I have a confession to make. I’ve written a ton here about taking a sabbatical from social media, and it’s pretty clear to me that my mental health is usually in a better place when I’m not spending my free time scrolling mindlessly through the events of everyone else’s post-worthy lives, but…I’m also at a stage in my life where social media is my social interaction. It’s just too hard to navigate nap time and nursing and whiny children in the snowy slush. We’ve moved to a place where our neighbors are all over 70, and our church and homeschool groups are just too far away to make it to playdates before nap times or dinner prep. So we huddle around the fire and send funny messages and wait for FaceTime dates in between reading from Farmer Boy and Peter Pan and fighting over whose Lego tower is the best. It’s an amazing time to be with my little family and lean on my spouse and develop connection and routines and traditions together. But it’s also really lonely as a mom. So I do what lots of other moms do- I lean on my online long-distance community of mom-friends, which genuinely is a tremendous blessing to my soul.
Here’s the catch…the online community that brings far-away friends closer to me comes with so many hangers-on. Somehow I can’t help myself from being sucked into the endless vortex that is the comment section on one mom’s “any remedies for an ear-infection?” post. Of course, those are the mild ones. I laughed at Babylon Bee’s recent satirical blog that Facebook was replacing all the reaction buttons with “pure outrage,” because that seems to be the goal of most social media posting anyway. In a comment thread I recently got sucked into, a wise mama responded to an overtly rude one with this gem:
“The thing about being nasty is that no one cares if you’re right or wrong; they just want you to go away because you won’t stop being nasty.”
The offending mom in that thread felt genuinely vindicated in her posts, and was clearly standing her ground in a way that she felt was appropriate, but for the rest of us, it was just rude. And it was so refreshing to me to have other moms- in fact other moms who stood on the opposite side of my own argument- coming to my defense against another mama’s vitriol. But it also brought up some serious empathy for me, because there was a time that I was that outraged, incensed mama too.
When I was first having babies, I was a young college student. I had Celia spring semester of my freshman year, and I had Cora spring semester of my senior year. I was a finance major working multiple jobs, and caring for an infant then toddler with autism. And I attended a private college surrounded by students whose parents bought them new Acuras for graduation, who studied abroad at their parents’ expense, and who were having a lot of fun in the meantime that I just wasn’t having. I hated them. And it shows. I have zero friends on any social media platform from my college days, and that’s because I made zero friends. I was so full of ire at how these perspective-less kids with their expensive cars and their carefree lives could be throwing their educations away by ditching class and staying up all night drinking instead of studying, that I spewed vitriol in every class discussion and group project. I made sure to interject that “some of us have families to provide for,” and “we can’t all hope that our parents will hook us up with a great job when we graduate” every time someone suggested I lighten up. I rolled my eyes at “morons” who came to class without reading the text but who got laughs from our classmates at their uninformed responses to a professor’s questions. I was a less likable, more irritable Hermione Granger, circa The Chamber of Secrets. When I see an irate, enraged mama spewing hate at some poor ignorant other mama who clearly doesn’t see things her way, I feel her, I really do. It’s hard when you’re the only one who feels the way you do in a sea full of people who don’t even care about your perspective, let alone empathize with it.
In those early days I was lonely and frustrated that no one identified with me, and I couldn’t believe that people had the gaul to not even acknowledge the extraordinary things I was accomplishing. It’s not that different now. When someone “likes” our posts or offers affirming comments, it’s a reminder that we’re not alone, and that other people see us where we are and they support it. And while the absence of likes can be isolating, the negative comments or posts that go against what we value ourselves can feel upsetting or even degrading. It’s so easy to get sucked into this cycle of needing approval or at least like-mindedness on social media that it’s hard to break free without going off it cold turkey. But what’s a lonely, isolated mom to do when her only interaction with other adults comes from Facebook and Instagram?
I’ll tell you. Unfollow, unlike, and unfriend. I know, I know. I promise I’m not suggesting you create an echo chamber for only those who like what you like and think like you think. I’m actually amazed at how many people and pages I’ve unfollowed that actually live the same truths I live and see the world the same way I do, just because they can’t seem to do it without a lot of negativity. I started this process when I realized what I was taking into my mind was coming out of my mouth. Snarky, snide comments that I wouldn’t use with my worst adversaries were coming out of my mouth at or around my own children. And then I heard my nine year old daughter snapping at her brothers about how ridiculous they were for liking something so absurd (something Paw Patrol, no doubt), and it cut me deep. She’s a homeschooler. She didn’t pick up that tone from school kids. She got it from me.
Something had to change. I need the fellowship of social media, but not at the expense of my own kindness, or at least respectfulness, to others. So I started unfollowing friends who post consistently negative messages- not posts or messages that go against what I think or believe- just negative or hateful messages aimed at anyone in general. I unliked pages that might give me useful information, but did so in a way that suggests anyone who disagrees is an imbecile. I actually unfriended a handful of people who I realized I honestly have no business even having in my friends circle, because their energy is negative enough to bring down my spirit. And it’s not even about everything you’d think- if you post about dieting or losing weight, I’ve unfollowed you because I’m recovering from an eating disorder and I can’t handle that information on my feed right now. If you frequently post about drinking or Winesday or Vino = vita, I’ve unfollowed you because I’m trying my best to have less drinking in my mothering. None of this is about you- it’s all about me getting what I need out of social media, and that’s okay.
In the early days, I was angry and alone. It worked for me then because it fueled me- I graduated summa with a degree in finance and economics, and I had my choice of graduate schools. I got a great job that provided well for my little family, and I had the strength to climb the corporate ladder as a single mom intent on changing the world. I was a birth activist and an autism warrior and I did all of that because I was in a really negative state of mind that demanded change and wouldn’t accept anything different. But I’m not that person anymore. Right now I’m home all day, every day, with four little people who need positive interaction with their mama, and I’m determined to create a home that is full of love and beauty and happy memories. I don’t plan on sheltering them from injustice or teaching them that their own happiness is all that matters, but I am teaching them that respect for others is paramount, and it starts in our home with ourselves. Our pastor challenged us this morning to be the “GOTT”- that is, the greatest of these three feet around us, improving the world in our own small circles first and foremost, with our own choices. The world does enough to funnel negativity our way, and we are all suffering from one thing or another (some of us more than others), but where we can control or limit our suffering, we should. And where we can improve the emotional environment around us, we should. Reducing the number of people I follow and pages I see has turned my social media interaction into a positive experience- even one where I can have discussions with people who strongly disagree with me, because I now I can say “I’m sorry, we won’t see eye to eye, but I won’t disrespect you. I’m going to leave this thread now,” and hit “unfollow.” We don’t have to agree with each other to grow and be friends, but we do have to respect each other. And if you’re a person who spews hate and vitriol or just disrespect at other people, I won’t be watching your posts anymore. It’s nothing personal, it’s just a healthy boundary.
So friends, if you’re overwhelmed with what’s going into your mind right now but you can’t walk away from it all- unfollow the things that detract from your experience. Take care of you. Feed your spirit and know that you are worth building up, so that you can use that energy to give back to your world, whatever it looks like. And if you need to unfollow me, I promise it won’t hurt my feelings, because I get it.
Hugs from here,