Parents

It’s true, moms: Tech can spell salvation

Plenty of moms out there may not think of themselves as extraordinarily tech-savvy (I know I sure don’t!). But let’s face it: If you’re reading this column online, technology is probably affecting your daily life — and your mothering — in more ways than you may realize.

Since the arrival of our baby boy last year, I’ve often caught myself feeling that all the technology in my life is a big, fat burden. To name just a few frustrations: How in the heck am I supposed to keep up with e-mail and phone messages in a semi-polite way, organize the hundreds of baby photos I’ve taken and then actually send any of those photos along to the friends and family members who want to see them? I’m too busy feeding, changing and playing with a certain squirmy bundle of endless energy!

I talked to some of the smartest and most tech-savvy women I know and asked them for advice. They assured me that it’s possible to tap into all things techie to make life as a mom at least a little bit easier. Here are their suggestions, along with some of my own:

1. Use the right phone. Several friends have raved to me about how much easier life became for them after they bit the bullet and invested in an iPhone or some other kind of smart phone. The sanity-saving benefits they cited are legion. With one of these phones, you can:

  • Check e-mail quickly and easily in a pinch without having to haul out the laptop or wait for naptime;
  • Use the map function to find the correct locations of play dates and parties;
  • Go online in a matter of seconds to determine when museums, library branches and stores actually open;
  • Take photos of cute moments when you’re out and about;
  • Answer the never-ending barrage of kids’ questions — “What does the space shuttle look like?” “What’s a trapeze artist?” — by going online and finding an appropriate Web page or video clip;
  • In moments of desperation — particularly moments when you’re trapped with other people on an airplane or at the doctor’s office — bring tantrums and meltdowns to a screeching halt by launching a fun kids’ video or playing some favorite kids’ music.

“Also, there are some amusing little iPhone applications that (my son) likes to play with,” said my friend and fellow msnbc.com contributor Winda Benedetti. “There’s one where he presses different pictures to hear sounds — a cow mooing, a dog barking, etc. — and there’s an application that allows him to draw pictures on the screen with his finger.” Hallelujah!

2. Keep those hands free. Even though I’ve become shockingly adept at doing almost every imaginable task around my house with one hand, I still find simple telephone conversations to be a challenge to pull off when my little boy Tyler is awake. One solution I’ve found is to use our land line’s speaker-phone function ALL THE TIME. I just put the phone down on a nearby table or countertop — out of Tyler’s reach — and then I speak up as loudly as I can without sounding like I’m yelling. Another option some of my friends have hit upon is the use of a Bluetooth hands-free headset. Even if you feel self-conscious about wearing that earpiece, it might be worth it to take the plunge for the sake of convenience.

3. Spend less time organizing ALL those photos. I swear to you, I think I’ve taken between 200 and 350 digital photos a month ever since Tyler came along. I can’t help it! There are so many amazing moments to capture! Sadly, far too many of these images just sit there on my camera for weeks if not months at a time because I don’t have the time or energy to plug in that little USB cable and organize them into folders that make some kind of sense. And after I finally transfer the images to my computer, it can take me several weeks more to get around to uploading them to KodakGallery.com, the site I happen to use for sharing photos and ordering prints. That’s why I was more than a little intrigued when one of my friends told me about Eye-Fi, a camera memory card that automatically downloads pictures to your computer if you have a Wi-Fi connection at home. Even if your computer is turned off, your photos and video clips can still be uploaded to your computer as well as to any photo-sharing site, such as Flickr, Picasa, KodakGallery and others, that you specify. In a word: Wow!

4. Devise a system for making and sharing cute videos. I’ve heard glowing reviews of the tiny and convenient Flip camera for taking videos. In my own experience, though, I’ve found that I can easily capture short-but-memorable video clips with my trusty Canon digital camera. I’ve been doing this for months now, and I try to keep the video clips to a maximum of one minute in length. Then I make my husband upload the videos to a Flickr site that we’ve made accessible only to friends and family we trust. (YouTube also can be great, but it makes me nervous because I’m sure I’ll flub up the privacy settings somehow and share too much of my personal life with the whole world!)

5. Back up your memories before your hard drive crashes. I can make myself nauseous thinking about how painful it would be if all of the photos and video clips I’ve saved onto my computer were to disappear. And that certainly could happen. All computer hard drives eventually die — and then it can be difficult if not impossible to retrieve your precious stuff from hard-drive heaven. This is why I’m now determined to spend $50 to $60 a year on an encrypted online backup system. (I’ve decided to go this route because I’ve been talking about buying an external hard drive for two years now, but I have yet to do it.) Some of the online backup services out there include Carbonite, Mozy.com, iBackup.com and Iron Mountain. That $50 or so is worth it to me for the peace-of-mind factor.

6. Organize your home and your life. Feeling overwhelmed much of the time? Well, one of my good buddies turned me on to FlyLady.net, a funny — and oddly calming — site that helps women wrest control of the chaos of their cluttered homes and lives. The site can connect you to encouraging and supportive tips via e-mail about how to get organized little by little, bit by bit. The FlyLady, Marla Cilley of North Carolina, shares secrets of de-cluttering your home in as little as 15 minutes a day and of celebrating what you did accomplish in a given day, rather than beating yourself up for all the things you think you didn’t accomplish. Hooray!

7. Control TV viewing — and keep it commercial-free. With the use of TiVo or some other kind of digital video recorder (DVR), you can make sure you have shows at the ready that meet with your approval. As one of my friends pointed out to me, “We don’t let [our older son] watch very much TV, but when he does we want it to be educational. So, with the DVR, ‘Sesame Street’ is always available, and I never feel like I have to compromise my standards.” Another bonus from using a DVR system: You can record the shows you want to watch at night after the kids are sleeping, and then you can save time when you watch them by zipping through all the commercials. Yay!

8. Use the Web to stay safe. Most parents out there use at least some hand-me-down gear to save money — and in many cases, they should! After all, so much of this baby stuff gets used for mere seconds before its usefulness subsides. The Web site of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a fantastic searchable database for recalled kids’ products, as well as detailed lists of recalled baby and kid gear and toys. This can give you peace of mind about whether or not that hand-me-down is safe. The site also offers an auto alert system to let you know about recalls right away. Another step you can take is to register with the manufacturer of that hand-me-down gear in case there’s a recall in the future.

9. If you possibly can, get a video baby monitor. Don’t get me wrong — audio monitors can be great. But if a grandparent or another close loved one wants to give you an extra-special baby present, ask for a video monitor! I zeroed in on this monitor by Summer because it got so many fabulous consumer reviews on Amazon.com, and my brother got it for us after Tyler became big enough to sleep through the night in his own room. It’s hard for me to estimate how many precious hours of sleep this single device may have saved me. Whenever I hear Tyler stirring in the night, I can grab the monitor from my nightstand and watch what he’s doing without getting out of bed and/or barging into his room. In mere seconds, I can tell whether he’s going to be able to work out his issues on his own, or whether he really does need me to intervene and help him out.

10. Do research and get advice from other moms online. Chances are you’re doing plenty of this already. I know I obsessively began doing my own online research the moment I learned I was pregnant — and that hunger for information hasn’t dissipated much in the months that followed. One of my favorite sites continues to be the Parenting and Pregnancy section of WebMD. You also can find good input from other parents via Yahoo! parenting groups and iVillage. And, of course, another handy way to stay in touch with other moms who are friends of yours is Facebook. This is truly awful, but Facebook is turning out to be the ultimate time-saver for me because it’s letting me keep up with people without even having to talk OR write to them. (GASP!)

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