Last November, I took a step back from my day and realized I was spending hours a day online doing : ummm: well: not much. I spent precious time blogging about nothing, Tweeting about anything and camping out on Facebook “connecting” with friends. I realized that I was neglecting my real life – and, dare I say, my kids – in lieu of a little slice of “life” on the computer screen. What was I doing? Like every other mother out there, I often complained of “not enough time in the day,” but no wonder there wasn’t enough time; I was wasting tons! I wondered, as many of us have, what would happen if I pulled the plug and spent more one-on-one time with people – namely, my kids. I am a stay-at-home-mom and all, isn’t that the point?
The problem, of course, was my laptop – a standard fixture in my living room, tucked in a cozy little corner on a side table, just to the left of my spot on the sofa. I would get up and make the donuts like every other mom in America, but once the kids were occupied, I’d settle down to CNN or Gawker with my trusty cup of coffee by my side.
I had a blog that I posted to weekly with a roundup of whatever was on my mind on any given day. But it was Twitter that fueled the fire. For someone who loves random thoughts and musings, Twitter was the way to go. I read everything from headline news to what someone was having for breakfast, and I could skim it all in just a few minutes – perfect for someone who has the attention span of a pea.
At some point, the routine changed a bit, though. Instead of a quick little minute with the computer in the morning, it became a quick little hour while the kids watched Dora : and then Diego. Instead of an email catch-up while dinner was in the oven, it became an hour-long binge reading some of my favorite bloggers and me finally declaring, “Kids, we’re eating out!”
I love to be informed, to read about what other people are thinking or feeling, and the Internet became my vehicle for doing just that. Except it had become a nasty habit I secretly felt guilty about. Since I believe in the notion that if you feel guilty, you probably are, I knew something was wrong.
I started observing the days and realized that things were more chaotic and stressful than they needed to be. What’s worse, I realized a big contributor to the problem was me. One day, after running ragged to catch up on chores and errands, I stopped cold. Here I was, positively freaking out because it was five o’clock and I still hadn’t figured out what was for dinner. To add a little bit of crazy, the kids were bored to death and had resorted to chasing the dog all willy-nilly around the kitchen island. Madness reigned supreme.
That was the day I knew I had to switch things up. I spent way too much time knocking around the net and way too little time planning my days and playing with my kids. So I determined what I had to do on the Internet and when I could do it. I delegated certain times of the day for work and for play. I stuck with the plan and it all went peachy – for a while.
But then would come the occasional day when I didn’t have much to do and the kids were occupied. All I wanted to do was pop open the computer and spend a few minutes catching up with the world – and by world, I mean Facebook or Twitter. So I would sneak a peek here or there, mostly in response to those pesky emails Facebook sends all day long: Someone posted on your wall! Someone is having a birthday this week! Someone commented on your photo! It was all too much to resist.
Then, like an unexpected blessing, my Internet went out. Normally, this would be grounds for a major phone call to my Internet provider to “turn that thing on and do it yesterday!” Instead, I took the break in service as a real break. I could still check my email for the important stuff on my phone, but Facebook and Twitter just weren’t as much fun that way. To keep myself busy, I admit, I watched a little bit more television than I normally do. But I also hosted play dates more often than normal, we ” decorated” the playroom, and the kids and I read books together – an activity usually reserved for nighttime. We cooked together, we even cleaned together. Then, there was the alone time. I started devouring books again. I even took short little walks on snowy evenings. I managed to get my mind off of what was going on out in the world and get my mind on what was happening in my own living room. We were reconnecting. I was reconnecting. The Internet gradually faded from my consciousness. Now, a few months later, I have only visited Facebook minimally, and I haven’t Tweeted since November or blogged since October. I haven’t given up on any of it; I just needed a break to establish a better perspective.
The funny thing about my little experiment is that now I find I actually don’t want to spend countless hours online. It almost feels like those things are intrusions on my life. But of course I still use my computer – I have to, we all have to. We live in a world now where everything is at our fingertips, so I balance. Rebecca Joyner, a work-at-home mother who blogs as Country Fried Mama, takes a similar approach: “I try to be more aware of when and how I use social media and make sure that I give equal time to playing Candyland or baking cookies or snuggling with my kids.” When I was a slave to social media, I interacted with plenty of people on any given day, but I neglected two of the most important ones – my two daughters. Are things still mostly a chaotic mess from day to day? Yes, but in a good way.
I’m not a perfect mommy, whatever that is, but for me, parenting is all about what feels right. I leave my computer in the office and only visit it a few times a day. I found what works for us. In the end, that’s all I needed.