I find myself sitting in front of the laptop a lot. A LOT. Especially on days we stay home. I drift towards the laptop like a moth to a flame, never really getting anything significant done online (because really, I have a 3.5 yr old and an almost 1yr old who has just learned how to climb the stairs), but it’s amazing how much time I can spend unproductively flicking between email, Twitter, Flickr, news and blogs. Sometimes I feel guilty. Other times I feel like I’ve got it under control, or the kids are playing together well for a moment and it just feels so much more compelling to check Twitter than it does to clean the bathroom or put away the laundry.
Nobody is really sure yet whether Internet addiction is a real disorder or simply a natural byproduct of 21st century life. We are surrounded by technology at work, at home, on the bus, even in bed if we want to bring our smartphones with us there too. But where is the line between normal Internet usage and an unhealthy compulsion?
Balance is one of the parenting goals I continually come back to, something that I always feel I can work on refining more and more in my life. Yet it is so hard to balance the Internet, this infinite behemoth of endlessly changing and fascinating articles, friends, blogs, photos and stories to discover, with anything so banal and boring as scrubbing my bathtub.
What Causes Moms to Become Addicted to the Internet?
If such a thing as “Internet addiction” actually exists, what makes at-home moms so susceptible to it? After some reflection, I identified some things at the root of my own compulsive need to get online:
– Nursing at the Keyboard – This is seriously one of the major contributors to my Internet compulsion. Nursing a baby with one hand and surfing the Internet with the other go together like marmalade and toast, cream and coffee or little kids and mud puddles. Once you’ve got yourself set up comfortably, it’s easier to stay there with a baby sleeping on you so that you can keep surfing. Nursing on and off all day (as many attached babies & parents love to do) and nursing at the keyboard during napping/nursing sessions means that it’s easy to get drawn into life online and more difficult to get out of the house. As my baby has gotten older, those extended day-long nursing/napping/surfing sessions have turned into shorter nursing/surfing breaks, but it is still equally easy to tune in and drop out.
– Social Connection – being able to turn to the Internet and find a whole community of other moms who like to talk about parenting, discuss parenting philosophies, debate parenting issues and poke fun at the difficulties of raising small children is a really alluring thing. The Internet is one giant water cooler for moms all over the world who are working at home by themselves and want to talk with other understanding adults about that work.
– Making Money and Pursuing a Career – trying to find a way to make money while staying at home with my children has been tricky. Trying to find a way to make money as a writer has also been tricky. Writing online has given me a chance to do both, although the amount I make is very, very small. Nevertheless, the dream persists, and I know I’m not the only one with the same dream.
– I Really Hate Cleaning – when it comes down to it, I’d rather read blogs than fold laundry. I’d also choose blogs over dusting my baseboards, organizing the toys, cleaning the fridge or vacuuming the stairs. I do get to those chores eventually, but not as often as I probably should.
– I Don’t Like Feeling Like I’m Missing Something – This is why Twitter and Facebook make me so incredibly compulsive. I just keep reading and reading, despite the fact that it’s not at all realistic for me to expect to be able to keep up with everything everyone is saying. I need to treat it more like a TV channel that I switch on and watch for a while instead of a series of minute emails all addressed to me that I need to read through in detail. I *know* this, but that doesn’t change the compulsion.
So what’s the big deal anyway? Why is it a problem if moms surf the Internet while they’re at home with their kids?
Well, it isn’t. Not by itself. Addictions and habit forming behaviours are only considered a problem by mental health professionals if they are causing harm to the person or other people in their life. I don’t think having a dirty bathtub is harmful enough to say that I have a dangerous Internet addiction. However, if I am too busy surfing Twitter to notice that my baby has climbed halfway up the stairs, that’s a problem. If I can’t get a meal on the table because I’ve spent all my time reading blogs, that’s a problem. If I ignore my daughter’s requests to read stories together, bake cookies or play hedgehogs, that’s a problem. Small kids can be frustrating and they don’t have the same capacity for adult conversation that we do, but they are our children and many at-home moms have made a conscious choice to be at home specifically because we want to be there for our kids. If I am there in body but my mind is away with Twitter all day, what’s the point? As my daughter said the other day, as I leaned over the laptop to check just one more thing, “Mama, you’re wasting my time!” And she’s right.
Time Management for The Internet Addiction Prone
While I have a pretty clear idea of what makes me feel like surfing compulsively, I have a less clear idea of how to go about controlling my Internet usage. My primary tactic is to switch the laptop off. Not just suspend it or let it hibernate. It needs to be turned off, and even better, put away. I also try to designate certain times of the day for computer use and other times for staying offline. Getting out of the house is helpful. I have made a conscious choice to avoid getting a smartphone, because I know that if I had email/Twitter/blogs at my fingertips ALL DAY LONG I would forget to put the phone down. But I’m curious to know what other people’s Internet usage habits look like.
I love the Internet. It is full of smart, interesting people doing and writing about interesting things, and I want to participate in that. But I need to be able to keep a handle on it so that I don’t end up pecking at the laptop incessantly, waiting for a reward pellet to come out of it like those poor pigeons in the behaviorist experiments of the 1960’s.
How do you manage your internet usage? Are you online all day or only certain times of day? Does your surfing affect your parenting? How?
Image credit: Blaise Chwola on stock.xchng