Being Mama: Author Sophie Brickman

Sophie Brickman conducted more than 200 interviews in her quest to discover the impact of technology on modern-day parenting. She discusses takeaways from her groundbreaking book, Baby Unplugged, how she managed to complete it while pregnant with her second child, and why her own mother is her go-to person when it comes to parenting advice.

Feat_Being Mama Sophie Brickman

Sophie Brickman, an award-winning reporter, editor and author of the newly released book, Baby, Unplugged: One Mother’s Search for Balance, Reason, and Sanity in the Digital Age, is also a busy mama to three young children: Ella, Charlotte and Jules. Sophie shares insights gleaned while researching her book, along with her personal journey as a new parent navigating the overwhelming and often contradictory world of technology, e-commerce, and social media.


If you were to share a piece of advice for new parents, what would rise to the top of your list with regards to facing the ever-changing world of technology and parenting?


I’ll share two things: One is that you know your kid better than Silicon Valley does. Tech companies will tell you that you need a lot of things to enrich your child and while some of them may work for you, trust yourself and the fact that you know your kid better. You know what makes them happy and what they should be doing with their days. 


The other piece of advice is something my friend told me. She said, “Just pick a rabbi.” In other words, pick one person or a couple people and have them be the ones you go to for advice. The minute you seek advice on the internet, you will be bombarded with so much information. Some of it’s correct and some of it’s helpful, but a lot of it conflicts. 


How did you manage to juggle pregnancy and parenting while writing this book?


This was a topic that was incredibly close to my heart, something that I wanted to get the answers for myself. When I was researching, I was really in the thick of all this stuff. It was very, very present for me — all the monitoring and the nursing stuff, things that are incredibly important in the first months of your child’s life. So I just made it work. I wrote it in the early morning before the girls woke up. I caught an hour or two here or there. You know, one step at a time.


How old are your children now? 

Ella is five-and-a-half, Charlotte is two-and-a-half and Jules is four months.


Baby, Unplugged is chock-filled with an impressive array of interviews and research. How did you decide who to interview and where to conduct research for your book?

Once you start reading books and looking through the various resources, it becomes pretty clear who the top people in the field are. I made a crazy spreadsheet of all these people and probably interviewed over 200 for the book. Of course not all those interviews got in; a lot ended up on the cutting room floor, but that’s part of the process. 


How has your perspective changed since embarking on a deep dive into the impact of technology on Millennial parents?

The subtitle of this book was initially going to be something about trusting your gut. I think after doing the research I can now trust myself a lot more because I’ve turned to the experts to get that validation, to understand from a scientific perspective where technology can help and where it really just adds anxiety or unnecessary extra into your life. 


Rather than going to “the store,” as your mother calls it, parents are doing much of their shopping online. What are your thoughts about the endless hours spent scouring e-commerce sites for baby products?

I think parents are a particularly vulnerable population because we do need things. You need a place for the baby to sleep. You need diapers. You do need more gadgets than at other parts of your life. It’s also a time when we’re anxiety-prone and under a lot of stress. So marketers have us by the throats. But again, it’s about drawing a personal limit. 


I would not give up e-commerce for anything because it’s very efficient. I now have two kids in diapers and it’s like they change the sizes they need every two weeks. In my book I talk a little bit about maximizers and satisficers, two terms I didn’t know before I started researching. Basically satisficers are people who say, “This is good enough,” and they just make a decision. Maximizers want everything to be perfect.


I think the big takeaway is that the satisficers are much more balanced, steady and happy. So if you can take out of your life the need to get the absolute best thing for your kid, you will likely be more happy at the end of the day.


I love Dr. Barry Zuckerman’s quote, “If I was going to approach some cutting-edge tech people and say, Create an app that is going to stimulate a young child’s cognitive development, fine motor skills, and emotional development, they’d make me a book.” What can you recommend to new parents about instilling the love of reading?

Reading books with your kids is really one of the most important and enjoyable things you can do with them. There are a number of reasons why reading with your kids is so important. One of them is simply the shared time you have with them. It’s very hard to hurry through, right? You can’t speed read Goodnight Moon. Your kid is just not going to pay attention.


Reading forces you to slow down and be present with your child. Because you’re both engaged in the same thing, you can both talk about it, and that’s really where a lot of the learning happens. Plus it’s so much fun.


Right now my two-year-old approaches books way differently than my five-year-old, who is starting to read. And when you start watching that happen, it truly feels like magic. I hope that one thing parents take away from my book is that they should cuddle and read with their kids a little bit every day. 


Having a husband who is tech-minded, do you still feel pressure to continue to welcome the latest gadgets into your home? 

Part of the reason I wrote this book was when I started looking for literature about technology and kids I found myself in the middle of two extremes. In one camp were people who really believed in the power of technology and the inevitability of it, and in the other were those who believed technology is so horrible you need to live off the grid and let your kids run wild outside. And I was like, “I live on West 67th St. I can’t do that!” So I wanted to figure out best practices for living and being engaged in the modern world as a modern parent. So now I can more thoughtfully give my kids technology but no, I don’t feel pressure to accept the latest gadgets into the house.


You’re so lucky to have your parents nearby. How has their presence impacted your parenting?

I had no idea how incredible it would be when Ella was born, just having the support of my mom and dad for practical things, and also for emotional things. I feel incredibly lucky that I’m able to do it because most of my friends who live in the city have parents far away. They rely a lot on FaceTime, which is a very good thing technology has brought us.


My mom is very, very firm in her convictions about basically everything. It’s helpful for me to have somebody who just tells it to me straight. When it comes to parenting stuff it is very helpful to have somebody on the other end who can just say, “That’s ridiculous!” or “Don’t be crazy. You don’t need to do X, Y or Z.” 


I became closer with my mother after I had my baby because I realized what my parents went through, and it’s helpful to have somebody who has that perspective. I think having someone who’s done it before, who is clearly as obsessed with your kid as you are, is very helpful.


It’s also important to point out that I had this notion that everything was so much simpler for my parents’ generation, since they didn’t have [computer] technology. But every generation has its own form of parenting and uncertainty. It just changes; the flavor changes a little bit. 


At the end of your book you circle back to the importance of open-ended play and the inherent value of spending time together. What sorts of activities do your kids especially enjoy? 


My daughters are playing together these days, which has been a joy to watch. We build lots and lots of blocks. My older daughter is into puzzles. There’s a lot of art, tons of drawing and pretend play. They also like to put on shows. 


My younger daughter is absolutely obsessed with the older one and will do anything that she says. So it’s a lot like being a magician’s assistant. 


As a parent of young children, you are the target audience for your book. What would you tell your pre-book self now that you’ve amassed this abundance of research?


To try to find your gut and trust it, but not feel like you need to have this firmly rooted maternal instinct. When I got pregnant for the first time, part of me felt like I would just know what to do, and that did not happen. I guess the overarching message is that we’re all doing the best we can.