On Mothering and Social Media

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When I hear folks complaining about smart phones, Facebook, and other social media platforms, I roll my eyes. When I hear folks complain about MOMS on social media, I start to get twitchy. Now I’m going to get downright rant-y.

Dear readers, this is a post that has been brewing for almost two years. Today, for some reason, I decided it was time to let my social-media loving freak flag fly.

First I’m going to tell you when the seed of this post was sown. It was April of 2014. I had this friend on Facebook who was an “in real life” friend of a friend. We met at a mutual friend’s wedding and hit it off. This Facebook friend, I’ll call her Stacy, was super cool. Tattoos, liberal politics, hippie dippie, super feminist and lived in California. Stacy did not have kids. We were never close, but we did comment regularly on each others photos and chat periodically.

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On this sunny April day, I posted what seemed like a tame mom comment. Persy kept me up most of the night, work was a booger, and Atticus was having a meltdown. I think my post was one of hoping for a good night’s rest. Stacy commented, “why don’t you sleep train your kids?” I replied back, “nah, they’ll grow up soon enough.” Then Stacy said, “then why don’t you quit complaining about your kids all the time.”

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Whoa.

My heart sunk down into the pit of my stomach. I was horrified. Do people think I don’t love my kids? Do I sound ungrateful? I scrolled through several month’s worth of Facebook posts. The only other post that could be perceived as slightly negative – and I post quite a bit – was about three months before this incident and was tangentially related to over-dramatic teens. I messaged Stacy back something about criticizing moms being completely un-feminist and after a few angry messages we were no longer friends of any sort.

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For some reason women have a free pass to admit that sometimes marriage, work, marathons, macaron making, etc… is difficult, but throw in that you’re having a tough time as a parent and suddenly the haters appear. There is this, “you chose to have kids so suck it up” mentality that I don’t understand. Parenting is difficult and part of that difficulty is in finding social support.

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I started thinking about how social media has helped me become a better parent. YES. YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY. I am a better mom because of Facebook and other social media platforms. Let me share just a few examples:

  • I’ve arranged play dates and parties with ease on my lunch break or while the kids are brushing their teeth.
  • I received most of my breastfeeding support from other moms on social media and figured out Atticus’s dairy intolerance thanks to parents sharing their stories.
  • When the kids had Hand-Foot-Mouth disease the doctors didn’t know what it was (it manifested differently because of several new strains of the disease) but another mama on Facebook recognized what was happening and filled me in.
  • Sometimes documenting a messy house, or posting a “why my child is crying” funny rant, or bemoaning a lack of sleep produces a chorus of other moms saying, “yes, me too” and I don’t feel quite so alone. It gives me space to breathe, pause, and look at the situation differently.
  • On maternity leave, or during marathon nursing sessions, or at home with sick kids I’m still able to stay current with on library trends, talk books with my friends, and stay SANE because I am having grown-up talk with grown-ups.
  • When my depression started worsening, my “in real life” and “social media” friends came to my rescue via social media. I had messages of encouragement daily. It lifted my spirits to know that so many people cared. I also was able to arrange for help with the kids and meals.
  • I cannot stress how valuable social media is in parenting a teen. Hope and I snapchatted about grades and school this past weekend. We send each other encouragement. There are ridiculous selfies when we hang out. It brings us closer.
  • I read the news instead of watching the news live. This means I can know about all the terrible things happening in the world without having to explain “mass shooting” to my two-year-old.
  • There are times when I simply need to de-stress. I may be looking up cookie recipes on Pinterest, ordering ballet shoes for my son, or simply reading celebrity gossip. Those ten minutes, usually while I’m sitting on the toilet, helps me to return to my kids with a slightly better grip on reality. I’ve had a break and I’m better because of it.

There are countless other examples of how I’ve fashioned social media into a support network.

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If you think about it from a historical standpoint this makes sense. In the 80’s lots of moms worked, but we lived in a small town filled with farms. My mom had several mothers in our neighborhood who were SAHMs and there were visits, phone calls, and emergency babysitting situations. Those women chatted, consulted, and helped one another. She had a readily accessible “in real life” mama tribe. I have my mama tribe, but most of us work outside the home or live many miles away from one another. We get the same level of support, but with more “online” as opposed to “on-ground” support.

Speaking of the 80’s, I believe many of us are looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. I think it is funny how we’ve managed to forget the ways our parents tuned us out at times. Did no one else have a mom with a super long phone cord who had HOURS long conversations with Grandma on Sundays? Am I the only one who really got tired of my dad watching the news at night while we were expected to ignore the awful stories and only bother him during commercials? Seriously, no one has parents who read the newspaper over coffee on the weekend? We all grew up with our parents staring at us 24/7 and anticipating meeting our every need while in a social vacuum with no community support?

