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?