Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mums plugging in

It’s a wonderful tool to seek answers, community and escape, but are mothers becoming addicted to the internet? 
I recently entered a little contest on Facebook aimed at mothers, and all you had to do was name one of your new year resolutions.
To my surprise dozens of women said that their resolution would be to spend less time on the computer.
This got me wondering just how many mums are sleepless because they’re spending their nights online, or ignoring the cries of their kids, just to write a comment on a friend’s status, or to check if they’ve got any emails (because they only checked an hour ago, and might have new mail).
And I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I type this because I’ve occasionally found myself surfing the net in the evening, or playing a game of solitaire, only to look up and realise it’s 1.30am.
You only have to join up on one of the many parenting forums to see just how many mothers are seeking connections via the web.

Essential Baby has 197,619 registered members with an average of 1300 users online every night.
The women (and a few men) talk about everything - not just parenting issues.
There are special groups for those with babies due in the same month, or groups for those with multiples, and lots of different sections where you can get advice on everything from conception, pregnancy, birth and beyond.
But it’s not always a supportive environment. If you give an opinion on a topic, there’s bound to be a host of women ready to say the opposite.
But in this era of free speech (albeit on the world wide web), debate can rage for days and is not only entertaining for those participating but also for those sitting back and reading.
There are moderators for this kind of forum, but it’s hard to censor what goes on when so many hundreds of people are posting messages at the same time.
It’s not surprising that so many women are online. Many mothers feel isolated, lonely, bored and overwhelmed with a new baby, and turn to the internet to find answers to their parenting dilemmas, as well as finding a community, and a way to escape.
Often mothers also feel a loss of identity, and long to be recognised and listened to, as well as wanting to be involved in adult conversation.
If you’re engaged in a community online, or blogging and generating comments, then you feel like you exist outside of your living room.
You know you’re addicted if you look up from the screen to see that more time has passed than you’d planned and that you prefer to spend that time with people you don’t actually know, rather than deal with real life’s obligations.
But as one blogger wrote, the problem is not actually the internet, it’s the real life.
“The internet feels productive – go grocery shopping, answer emails, post photos – while new parenting can feel like an endless round of laundry,” New York Times Lisa Belkin wrote.
“The internet feels interactive, while being at home with a newborn can feel isolating.”
Like many addictions, it can turn into a vicious cycle.
If you end up letting your kids make a mess of the house, you become more stressed, and more tempted to avoid the situation by jumping back online.
If you’re thinking “I’m not that bad” try keeping a diary for one week of how much time you spend online.
Then think about what you’re missing out on when you do it. Are you missing out on family time, sleep or work?
Is this loss of time is making you feel guilty and stressed?
Imagine how productive your days (and nights) might be if it weren’t for time spent on the internet.
For me, I’d finally put my daughter’s third birthday party photos in an album (she’s almost five years old now), read the pile of books that are gathering dust on my bedside table, become a better cook instead of resorting to instant packet meal bases and have time to exercise.
There is no doubt the internet allows people to feel connected, to find support and to be entertained, and it is a wonderful tool for the whole family.
But it would be hypocritical of us to limit our children’s screen time when we are not setting a good example for them.
If you’re showing signs of a net addiction, it’s time to unplug and get back into the real world. Visit a friend, join a playgroup, take the baby out for a walk, just get away from the machine.


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