to my iPhone settings, navigate to the "Do Not Disturb" option, and set a schedule for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Perfect: for those two hours of the day when I'm home from work and my daughter is awake, I will give her 100 percent of my attention. Right?
Things started off strong. I felt freedom in my "Do Not Disturb" mode. It was permission to myself to shut off completely from the outside world and truly be present with my daughter. Then I realised I was missing FaceTime calls from her aunt and cousin. And I checked my phone constantly to see if my husband had texted with an update on what time he'd be home from work. I checked the settings again and made sure that my Favourite contacts would be able to call me while I was in "Do Not Disturb" mode. Perfect. But there were no options to allow texts or FaceTime, and, let's be honest, who actually calls people these days? After a few weeks, I realised I was now obsessively checking my phone, worried that I might miss something important if I didn't. "Do Not Disturb" had totally backfired.
Last week, I turned off "Do Not Disturb" mode for good. I've given myself permission to check my phone if I need to, but I'm doing it much less than before this experiment. And you know what new hack is actually making me a more present parent? Just setting my phone down on the counter when I get home — ringer on — and leaving it there. Sometimes you just gotta go back to basics.