Friday, June 1, 2018

Motherhood Before The Internet And Social Media

     Since becoming an empty nester, I now have plenty of time to socialize with friends, write my memoir, or snag an hour for yoga. I no longer have to worry about planning trips around my children's school schedules or fret over what to feed a family of six. EVERYTHING in life is easier.

     But it wasn't always this way. My life was once chaotic and stressful, although I must admit, I loved staying busy. It gave me a sense of purpose. Now that the kids have moved out, my priorities have changed, and sometimes it feels weird not to have a strict schedule to follow.

     I look at young mothers today and wonder how they do it all while remaining tethered to the internet. I try to imagine what my life would have been like raising four kids if I'd had a computer in my home and a cell phone in my pocket.

     Distracted. That's what I would have been.

     My children were born between 1987 and 1995. I was a stay-at-home mom, and yes, sometimes it got pretty lonely being cooped up in a small house with four children under the age of eight. If I wanted social interaction, I had to drag my little beastlings to the gym where there was free daycare and I could do an aerobic workout for an hour with my friends. If that wasn't possible, there were always the Mommy & Me classes that were so popular in the late 80's. I made quite a few mom friends through the program, and we kept in touch by meeting at the park with our kids or hosting lunchtime playdates.

     If I wanted to stay connected by phone, it took a bit of planning. Our house had a landline with a long, curly cord in our living room. Whenever the kids were occupied watching a VHS tape (it was either that or the PBS channel---our options were extremely limited), I would set up their snacks, quickly pull the corded phone into the next room for a little privacy, and chat for approximately 30 minutes---or until the video ended.

     Long distance friendships were even harder to maintain. The calling fees were too expensive, so most of my relationships existed through handwritten letters. I recall writing 30 page letters to some of my best friends and waiting eagerly by the mailbox for their response two weeks later. Snail mail was the only way to stay connected, but it made us appreciate the time and effort it took to write a handwritten letter. It proved to the writer and the recipient that they mattered.

     If cell phones had been around back then, I know I would have been preoccupied texting my friends and sharing silly videos on Instagram, because I'm the type of person who is easily sucked into social media. God bless the mothers today who aren't, but as for me, I know I'd be curled up on the sofa far too long with my phone, scrolling through photos and Facebook updates while my kids played nearby.

     A night out to dinner with the kids in tow was also never an easy feat. They became bored after the first ten minutes, got antsy waiting for their food, and were always in a hurry to get back home once they'd finished eating. It was up to my husband and me to keep them occupied at the table. We told funny stories, drew in their coloring books, or played tic-tac-toe on the paper placemats....anything to keep them busy. As much as I enjoyed those times, there was always the stress of eating quickly (hello, heartburn) and praying that no one would have a meltdown in the restaurant.

     I'm pretty sure that if iPads and cellphones existed when my children were young, I would have been sorely tempted to use them to keep my kids entertained while my husband and I enjoyed a glass of wine before dinner.

     The same goes for vacations, which were even more of a challenge. We once drove from south Florida to Missouri for spring vacation, and the 24 hour drive was interminable. Staring out the car window at a flat landscape with the occasional appearance of a cow was not great entertainment for a five-year-old. The best we could do was arm our kids with headphones and storybook tapes for their cassette players. When that became tiring for them, my husband and I popped children's sing-a-long tapes into the car's stereo and sang goofy songs with them until our eyes glazed over. The only thing that saved us from losing our sanity during that road trip was when the kids finally became drowsy and fell asleep---but even then we had to whisper, and we couldn't play the radio too loud for fear of waking them. Let's just say that by the time that trip was over, children's songs like Raffi's "Baby Beluga" were a constant ear worm that took months to get rid of.

     If we'd had access to games on cellphones and tablets for our kids, our road trips would have been ten times less stressful. And I wouldn't have been stuck for weeks with kid songs in my head.

     How is all of this different from what mothers are experiencing today? I'm not going to say that they have it better or worse---every generation has its own challenges. Social media is a great way for moms to stay connected to the outside world, and to seek advice or find like-minded parents who are struggling with similar childrearing issues. There are tons of online mommy groups and pediatric websites that make searching for answers literally just a click away. We never had this luxury; sometimes it took hours to get through to a doctor in the middle of the night and numerous trips to the emergency room just to get medication for a simple infection, since most pharmacies closed by 10:00 p.m.

     Honestly, back in the 80's and 90's, I would have enjoyed staying in constant contact with my friends via emails, texts and social media, but I would NOT have liked living my life under a public microscope where everyone would have been free to judge my parenting skills. There's very little privacy nowadays, but a whole lot of criticism floating around, and as a young mother, I cannot imagine living with that burden while trying to raise my kids. From disciplinary tactics to eating organic or non-organic foods, everyone has an opinion, and no parent is immune from being judged on their decisions.

     I'm also extremely grateful that cellphone photos and videos did not exist when I was a young. Once that stuff is out in the internet, you can never erase it. No one needs to see that photo taken eons ago on my friend's Kodak camera of me being carried out of a party after I'd had one too many vodka tonics. Nope. That evidence from my partying days was burned, and my kids will one day be thankful for being spared from seeing it.

