“You have to see this video,” my husband says one weekend morning as we linger over breakfast. He hands his phone across the table and punches the play button; the screen comes to life with the sight of my older son doing countless laps around our kitchen like a squirrel who’s just inhaled a line of Pixie Stix. He squeals with barely contained laughter as he prances and struts, riding a sugar high from the cake he ate at a birthday party earlier. I watch the video until the end, but can barely focus on my son. What I notice instead is me. Me sitting on the couch directly in his running path, tapping away at my phone while I hold the baby whom I am also ignoring.
The clip is nearly two minutes long and, in it, I don’t break my gaze the whole time, even when my son pauses to hug my legs during his third lap. It is sobering to see myself from an outsider’s perspective; from my son’s perspective. When I was engrossed in whatever was happening on my phone, I was oblivious to everything else around me: the oven beeping repeatedly to signal that dinner was ready, the baby bouncing on my lap, my son giving me the affection I crave that he so seldom bestows.
Judging by what we are all wearing, this was just two nights ago but I truly do not remember any of it happening. The realization is eye-opening. Even days later, the sight of me hunched over my phone, blocking out all that was transpiring mere inches from my face stays with me, haunting me every time I pick up my phone.
I wish I could say that it was a one-time occurrence; a moment of weakness in an otherwise unplugged day where my sons were always my main focus. And I suppose I could say that, but it would be a lie if I did. The truth is, this sort of thing probably happens much more than I realize, where I lose whole chunks of time absorbed in a virtual life that’s happening somewhere else entirely.
Meanwhile, my real life—the one I wax philosophical about here online—is happening just beyond the six inches in front of my face and I can’t be bothered to pay attention. I truly loathe the person I am with a phone in my hand, so easily distracted by the white noise of a thousand status updates and filtered selfies. It’s heartbreaking. I want to be better than that.
But there’s also another side to that story, the side that I don’t often hear acknowledged. Social media is dubbed as a time waster, a distraction, something you do when you should be doing something else. And, those descriptions are pretty accurate. I can’t begin to put a number on the amount of times I’ve checked Facebook while I could be unloading the dishwasher or browsed Instagram while I should be tackling the mountain of laundry on my bed.
But for me—and probably for a lot of other moms—social media is also a lifeline, a way to bridge the gap between the loneliness of motherhood and the inclusion of personal connection. It’s why pages like Scary Mommy and Pregnant Chicken are popular among moms: we want to share motherhood with people who understand what it’s like to be eight months pregnant while chasing a toddler or how exhausting it is to do battle in an IEP meeting. Those incidents can feel oppressively isolating if experienced in a vacuum with no one around to sympathize or understand. But the second someone else likes or comments, it’s like salve on a burn; it soothes the sting of loneliness and calms the ache of isolation.
Though I’m loathe to admit it out loud, there have been many times when I’ve been bored or lonely at home with my kids, staring at my phone across the room, willing the little green light to begin blinking. That notification is my connection to the outside world when we haven’t left the house in days; a reminder that there is a life independent of sleepless nights and Thomas the Train marathons, where people have adult conversations and shower far more frequently.
Just the other morning, one of my best friends uploaded a picture of us from years ago, in our childless days. It was a particularly rowdy New Years Eve party and everyone was in various states of inebriation, with bottles and shot glasses littering the foreground of the picture. I smiled as it rocketed me back to that time and place for just a second. Moments later, when I was called back to the puzzle my son was assembling, I was ready to focus on him again. But that small spark of connection stayed with me.
To me, the time I spend online is comparable to logging 20 minutes on the treadmill or cracking open a novel. Though admittedly less ambitious, it’s still a little slice of self-care that I desperately need to help me limp through the long days of mothering. My real life is fulfilling without question. My children are my world and they deserve my full attention. But sometimes I deserve a break too. If someone’s comment on my status or share of an interesting article is able to afford me the connection to the adult world I so crave at times, then I’ll allow myself that one indulgence.
Will I still feel guilty about it? Probably. Is there such a thing as overindulgence? Absolutely, and at times the lure of that virtual connection is stronger than the far more important life taking place right in front of me. When that happens, I feel genuinely remorseful. I don’t want to waste the years when my children still crave my attention buried in my phone.
Thankfully, a few minutes here and there is usually enough to fill my cup. As long as I can keep the cup from overflowing, I figure I’m doing okay.
Photo courtesy of Whittney Myers Photography, 2015.