You’re about to have a baby. Maybe it’s your first baby, maybe even your second, third or fourth baby. The Overwhelm has a firm grip on you. Your friends and family have oodles of unsolicited advice. Enjoy every moment! Don’t forget the *expensive baby gear product that saved their sanity but there is no guarantee your kid will even like it*! You’ll feel a love you’ve never even dreamed of feeling before! Second babies come faster…third babies are a wild card …and on and on and on.
And here you are, thoughts racing, biting your nails for the first time in years, shoveling chocolate cake or bbq potato chips (or both!) into your face, right in the middle of all the chaos wondering – what the bleepity bleep have I gotten myself into?
This is what you’ve gotten yourself into: the world’s greatest secret is that we all – mothers AND fathers – despite the constant invasion of space at the hands of our children, feel incredibly lonely at some point in our early parenting journey.
Cue the online mommy/dad/parent groups. You know what I’m talking about. There’s 100 groups for every topic: cloth diapering, baby led weaning, attachment parenting (more on this term later), natural parenting, organic-non-gmo-parenting, damn the man-save the empire parenting. So. Many. Groups.
There are so many online communities, and they’ve made such an impact on modern day parenting that scientists are researching the effects – positive and negative – these groups have on real life relationships. Maybe you’ve heard of what is referred to as the dopamine loop, or dopamine effect that social and digital media of all types have on our brains. Here’s a concise explanation of what happens when we ingest social media – which, let’s face it, due to smart phones and tablets – is constantly with us, notifying us of all the things day and night. So what does that mean for our real life communities, our village?
If parenthood is so isolating, doesn’t it behoove us to be constantly connected to our fellow parents in arms? No. It does not. Quite the opposite, in fact. Why?
Online friends are not your real life friends.
They do not know your laugh, they can’t hear the tone of your voice as they read your words, because they’ve never heard your voice. They can’t see the raw emotion in your eyes when you crack those hilarious jokes to cope with whatever has your anxiety peaked enough to warrant your most easily accessible coping mechanism. They know you as your profile picture and whatever other curated photos and posts you allow them to see.
The internet is full of information that doesn’t apply to you.
Humans are our own worst enemies. We analyze and critique ourselves to the point of self-destruction – especially mothers – so why would we subject ourselves to thousands of other people we don’t even know, critiquing and judging the snippets of life that we choose to post online? It’s not healthy or helpful to get single serving advice from people who only know of you what you’ve allowed them to see.
Effective communication consists of an array of nonverbal and verbal factors. Online, only one of these factors is available for use.
Research out of The Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, a leading research entity in this field, shows the vast majority of human communication is dependent on non-verbal contexts and factors including but not limited to: culture, past experience, current circumstances, medium of delivery, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact and gesture. Words are important, of course, but knowing your audience, and even more so your relationship to your audience can be the determining factor of whether YOUR intent matches THEIR perception.
There are a variety of findings in recent research on the general composition of effective communication, but the consensus among experts is that between 65-93% is based on the aforementioned nonverbal factors, while the remaining minority is based on word choice and medium of delivery. Meaning: spoken words from a known source communicate intent more effectively than words written in text from an unknown source. Therefore, unless you are on FB live or FaceTime or Skype or Google Hangout all day with your social network friends, you are only receiving a small fraction of their truths, and 100% of THAT is curated by social media algorithms. Think on that for a moment.
I see you shifting in your seat, maybe even scoffing at me or calling me names. I hear you saying, “But Facebook and Instagram (and all the other social networks I don’t know how to use because I’m over 35) are such great ways for me to keep in touch with my real friends that don’t live near me!” Trust me, I hear you and I can totally relate; it’s a legitimate and fair perspective.
But if we’re being completely honest here, where do we draw our boundaries? When did it become normal and healthy to have the majority of our social interaction with other parents be asynchronously, online, in groups of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, where more often than not we find ourselves in a massive thread where everyone is bitching about how annoying their kids are being today?
When we’re already feeling lonely and isolated, frustrated with our kids, or nostalgic about our pre-kid life, is it really a good idea to saturate our brains – and by default, saturate our emotions – with more loneliness, isolation, frustration and nostalgia?
The answer to that is NO. It is a terrible idea, and it perpetuates the issue. For many parents, the internet has turned into a giant parenthood pity party and it’s time to break up the party and go outside. Literally. The internet is best used as a TOOL, to coordinate real life friendships, to plan real life gatherings, to continue discussions and share information that can be used to further discussions in real life. The internet is not real life. One more time for emphasis: the internet is NOT. REAL. LIFE.
I know this is a long article; I sincerely appreciate you reading this far. If you have skipped down to the bottom and only have 30 seconds to read, let it be this:
You are the sum of your parts. You are the good, the bad, the ugly, the sad, the joyful, the fearful. You are more than the photos on your Instagram feeds, you are more than the comments on heated Facebook posts. You are more than a blog post, or “share” or “like”. You are human, with human emotions, human needs. You need a damn hug now and then. Not a *virtual hug*, or a ((((((((hug))))))))), a real hug – when you feel the person’s chest rise and fall with their breath and that slight hiccup of raw emotion that releases when you touch another person. If you’re not a hugger, you need that pat on the back or the shoulder, even just proximity and a knowing smile or nod. We ALL need a helping hand now and then as we wrangle the kids into the car or train or bus.
We need contact, community, compassion. Every. Day. For survival.