We’re always hearing about the dangers of being plugged in. It’s so easy to get too attached to our screens. To be looking down at our phones when we should be looking up at our children. I get it. It’s so hard to have a healthy balance and not let the internet and social media take over our lives. It’s a very real danger to be, in the words of T.S. Eliot “Distracted from distraction by distraction.” Facebooking our lives away instead of living them. I’m not proposing that we should ignore that danger. By no means.
But, the internet isn’t all bad. And for some forms of community, it can be an amazing thing. I think this is particularly true for mothers of small children. Never before have women been so isolated during the day-to-day of caring for their kids.
Most of us don’t live with extended family, or in small towns where you can walk to your best friend’s house. Cities aren’t set up to encourage community and that’s particularly hard on moms. For the first time in history, it’s not unusual for a mom of infants and toddlers (or older kids if she’s homeschooling) to see no other grown-ups all day long. And no matter how much we love being with our kids, being the only adult in sight can make us feel a little crazy.
So we need community. And building that community takes serious effort and planning. Setting up times to meet with friends, playing at the park, stopping over for afternoon coffee, bringing or receiving a meal. It’s worth the effort, of course, absolutely worth it. We should nurture face-to-face friendships, in fact, we must if we want to stay sane.
But I don’t think the importance of face-to-face friendship makes online community worthless. It’s easy to dismiss social media friendship because the dangers of obsessing over virtual life are so obvious. But, I think online community can be incredibly valuable.
Because what’s a mama to do during those times when pursuing face-to-face community is nearly impossible? Your kids have been sick for two weeks so you’re stuck at home. You live in a rural area and can’t make it into town daily. You’re on the couch with morning sickness. Your days are filled with medical appointments for a child who needs extra care due to health issues. You’re recovering from a miscarriage. You’re having difficulty finding friends who understand your lifestyle or faith? What do you do then when you need community more than ever but can’t just hop over to a girlfriend’s house for a heart-to-heart?
I think that’s when online community really can be wonderful. Both to connect us to our established relationships with real life friends and to connect us to like-minded women all over the world who are willing to share life together despite never meeting in person.
My community of friends in our town is truly amazing. We get together once a week to let the kids run around while we sip on coffee, then we finish the morning with prayer. And do we ever need that time to encourage, open our hearts, or just chat and laugh with other humans over 4ft high! These women bring meals when we’re sick and the household is falling apart. They throw precious baby showers. They send prayers and food and request Masses to be said when someone loses a sweet baby. We see each other face-to-face often, but what helps us stay connected is sharing a FB thread to throw out prayers or plans to meet up. Social media helps connect us, not drive us apart.
And then there’s my friends I know from across the great big internet. We may not get to sit down and drink a cup of coffee at our dining room tables, but we do video hangouts and text messages and send baby gifts and sympathy cards. My family knows their names and we pray for their intentions during family Rosary. They are friends and their friendship is valuable and precious.
When I first was considering converting to Catholicism I started reading Catholic mom blogs because I just wanted to know what it looked like to be a Catholic woman. I wanted to know if these women were a lot like me. And they were, and those snippets into their lives were invaluable to my journey. Just knowing that there are so many women out there who are committed to their faith and their families is meaningful. My local community is wonderful, but not unique. We’re part of something much bigger.
So, I don’t want to trade out my real life friendships for a world of detached social media. I need my local community of friends. But my online friendships have been such a source of grace for me. When I post to Instagram that the baby has a fever and women all over the world start praying for her, that is a beautiful thing. When I can ask parenting advice from a mama-friend of kids older than my own in a Facebook group, it’s a huge encouragement.
If we use social media, our blogs, and our online interactions to encourage, love, challenge, and cherish each other, we can more deeply connect with the friends we have and be part of an inspiring community that lets us know we are not alone. So don’t hate yourself for liking social media. Just use it well.