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With social media I have my mama tribe readily available , I can connect with friends without hushing the kids, I’m aware of the news, and I get a break. All of this while still hanging out with my children who are fed, clothed, and loved.

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Now there is a catch. My social media consumption and communication has to be balanced. There are times when it is simply not okay to be posting on Facebook or re-tweeting articles. Driving the car, bathing the kids, crossing the street, when my child or spouse is trying to communicate with me in real life, etc…. I also try to set an example for my kids and not get out my phone during events or at the dinner table (after I Instagram my food, of course). I want my children to know that I am more than a pair of eyes staring at a phone. They see me read, knit, and do any number of activities besides interacting with technology. As my children grow older I listen to their requests regarding posting pictures and talking about them on social media. There are boundaries.

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When folks decide to play the critic and pick apart what I post and when and why, it isn’t helping anyone. You don’t know about the conversations my husband and I have about what we share and don’t share on social media. You may think I’m ignoring my kids while they play on the playground, but you don’t know that I’m snapchatting my teen through a tough break-up. When I post a witty comment about tantrums you aren’t there to see how I hold my sensory sensitive son while he screams and thrashes and you may not realize that that little post is how I let off steam and build support when parenting is difficult. If you peek in my window at seven on a Saturday morning you’ll see me drinking coffee and playing Candy Crush while the kids watch Glitter Force. My kids are not living a deprived and hollow life with an absent mama, because what you didn’t see is all of us piled into my bed in the world’s biggest cuddle puddle for most of the night.

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Parents should feel empowered to make social media choices for their families. What is right for me and my family, may not be right for you and your family. That’s totally cool! What would be really great is if we could stop the snobby “social media is ruining society” rants against parents. Now that’s a status I would “like” a million times over.

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6 comments

  1. I had a bunch of points in this post that I was going to respond to, but the list of things I agreed with got too long so just HEAR, HEAR SISTER. Especially on the “did we forget what our parents used to do to tune us out.” Omg I feel like the devil every time I have my phone out in front of my kids. The looks I get. It’s ridiculous!! As a SAHM, social media is totally my sanity outlet some days, and I will not apologize for it.

  2. OMG, yes and yes and yes. My son is only 9 months old, so I have yet to deal with the perils of getting the stink eye from other parents on the playground, etc., but I have found SO much comfort and camaraderie through my online parent friends… in fact, I don’t know what I would have done without that outlet and support. When my son was born two months premature and we incurred significant costs and difficulty going to see him, many friends actually RAISED MONEY for us!!! I mean?! It was the kindest, most surprising thing I ever could have imagined. All from people I’ve never met.

    I think that many folks — and OK, I’ll say it: non-parents — who criticize mothers and fathers for social media usage just … don’t get it. As you said so well, there are certainly times it’s inappropriate to be posting on Facebook, etc., but I think we’re all adults here… we should certainly be permitted to decide those boundaries for ourselves.

    I would have wanted to throw my third (or fourth? I’ve stopped counting) coffee of the day all over that judgmental twit.

  3. I believe I remember the incident that started the seed to this, and remember being as baffled by the situation then as now. I guess that despite evidence to the contrary, I still expect people to behave reasonably. I know. I’m naive.

    I *love* that you post about the negative aspects of parenthood and other parts of life. I know some people who post nothing BUT the negative aspects, and that DOES get tiring, but you’re not like that. Anyone reading your posts can see how much you love your kids and how passionate you are about raising them in the manner you have chosen.

    I get so angry when people rant about moms being on social media, or looking at their phones while their children are on the playground, etc. When my kids were younger, I would take them down to the playground to have some downtime, some ME time, while they were in a safe environment where they could have fun and experience things they couldn’t experience at home. They were never unsafe, and I don’t feel like I’m a bad mom because I preferred to read, write, or look at social media instead of running around with them on the playground. I hate when people seem to think that being a parent requires 24/7 devotion to the child, with no devotion whatsoever to self or marriage or other relationships.

    1. EXACTLY. I’m all about being emotionally available for hugs, talking, caring for their needs. Being a non-stop source of entertainment doesn’t help them. How are they supposed to learn to be independent and grow their imaginations! I’m glad that incident that started this mess stuck out to other people. It blew me away.

  4. Amen, sistah! Seriously, this post is everything and so much more. I am so glad you mentioned what our parents did. Hell, mine locked my brother and me out of the house on summer afternoons just so they had time by themselves (they were teachers, so summer break meant all four of us were home all the time together). Locked as in doors and windows and garages sealed tight. Can you imagine doing that now? But we are looked down upon for using social media as a form of communication. Fuck that and fuck all those who think they are everyone’s personal judge.

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