Could you parent like it's 1986?

Could you unplug and parent as if you lived in 1986? One family did, and it inspires another mom to make a list of what she would have to cut out to live a more connected, less plugged in, life.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP/FILE
Parents of a visiting school group to the State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., use their smart phones and tablets to photograph their children on the stairs by the rotunda, Friday, Feb. 7.

What was life like in 1986? Do you remember? Well, I don’t, because I hadn’t been born yet, but I got a glimpse of it in The Globe and Mail’s piece about a family who lived like it was 1986 for a month. 

Blair McMillan and his girlfriend, Morgan Patey (and their two kids), banished all modern technology from their home – including laptops, cellphones, and cable TV – as an experiment to see how their lives would change. Ms. Patey commented that without distracting modern technology, when they’re playing with the kids, “Nothing can take us away from the moment.”

Sounds absolutely wonderful. I wish I could do that too, but since I work from home as a writer and editor, I need to stay plugged in, on top of trends, and always send in my work each week. Unplugging for a whole month isn’t feasible right now. 

Plus, it would be really hard. I imagine the house would feel really quiet without Pandora music playing, my phone pinging with text messages, or cozying up to watch “Game of Thrones after the baby goes to bed. Besides, setting the baby up in front of a couple Elmo YouTube videos makes it much easier for me to switch the laundry in the basement real quick. 

Without technology, nothing would take me away from the present moment, which sounds so zen and peaceful, but it’s also rather daunting. Sometimes, the present moment isn’t all that pleasant, honestly, with the monotony of chores, disciplining my child, and not having anyone nearby to strike up a conversation with. 

That’s the thing about life before the digital age – weren’t people lonely without all the connection the Internet and cellphones provide?

More likely, people were less lonely. They stopped by to see each other on Sunday afternoons or even popped by for dinner on a weeknight. Most knew the names of their neighbors and what ages their kids were. Kids played in the street and in each other’s yards, not online video games with some random kid they didn’t actually know. People had time to stretch out the phone cord and chat for a good hour with a relative who lived far away.

It sounds lovely. It sounds connected.

That’s the contradiction of all this technology. It promises at-your-fingertips information, hundreds of Facebook friends (only 1 percent of whom you ever actually talk to), and the siren call of 24/7 notifications streaming in – and it means we rarely actually connect with each other.  

Sure, we connect with our cellphones – waiting in the grocery line, making dinner, even while brushing our teeth – but what is the point of all this if we’re losing our relationships with each other? I’ve already noticed that my 1-year-old daughter has started competing for my attention when I do a quick e-mail check as she plays beside me. It's awful. What is the point of all this technology if it takes us away from the most important moments of our lives, in this case being 100 percent present while playing with my daughter?

These days, I keep trying to make plans to meet up with friends and family members, but they almost always fall through. Most of us just don’t make face-to-face interaction a priority anymore. Yet almost everyone posts to Facebook every day. 

Completely unplugging isn’t realistic, but I could take some steps in that direction. One is keeping my phone away from my bedside table, so I won’t be able to look at it right before going to sleep or right when I wake up. Cuddling with my husband and daughter will take precedence, as it should be. 

I'm often tempted to turn a TV show on the iPad while I'm having breakfast or lunch with my daughter. It feels as if it's filling a void, since we can't really have a conversation yet. But leaving it off is important for her development – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV time before age 2 because kids learn best interacting with other people, not screens. 

She can learn valuable social skills by just sitting quietly with me. I can make conversation on my end, and I bet pretty soon she'll be able to chortle back some replies. It's a little awkward – all that silence – but it's my duty as a mom to look out for what's best for her, not what's most pleasant for me.

Cutting down on evening TV time could also bring us closer. We can take more walks to the park, play more games, even sit together and read instead.

Maybe we could even figure out a way to meet our neighbors! Now wouldn’t that be good old-fashioned fun? 

Another area where I’ll disconnect from technology is when I’m putting my baby to sleep. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I often put on some classical music, rock her, nurse her, and scroll through my e-mails or Facebook feed on my phone. 

What’s wrong with a little silence as my baby drifts off? It’s always so tempting to fill the time and be endlessly entertained. But I’m realizing that entertainment comes at the cost of real, genuine connection.

I know I’ll look back at these moments and wish I could rock her to sleep one more time, but she’ll be too grown-up for that soon. I need to cherish this time and be present, as against the grain as that feels sometimes.

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