Life as a new mum can be pretty isolating. In a world of technological connection, we’re encouraged to reach out and stay connected in any way we can. Enter groups of mums “connected” through midnight feeds and fussy baby nights. “Connected” to each other, “connected” to our online groups and forums. While the connections can be helpful to reproduce a form of the traditional village support system for families, we all know that online connectedness can become an addiction, a distraction from our babies, and a self esteem basher. It’s a fraught system. We’re relying so heavily on our phones and social media as new mums that the word “brexting” exists (when you’re texting while breastfeeding).
In the first six months of motherhood, I realised I was looking at my screen more than I liked. I found it distracting me from my baby, adding stress to my days while my subconscious compared my life, my baby, and me, to those of my online friends and members of groups. I found myself mindlessly scrolling, as has become acceptably normal for us to do. But in January 2020 I was “diagnosed” with PND/A and I realised that I’d missed so many opportunities to genuinely connect with my baby, and my world. I needed to be grounded in the present, so as an unofficial New Years Resolution, I made a new rule for myself; no more scrolling. I allowed myself to open the Facebook app, but not scroll past the first post. It was a hard habit to crack, but eventually I grew to be at peace with my resolution, and I spent much less time scrolling through irrelevant posts and having my head filled with an extra million or so ideas a day. In this mode, I stayed for over a year. But in March 2021, the pattern needed another upheaval.
My husband and I finally sat down to watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. It answered several concerns about social media in our lives, including a broad spectrum restructuring of human interaction, the spread of fake news and degradation of critical thinking skills. The biggest concern, however, lay in just how intentionally we are manipulated away from our friends and families, towards our phones. We were shook. Even with my no scrolling rule, I was spending an average of 35 minutes on Facebook a day. Each notification, each time I opened the app to check a notification, to browse Marketplace, was all adding up to time away from being grounded in the present. We were encouraged to remove it from our lives completely, cold turkey, for a whole month. A social media free March. I immediately deleted Facebook and Instagram from my phone, only keeping messenger active, as it is my primary messaging app.
I am agitated. I see and feel my thumb swiping my screen to open the app. Completely mindlessly. I only register the action when the app is not there, my anxiety levels spike, I feel my heart rate climb. My thumb hovers over where the app should be. I note I have more bad mental health days this week. I struggle to be patient with my children, I snap and am rougher than I should be. My body is in withdrawals.
I’m less agitated this week, but frustrated. I think to check business opening times on Facebook, ask questions about child development in a Facebook group, look up a second hand balance bike on Facebook Marketplace. I guess I can’t. Facebook has become such a big part of our day-to-day, and information is so readily accessible, in the palm of my hand, that waiting is frustrating.
I feel like I don’t know what’s happening in the world. Without regular driving, I miss the radio, and without Facebook I miss the news headlines. This can be fixed, so I decide to listen to news podcasts in the morning rather than the Wiggles. Reuben gets used to it quickly.
I want to post cute pictures of my kids, I find myself thinking in memes, but there’s nowhere for me to post them. What has happened to my brain?! Making new friends this week has presented challenges. Several offers to add me to local Facebook groups, or to post a get together on Facebook, or search for someone on Facebook have fallen on deaf ears. How has our everyday networking become so reliant on a third party company? Can I escape Facebook and still be connected fully in the community? Is there a middle ground?
I realise that I miss my friends. Not their social media posts, but I legitimately miss them. Not having Facebook has helped me to see that; perhaps social media was simply a bandaid for the empty feeling of growing apart from friends and family. So, I’m going to make that effort to reconnect. Properly. I’m going to pick up the phone and call them at every opportunity. No more “likes” distracting me from genuine connection. I will remember that socialising in groups online is not life giving; socialising with people I don’t know in forums that don’t matter is not life giving. Yes, memes are cool. Yes, ancient history memes by history nerds in a group for nerds who dig history are cool and I enjoy them. But I enjoy the smell of the breeze, the sounds of birds, and the giggle of my children more.
Week four has come and gone and I wonder how I would have spent my downtime this week if I had Facebook at my fingertips. Instead, I read books, sat in the garden, took opportunities to nap, left my phone at home. There are definitely things I’ve missed out on; new pages by family and friends, invitations to events, exciting life news shared broad spectrum online. I’ve had to keep reminding people “I’m not on Facebook so I didn’t see that…” the expectation to be plugged in feels suffocating at times. Do I need to explain to everyone I meet that I watched a documentary which solidified my suspicions about social media and its negative impact on my life and mental health?
– wait, week five?! March has 31 days, so let’s just pretend days 29 – 31 are included in week 4.
But, week five is still a thing! April 1 came and went and Jonah said “so, did you go on Facebook today?”
I had completely forgotten that April 1 meant our pact was over and we could plug back in to the world of social media. We didn’t. It started out as a challenge to keep our minds off of Facebook, and now, in week 8, we’re wondering what the place of social media has in our lives; what will be the function that is so appealing that it draws us back in.
Looking back, I can see a few areas where social media could have improved my last 8 weeks. Small things like organising walks at the lake with potential new friends, knowing for sure whether KinderGym and Mainly Music are happening before we walk out the door, and purchasing secondhand goods. But at the same time, having this removed has meant that I’m connecting with the small group of friends we already have without overextending ourselves in social gatherings. I’m being open to spontaneity by not constantly checking that all my plans still have the green light for the morning. I’m learning to push down the impulse to check if secondhand incubators, gum boots, and furniture are for sale in my area, and making do with what we have at the time.
Of all the things that social media brings to my life, going without it for 8 weeks has shown how little it genuinely does bring, and how much it potentially takes away. This 1-2 month experiment has given us solid data on examining how we can employ social media to work for our values, and how for so many years, the opposite has been happening.
Maybe in a few weeks I’ll log back into Facebook on the computer to browse marketplace, to regularly check notifications for events and to genuinely connect with people. For now, Facebook and Instagram can stay off of my screens and out of my life.