I sense your judgment. As you sit down and play with the toddler after our family dinner, I see your expression as I smile or laugh at my screen. I hear the muttering under your breath when you see me bathing the baby, phone in hand, or lounging with our oldest while I’m simultaneously tapping away on a text message. I acknowledge my slight addiction, but there’s so much more to my dependence on this small electronic device than you realize.
I admit it: I’m addicted to my phone. I realize we’ve read and discussed articles together about how terrible this is for us as individuals, as well as for the communication in our relationship. I also am aware of what a poor example it sets for our children. I know we’ve set goals in the past to be better about our screen time, only to fail miserably and be seemingly more addicted than before. While I try to be better about my phone usage around the kids, the trajectory of my waking hours is different as a stay-at-home mom. I’m not conversing with adults regularly, if at all, and my only company is a wild toddler that I can barely contain, a teething baby, and a dog.
Do you remember when our weekends were spent with friends? As young as I can remember, my life consisted of slumber parties and overnight camp. Since graduating college, having children, and moving out of state, my social network has drastically shrunk. I am no longer able to get together with friends nearly as often as I’d like to, so we chat on social networks and through text message instead.
Are you aware of how extroverted I am? I know you understand what that means on paper, but I don’t know if you fully comprehend it. I derive my energy from the company of others, preferably above the age of 5. When I have too much time alone or with the kids — which can be equally lonely, might I add — I get antsy and create any excuse to leave the house in search of an adult that will speak to me. I’m on a first name basis with several of the employees at Target. Even a conversation in the checkout line feels so good right now.
When I became a new mom 11 years ago, online moms’ groups were was my lifeline. Today with our three children, nothing has changed. These women have quite literally changed my life in both large and subtle ways, even though we can’t spend much time together in person. They’re the ones I lean on when I need to know if our youngest has been breastfeeding long enough on one side, or if they can recognize the mysterious rash on our toddler’s leg. They’re also the ones who are there for me when I’ve had a terrible day with the kids and just need to vent my frustrations – they truly understand the path I’m walking.
It’s not that I don’t want to be present in our everyday life, but being housebound has left me screaming inside for more social interaction. I am isolated and lonely, and leaving the house with all three kids in tow — even just to run an errand — takes more effort than it’s worth. Sometimes it’s easier to surrender with my cold cup of coffee, crouched over and feeding the baby as I sit in my pajamas. Sometimes even though I’m dying to just be myself again, it’s too exhausting to try to make normalcy happen — so I give up.
When you see my eyes glued to my tiny screen, I’m usually asking a friend for advice or simply laughing about something ridiculous that we both saw on a Facebook group. My support system is virtual, and although this has its drawbacks, it is also pretty amazing. I know you’re frustrated with my phone use. I hear your concerns, and I am acknowledging them. What you don’t realize, though, is just how much my people mean to me and how hard it has been for me to adjust to this new life, this new role, and how inadequate I sometimes feel at it. It’s nice to be told that I’m doing a good job, and I need to hear these things from an outsider — from my virtual village.
I don’t expect you to fully understand, but just know that I’m trying. I’m hoping that with each passing day and each new milestone, a little piece of me comes back. I know you miss who I was, and I miss me, too. Until then, my coffee is cold, my patience is thin, and my social life fits into the back pocket of my jeans.