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Leslie Bruce
Contributing Writer

Here’s What Happened When an Instagram Mom Decided to Unplug

One mom tracked how much time she was spending on social media—and was horrified at the result. Here’s what she discovered when she finally broke the habit.

It becomes instinctive. My fingers begin the movements before I even realize what’s happening. I navigate my way toward the Instagram icon, my brain seemingly on autopilot. I begin scrolling through the photos, one after the other, not even fully absorbing what’s in front of me.

I think for many people, the consumption of social media is now just a part of their daily routine. And since I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon, we’re going to have to learn to live with it—for better or for worse.

Personally, I have a love/loathe relationship with social media, particularly Instagram. For me, it’s as much about business as it is pleasure. It’s an amazing way to connect with friends, find inspiration and resources and learn more about the world. I’m also fortunate to be able to use it for my work. I created a parenting platform that’s all about supporting women as they become moms, and Instagram is my driving vehicle. And as wildly beneficial as it can be, it’s also a huge pain in the butt.

Consistency is huge for anyone using social media for business, which means unplugging isn’t something I’m really allowed to do (or at least not without the risk of alienating the following I’ve worked so hard to cultivate). In the past two and half years, the longest I’ve gone without posting or engaging is one week. That feels insane to me.

But if I’m being honest, I’m not only on Instagram for work. It’s pretty habit-forming and often feels like an opportunity to escape. When it’s 5 p.m. and I’m sitting alongside the bathtub while my daughter plays “water rescue” with her My Little Pony dolls, scrolling through the lives of other people is a great way to pass the time. Okay, sure, I should make more of an effort to be “present” with my daughter, but by that time of day, I’m just doing what I can to hold myself together—and sometimes looking at photos of my friend’s acai bowls is exactly what I need.

But two months ago, I hit a breaking point and realized that something in my routine needed to change. Most days, I barely managed to get everything done that needed to get done, and I began to collapse under my mounting responsibilities. I could feel myself become more and more anxious, which wasn’t healthy for me or my family. Between planning for a crazy holiday season and trying to manage my two kids while still working full time, something had to give.

Thanks to that new “screen time” feature on iPhones, I was able to track the amount of time I was spending on social media, and it was actually embarrassing. I was on Instagram alone for roughly seven hours a week. SEVEN HOURS! For someone who often complains about not having enough time, I was sure as hell making time for The ‘Gram.

At first, I felt robbed. I felt ashamed that my kids watched me sitting on the phone that much. I began to imagine all the things I could accomplish if I had one extra hour every day. I could get in front of meal prep, run an extra errand, go to a workout class, take my daughter to the beach or finally write the thank you notes from three months ago!

That’s when I decided mama needed to UNPLUG. I knew because of my business I couldn’t completely go lights out on social media, but I also knew I was capable of pulling it waaaaaay back.

Instead of waking up each day and going straight to my phone, I focused on getting myself and my kids ready for the day ahead. Whenever it wasn’t necessary to have in hand, I made it a point to keep my phone plugged in to charge or tucked away in my purse. For the first few days, I felt like someone had chopped my arm off. I would instinctively go to look for it before I remembered it wasn’t there. On one of the first nights, I was sitting on the couch with my husband while he watched a basketball game and I remember thinking, “well, what the hell am I supposed to do now?”

But by the end of the first week, I became accustomed to not checking my phone every 30 minutes, and even started to feel less anxiety about…well, everything. When I wasn’t constantly zoning in and out of social media reality, I could actually focus on getting more done, which meant I was able to find more free time for my family and myself. I had all our holiday presents wrapped a week before Christmas, and I spent time making three different types of holiday cookies with my daughter (apparently Santa only likes Ginger Snaps). I was also able to squeeze in a few extra yoga classes and even got to catch up with my friends for coffees, lunches and walks. And at night, when my husband and I sat on the couch to watch whatever game was on, instead of zoning out with my phone, I picked up a book. Not on a kindle or iPad. I picked up a book with actual pages to turn. In the 11 months prior, I had successfully read two books. Last month, I read three.

Our connection to our phones and social media is something we’re all just going to have to adjust to. As with anything in life, social media has its pros and cons, and our relationship to it should be healthy and balanced. Which, for many of us, might mean reestablishing our social media habits. After all, it’s a new year and a perfect time to hit the refresh button on our lives—instead of the one on Instagram.

Leslie Bruce is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning entertainment journalist. She launched her parenting platform Unpacified as a place for like-minded women to come together on relatable ground, no matter how shaky, to discuss motherhood through an unfiltered, judgment-free lens of honesty and humor. Her motto is: ‘Being a mom is everything, but it’s not all there is.’ Leslie lives in Laguna Beach, California with her husband, Yashaar, their 3-year-old daughter, Tallulah, and newborn son Roman.

Published January 2019

Photo: Danielle Vega