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Tethered to Technology: The Blessing and Curse of the Working Mom

Wendy Sachs
Feb. 9, 2011

At least once a day someone comments on my multiple electronic devices when they catch me double fisting a BlackBerry and iPhone with my Mac Book slung over my shoulder.  Welcome to my personal technological tsunami.   I confess - my high-tech dependence is unhealthy.   Each time I dive into my deep purse to fetch my BlackBerry and can't immediately locate it among the morass of keys, squished Skittles, lip gloss, or melting crayons, I start to sweat. 

But last week, when I left my laptop in a popular café in New York City, I was on the brink of a panic attack.  

"My life is on my laptop," I shouted at the barista, tears welling, and expecting the worst.  The laptop was located but I was shaken. 

As a working mom I've divided and loaded my personal and professional lives onto all three of my tech gadgets and without them, well, I simply couldn't function.  I simultaneously adore and curse my technology.

As the New York Times reminded us this week in its article, "Who's the Boss, You or Your Gadget?" working moms are fiercely dependent on all means of staying connected, everywhere, all of the time.  Our BlackBerries and cell phones are our umbilical cords, not only to our careers, but to our children.  We can email the office while getting a strep test for our four year old.  We can video Skype and read bedtime stories when we are half a world away. 

With 22 percent of 6-9 year olds and 60 percent of 10-14 year olds owning their own phones today according to C&E Research, texting our kids is the modern way to keep in touch.  But it doesn't end with them.  Nannies often prefer to text rather than to talk to moms during the work day.  And this can be a good thing.  It's surprisingly efficient and discreet, particularly in the middle of a meeting.  

My nanny, Peggy, and I speak in person each night.  But during the day, she's an uber texter.  In the past week, I received more than a dozen snappy text messages from Peggy that covered everything from housekeeping and homework to my daughter's agility doing the butterfly stroke.  The banter ranges from utilitarian to insightful.

"Is the cleaning lady coming today or can I make beds?"

"OMG he is doing so great at lacrosse today.  He is catching the ball and making awesome throws. Go Jonah!"

"When u get home u need u to look at Jonah's homework. The questions are very vague."

"Ok, so next Friday Lexi has a playdate with Natasha just a heads up.  That way we don't double book."

"Lexi is one of the fastest at butterfly. She is really good."

As working moms look to create more flexible work arrangements, technology is the key to doing it all - or at least appearing to be able to do it all.   Moms are multi-tasking from the labor and delivery room to the boardroom.   Our little portable devices allow us to slip out to a school event or kid activity and keep up with our clients or colleagues virtually uninterrupted.     

Technology has transformed the workplace.   But all of this tethering to gadgetry also means that our attention is divided.  It can feel hard, if not impossible, to fully engage in the moment with our children if we're checking our email in the middle of a spring school concert.  And our kids know when we are not listening.   

"Put your BlackBerry down, I'm talking to you," my 7-year-old daughter recently shrieked at me.

Her message was loud and clear.  Although I was standing in the kitchen with her, I wasn't really present. 

The boundaries between work and life have become so blurred that it's almost impossible to get off the grid - ever.  I am now trying to take technology time-outs on the weekends and in the evenings by hiding my devices so I'm not tempted to sneak a peek.  Most email can wait.  But I only have a small window with my daughter from the time I come home from work until she goes to bed and she deserves to have my attention - fully and undivided.

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