Monday, June 28, 2010

Community? Or Something Else?

I recently read an article in an old Baby Talk magazine that really made me take notice.  The author was discussing the new (at the time) phenomenon of parents (mamas specifically) becoming addicted to the internet.  Several reasons were cited for the surge in mamas seeking out the internet to pass their time, but the most glaringly obvious reason stated was isolation.  An expert in the field of addiction recovery was quoted in the article saying that after giving birth, many women feel like they've given up their identity to the all-consuming role of "mother".  It's a sense of loss in new mothers that drives them to recreate their former identity online.

I've personally seen this over and over again in the online world, and even succombed to it myself at times. When I take a step back and force myself to examine what it is that drives me to the internet again, ultimately the word that emerges at the top is always Community.  It's a catch word that is used with high frequency, particularly in the blogging world and among message boards.  It's a good word.  I believe in it, particularly for mamas who find themselves caught in the day in, day out, never ending cycle called parenthood.  It's the reason I come and write on this blog in the first place.  At the heart of it, I think community in the online world is a good thing.

But, can there too much of a good thing?  I know for myself, it was a jolt of reality when I realized a few years ago that the people I considered my closest friends were in fact women I had never met in person before.  They knew of my struggles in balancing a large family, they were the first to hear of my surprise pregnancy, they were privvy to all my fears, inadequacies, my victories and my joys.  Outside of my husband, I relied primarily on these women behind my computer screen to restore normalacy and my sense of identity.

And while I have indeed created some meaningful and lasting friendships with some of these women, the fact remained that while I was investing time in my virtual community, I was largely ignoring the community right outside my front door.  The anonymity of the internet makes it easier to create connections I suppose.  I feel braver, to speak of my inner thoughts and feelings, behind the safety of my computer screen.  There's no reason to hold anything back, as I don't interact with these online friends on a real time, in real life basis.  Maybe it's just easier to be the real me.  Often I think the fear of rejection is what keeps women from trying to connect with other women they see on a daily basis.  Because often it seems that "everyone else" has it all together, while I know I do not.  

One day in the online world will show you that, in fact, no one has it all together.  There are countless blogs alone that detail the daily failures of mamas.  The realness that the internet allows women is what keeps pulling them back.  And so I guess my question is, if we've proven through blogs and message boards and other social media that in fact we mamas all have struggles and fears, we all make mistakes and we all are clueless at times, and that common ground is what keeps us returning to create relationships with these online friends, then why can we not apply the same thoughts to our "real life" ?

I've written before about the wonders of the internet and how I believe it's given mamas an amazing outlet and connection that before didn't exist.  And I still strongly believe that in the right amounts it can mean the difference between surviving motherhood and a thriving motherhood.  I suppose reading that post and this one back to back can seem like a contradiction.  But it's just food for thought.  Something I continue to face and think about, and something that I am pretty sure other mamas face as well.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Do you feel you personally achieve a healthy balance between online community and "in real life" community?  What steps do you have to take to maintain that balance?  Or do you totally disagree and see no need to pursue relationships outside of the online world or not feel that internet addiction when it comes to community is a real thing?  Is it really bad to leave laundry in the dryer and dishes in the sink in favor of engaging in online relationships every once in awhile?  Is there anything wrong with your closest friends being "internet" friends?


  1. Speaking strictly for myself, I live outside of town and it's hard to juggle five people's schedules and make them mesh with my friends' busy schedules to have a chance to get together for girl time or even playdates. The internet has become an outlet for me to 1) make contact with friends I haven't seen in years and might not ever see in real life (like you!), 2) meet new people who are in the same phase of life as I am, and 3) to have easier contact with my real life friends that I see regularly but don't always have time to "chat" when I see them, such as at church when we are both busy trying to corral our own children! If I think of something I need to tell someone I just send them a quick email or facebook message or if I see one of my friends is online I can IM them just for a quick chat whereas without the internet I would probably never get around to calling that person or if I did I would spend the whole conversation hiding in the bathroom so I could actually hear the conversation!

    Yes, I think the internet can become addictive to some but, for me, it's a wonderful communication tool that has helped relieve my isolation.

  2. Thought-provoking post! I think its a fine balance, being able to juggle having an online as well as real-life community, however I think its all so easy to fall into the trap of relying on the virtual community, and neglecting real relationships since these take way more effort and time to maintain. Real friends have faults and pet peeves, they aren't perfect and we do have to face up to those imperfections, while virtual friends are not so much "in your face". So I'd say I really am blessed by my online community of friends, especially mums like you... but I keep reminding myself not to fall into the trap of forgetting about my relationships with people around me! :)

  3. Okay - first off it is always okay to leave dishes in the sink when developing meaningful relationships that help you navigate life. Heck, that is what 'all nighters' are for, not for studying such as college days, nor partying - cleaning. So if inspiration hits write or comment to follow online community.

    But also put on a pot of coffee and invite the elderly neighbor over for some and hear stories of WWII as he grew up in London during the bombs. You need both.

    As far as intimacy, just like not all relationships we share everything, or at least at this point in our life we should know who we can share what the same thought process extends to our online community. What we tell our BFF is different than what we tell our Mother-In-Law, etc...

