Monday, March 24, 2014

Parenting in the Internet Age

Two weeks ago, I was flattered to be invited by a friend, a nutritional counselor who now stays home with her daughter, to join her Facebook group of mothers who were into healthy foods for their Littles. Last night, I removed myself from the group after two weeks of feeling guilty about what I feed my kids, and how much more research I should probably be doing into their diets.

This feeling of guilt is not new. Since pregnancy -- or probably before -- I've been overwhelmed by the amount of things I'm supposed to know about raising children. I've posted about the exhausting number of (usually contradictory) advice books, but this guilt extends beyond choosing parenting tactics. A connected, educated mother can now dedicate her life to researching: what foods to eat and which to avoid; appropriate toys to purchase and those to avoid; how much plastic to permit in the house; how to discuss gender; how to educate (in school, at home, Montessori, religious, etc.); space to give or rules to set; and So. Much. More. It's exhausting. It's overwhelming. It can be paralyzing.

I sometimes find myself rocking my youngest daughter in the middle of the night, stroking her feathery head, and wondering if I'm even doing the right thing. Giving her love feels right, but is it setting a bad pattern? Encouraging a sleep crutch? Or responding appropriately to her needs? Why is snuggling suddenly so stressful?

I think the Internet, when combined with an inquisitive, research-trained mind, can be the downfall of the modern mother. Research can be endless, changes often, and is not always conclusive. Information can be overwhelming. And the pursuit of such research can be crippling to the actual act of parenting.

Before I toss out the baby with the bathwater, though, I also adore the Internet while parenting. I joined Facebook right before Sylvia was born, and I spent many long hours nursing her in one arm and feeling connected to the rest of the world while typing with the other. On long afternoons at home, a quick scroll through my phone helps me feel connected to other mothers. Status updates and posts from fellow moms make me feel like others are in the same boat, wading through the same struggles, and I feel buoyed and comforted by their fellowship. We are a scattered society -- most of my closest friends and family live hundreds of miles away -- but the Web keeps us together. My circle requires a Wi-Fi connection.

So I guess my real struggle is balance. How can I effectively use the Internet to see if that rash on Amelia's side is worth a doctor's trip, and then laugh with friends about Sylvia's latest conversation, but not fall down the rabbit hole of obsessing over BPA in my canned goods? If you have advice, that's some Internet research I'd happily take.


  1. Word, sister. Also, I like this.

  2. Ooh, thanks Amber. That's my kind of site.

  3. No real advice, just solidarity. I have done a lot of what you described - essentially removing prompts that introduce stress. I have hidden a number of facebook friends' status updates - people who I love IRL, but whose posts trigger stress in me for whatever reason, either because I can't handle the humblebrags about how little their kids watch tv (my kids watch a ton of tv), or I can't handle how whiny they are (parenting is hard complain some, but not constantly), or they are constantly preaching about something, or they are straight up boring. Even if I can't pinpoint the reason! I do not owe it to these friends to read their status updates, and so hidden they go. Also, generally, I've tried to reduce the amount of automatic incoming information - there are zero push notifications on my phone, I've reduced my blogroll RSS feed thing to a pretty small number, and even then I have trained myself to mark it all as read once in a while, and release the "obligation" that I inexplicably feel to read it all. (Of course right now I'm reading it all and then some - but maternity leave with a nursing newborn and the two older kids at school all day is a unique time in life, when social media and the internet are lifesavers!) I sometimes fall down the rabbit hole of research, too. My last two kids were such bad sleepers, I found myself strictly scheduling Craig at 4 weeks, desperate to avoid another long year of getting no sleep. I was reading and reading and reading on what to do to avoid the sleep problems, beating myself up that other mothers, BETTER mothers, had babies sleeping 6 hours or more at a month old. Then I realized that I was so stressed about letting this kid fall asleep in my arms rather than wrapped in a swaddle in the pack and play, that I was MISSING IT ALL. My last baby, my last chance to hold a sleeping newborn on my chest and nap. The question of whether or not to hold him during naps was causing me such stress, I had to let it go.

    DItto for my work email - I have created filters that basically remove all of the newsletters from the Florida bar, Alabama bar, young lawyers, middle aged lawyers, women lawyers, mom lawyers, local lawyers, state lawyers, Labor lawyers, Admiralty lawyers, new Alabama state cases, new Alabama federal cases, new Supreme Court cases, blah blah blah. I once determined that if I spent just five minutes scanning each newsletter, magazine, bulletin, etc. that I receive (either online or in print), I would spend at least an hour a day - and that's just a quick scan, not even reading and absorbing! That is how much information I have pouring in - that we all have pouring in. I just wall it all off, categorize it so it's there if I need to look through it for something specific, I can do a keyword search - and then let it go. It's hard to do because I genuinely could be missing something important - but hell, man, information overload. There's an article somewhere that i read in something about how information overload is causing major problems and stress in workplaces, and is the chief concern for many business leaders (fitting that I read so much in so many places, I can't remember where I saw this). The same is true for life in general - we have too many sources. I need a reliable information filter to drown out the noise and give me only the good stuff.

  4. @RG - I think filtering is the solution. It sometimes feels hard to do, but the second I hide a feed or unsubscribe from something I feel better. This better to seek than be inundated. Thanks for great insight. And keep snuggling that little man!