Technology: Helping or Hindering Parenthood?

I ponder this question all the time: is technology to blame for my stress as a working mom? Or am I to blame for not setting firmer boundaries?

Here’s my confession: I haven’t been off the grid in three full years, though I remember it fondly. Let me reminisce.

It was the summer of 2011, and my adventurous husband, two girlies, and I packed our Honda Element to the brim and drove some 700 miles north to Acadia National Park in Maine. We pitched a six-person tent in a secluded spot near the eastern shore of Mount Desert Island — and spent a week traipsing the trails of Cadillac Mountain, riding bikes along Rockefeller’s historic paths, sunning on Sand Beach, and listening to the ocean roar as it crashed into rocks at Thunder Hole.

I read an entire book in our downtime (the parents among us will be impressed) — and ate many carryout lobsters by the light of the moon.

I worked at the time for the communications office of an urban school district under reform — a position involving intense hours spent drafting, revising, and uploading endless copy to the district’s many websites (not to mention a boss who expected 24-7 connectivity).

My break from technology was overdue. It was also hugely beneficial, enabling the muscle tension and headaches I experienced daily to drift away. 

Looking back on this experience (and I’m serious when I say this, however preposterous it sounds), I sometimes wonder if I’m built more for a hunter-gatherer society than our modern world. I thrive in nature and love moving around. If I lived 50,000 years ago, I might not have dark chocolate, craft beer, and Gruyere cheese at my fingertips. And I might face occasional tribal warfare. But I would, at least, enjoy the peace of mind that nature brings.

[Side note: While we’re on the topic of hunters and gatherers, I should add that I would also benefit from the “collective childcare” aspect of their society, meaning that everyone would help raise my kiddos, without charging $15 an hour. Pretty nice perk.]

But back to the topic at hand. My take on technology is this: the laptops, notepads, and smartphones that bring flexibility to my work life also keep me chained to my desk, sometimes late into the night. These tools might make it possible for me to “work” from a beach vacation (as planned next week), but they also cause me to miss out on bodysurfing waves for hours on end (I’m from a family of respected bodysurfers), lounging with my family on the beach, and cooking dinner at leisure with my husband (he’s the best cook in our family). 

What really happens looks more like this: bodysurf two waves, build a sandcastle with the girls so I can at least say I did something with them, run back to the beach house to fire off work emails while simultaneously prepping dinner, jump on a conference call to put out a minor crisis brewing, gather whatever pre-dinner snacks I can find, rush back to the beach, dole out the snacks, and join the fam in a game of paddleball — all while feigning the look of a calm, collected, got-it-together mom. Sound familiar? 

As I head into summer with my own family and figure out how to juggle work and kids, I’m curious to know: how does technology affect parenthood in your house? Do you ever totally remove yourself from the grid, or does your career make it impossible? What strategies help?