    We do not need to be an open book to everybody, goodness we would lose some of our mystery! We do need balance, take a walk in the sunshine with family, friend, neighbor, parent of kid at school, etc. Make sure we have the earth under our feet to connect us to the world as it is just as important as connecting on the world wide web:-)

  4. I am relatively new to blogging and I know that it has totally changed my mood...even my husband notices it. I have something to do, someone to talk to, advice to give and get. All day with the only adult conversation being Elmo can get old, fast. This makes me feel like I'm an adult again!

  5. Great post! I am actually drafting something to this extend... I think that as long as there is a balance it's okay but admit that blogging can be an addiction and that's not okay. One of my friends is a marriage counselor and she indicated that nearly 50% of all her clients come in because of addictions to the computer and on-line communities. It's a problem for many.

  6. Thanks for your thoughts! I've done more thinking since I posted this, it's really a complex issue. The relationships we foster today, even "in real life" ones are SO different than the relationships we had even 10 years ago thanks to the internet. I personally have a friend I chat with online periodically throughout the day everyday, and I see her 1-2 times a week in addition. While it could be argued the internet can cause a breakdown of meaningful "real life" relationships, it could also be argued that it fosters deeper relationships more quickly because of the easy accessibility, much like Tonya mentioned. My friend and I don't have to try to negotiate our husbands or our kids to get together to talk about the latest thing we found on etsy, we just shoot a quick IM. Because of that we are extremely close, despite the fact we've only really "known" each other for about 3 months. Anyway, I could go on and on - I guess that's another blog post! LOL Keep the thoughts coming! I love this discussion!

  7. I have to say that it is ironic that you posted this as I was having a similar thought process mulling around in my head and I was going to hash it out in a post as well. Thank you for reminding us mamas to keep our priorities where they should be first and foremost...with our families. There is nothing wrong with us mamas wanting to have some fun or a place to unwind but, we need to remember to keep things in a healthy perspective! Great insights!

  8. I don't think you can overstate the importance of online community - over the almost three years of blogging, I've met some of the most incredible people, created and cherished friendships that would have never been before the techinical age, learned that I'm not alone in my thoughts and sadly, finally came to the realization that my world is just fine as I witness other parents struggle with issues that I cannot even fathom. Plus, I laugh a lot. All good.

    The balance? Difficult on days, but real world does come first. Such as today - I came to your blog about 2 hours ago, and am now just finally able to finish my thoughts. Summer is a challange for sure.

  9. I definitely think this is a great topic. It's something I've had to think a lot about. It is important that my daughter & my husband & my real life friends & family get to see me, spend quality time with me & just have me in their lives. For my daughter especially! I'm home with her all day everyday right now & she's growing & changing so much everyday that to miss out on it just to blog about it seems obviously not worth it.

    But at the same time, I have definitely found a great community of people & I value the advice & conversation with that group of bloggers! I think the important part is balance. You have to find that balance. For me, it's been planning out my time. I have to say "okay, today I will do this blogging task (commenting, reading, writing posts, etc.) during this nap today." That way my daughter is asleep so I'm not missing out on time with her, I'm able to plan later nap times to get other things around the house done & I'm still free when my husband gets home to hang out with him & make dinner or whatever! So I find breaking up my day & planning specific time for blogging works for me. I prioritize.

    I also have a great community of real-life mom friends who I get together with to hang out & have play dates, so sometimes my online community will take a back burner to that. If we are out during a nap time or something, then my blogging time either gets pushed back a little or to the next day. It's just important to find the balance that works for you.

    But I definitely think it's also important to keep an objective eye on things at the same time. If I thought my family time or one-on-one time with my daughter was suffering because of my blogging or online time, I'd definitely take a step back. Again - priorities in order!

    This is a great post & I love the conversation!

  10. First of all, thanks for the follow! I think it's a great outlet on one hand because I think the internet gives one a freedom to say things that may be difficult to say face to face. I think many mothers who suffer from PPD have found solace in the community of online mommy bloggers who have been through the same thing. I think it's good to get things off one's chest regarding the sometimes annoying husband antics that we have to put up with. But I do worry that the further into blogging I delve, the more I am taking time away from my children. I try only to blog when they are asleep or hanging out with daddy because I don't want to be an inattentive multitasking mom who puts her kids on hold while she checks Twitter. But blogging is addictive to some extent. It can be tough to strike a balance.

  11. Yes the balance of it all. I'm new to blogging, and I can totally see how this becomes an addiction. (Usually, I'm in bed by now, but instead, I've chosen to stay up and read and comment on blogs.) I suppose there's nothing bad about this except that staying up late usually makes me tired the next day and perhaps, takes my energy away from good parenting.

    This is a complex issue. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to explore it further. Indeed, the internet has given us access to thousands of people...complete strangers, strangers with commonalites, and friends (even friends we had way back in first grade.) It's amazing how large our network has become and yet, how isolated we could make ourselves from being in the moment. This is fascinating stuff.

  12. Excellent post! I too have been wondering the same things. I'm new to blogging, and like many of the mamas here, I'm loving the connection and convenience the internet brings. Anything in life can come between us and the healthy habits/priorities we work hard to maintain. I saw myself starting to get addicted and when my hubby noticed it too, it was time for me to step back. Great thoughts, thanks for bringing this up!


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