     Now that I'm an empty nester, I have all the time in the world to indulge in my social media connections. I love the freedom of it, but given half the chance, I wouldn't trade it for the internet-free time that I spent with my children while they were growing up....Baby Beluga and all.


***WANT MORE MENO MAMA? This week you can catch me on Pickle Fork with The Three Stages Of A High School Reunion and on Reality Moms with 9 Reasons I Love Having Adult Children.

25 comments:

  1. I'm so with ya! Yep we also were parents of the 80's and 90's so I can relate to everything you said and looking back I'm so glad we didn't have all the distractions of social media and cell phones. I see people with families out to dinner, because being an empty nester we eat out quite a bit, and the parents are on their phones while waiting for the meal to come and the kids are just bouncing around.
    You really nailed it with this post!

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    1. Thanks! I see the same thing when we go out.

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  2. I do feel for the mothers of young children these days. The battle to keep their kids away from screens is constant. I know I would have been always checking my phone, and I'm very thankful I didn't have this temptation with me every waking moment... when we went to the park or the zoo or wherever. I'm not sure how the next generation will be changed by this new reality.

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  3. I agree there are pros and cons about the internet and my parenting didn't include it. Would have loved it as a teenager, I think, but the pictures going out there would have destroyed me probably! Empty nester like you, always surfin' these days!

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  4. There definitely are mixed feelings about the internet. on the one hand, its such a great resource for learning, on the other hand, its a great resource for things i never EVER want my kids to find...
    This article is Amazing! thanks for sharing your point of view.

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  5. So, my brood started in 79 and ended addition by 91 (not including my stepkids). And, I had a cellular phone (certainly NOT a smart phone) since 81. But, I dragged (not literally, although I am sure I was tempted at times) my kids with me around the world, to the library, to the pool, to the theater, and to the park. To this day, I am a firm, outspoken detractor of those phones at the table or on the sofa. (Unless one is the solitary resident thereof.)

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    1. Totally agree. One thing I hate the most is a cellphone at the dinner table.

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  6. I raised my kids in the 80's so our life was similar in many ways. Now I watch my kids raising the grandchildren and it is so different...good in many ways but I agree with you that I wouldn't swap the coloring books and crayons and Sesame Street for tablets and cell phones.

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  7. Oh, I'm so with you! My babies were born between 1977 and 1988. I remember sitting them down in front of the TV to wait until Sesame Street (One of our two children's programs) started. Car rides were a long series of storytelling, guessing games and car bingo. Until Husby figured out how to install a little VCR-playing TV. Oh, the bliss!

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  8. I too remember writing long letters and later long emails to keep in touch with people, now it's just so much easier. And although we didn't have ipads when my kids were little, I admit that we never went to a restaurant without a few gameboys when my kids were young.

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    1. Oh wow---I totally forgot about Gameboys! We didn't have those until my last child came along, and he loved them.

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  9. These steps back in time always resonate for me. Wow, so much has changed.

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    1. Right?? My kids think it's odd that I grew up without a microwave or cable TV, ha-ha!

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  10. Its a double edged sword, phones can give you immediate access to information and commaraderie but can be such a distraction. I consciously try to limit phone use around the kids 5 , 2, and 2 weeks, and limit their screen time, but it’s definitely a struggle.

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    1. Yes, it must be hard, but those cell phones are also lifesavers in many instances.

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  11. You seriously just described my early motherhood years right down to Baby Beluga. I agree in that it would be hard now to raise our babies in such a public manner. Facebook, instagram, snap chat...I can't imagine sharing my toddler's milestones in such a way. Also, I'm grateful for the quality time we had without digital interruptions. That said, social media is fun and I'm sure young moms make the most of it. Then the challenge is managing the tween/teen years and their social accounts. Yikes. Great post, Marcia!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa! Yes, it's very difficult to keep the constant distraction out of the hands of teens.

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  12. I'm not a mother but a child of the 70s and 80s. I loved my childhood, and wouldn't trade it for growing up in today's times. We were active and learned so many social skills back then by playing outside. It was a time where kids learned about winning and losing.

    Even today, I stay away from social media. There are too many people wanting to be heard yet no one is really listening. And everything offends everybody; that's where all of this accumulated societal anger comes in. I was better off without social media when I was growing up, and I'm better off without it now. I'm the only one in my circle of friends and family who still sends birthday and holiday cards. When I want to connect, I give them a call.

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  13. I was thinking about my childhood lately and how simply yet fun life was back then. Maybe because I'm nearing that decision to have my own family. I wonder how to raise kids in today's world. thanks for sharing your experience with motherhood in the age of social media. Lucky us to still have experienced that pre-internet era.

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  14. Great post, Marcia!
    I agree social media and "scary gadgets" have completely taken over our lives. I'm so addicted too! But when I see myself getting too involved, being online, I simply switch off everything- even my cell phone for few hours and totally focus on my kids and myself. I try hiding all ipads, phone etc. somewhere under the bed or in the closet and pretend to forget where I've kept- just to buy some quality time with my kids. That way we all in the family feel the urge to be with each other.

    I totally loved this post. Bookmarked!

    www.thepositivewindow.com

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