Even before my kids were born, they were online. Pregnant at 28 years old, I was posting photos, begging for advice on everything from my
constipation to my weight gain and addicted to a series of message
boards where I lost myself to the underworld of motherhood chatter.
The online world has been a lifeline for my parenting.
During those late night and painful breastfeeding sessions, I relied on Twitter
for companionship. When my daughter got her first cold, Facebook friends gave
me advice for easing it. When my second child was born and I felt like I was
drowning in a world of potty training and bleeding nipples, it was my blog and
my online support group formed in no small part by the editors, writers and
readers of this site that helped me keep breathing.
Motherhood has changed to be sure. When I feel like I'm
going crazy, an Instagram photo of my tantrumming toddler restores my humor.
The comments from my friends with "me too" support pushes me back from the
edge. I once asked my mom, who had eight
children, what she thought about moms today and she didn't even hesitate, "I
wish I had the Internet like you do, I think I would have been a better mom."
Recently, Time Magazine published a cover story about millennial parents. The article depicted millennials as perfection-obsessed, Instagrammers, who just don't know when to get ourselves and our kids off the Internet. "These young adults, having
been raised to count individuality and self-expression as the highest values,
are attempting to run their families as minidemocracies, seeking consensus from
spouses, kids and extended friend circles on even the smallest decisions. They're
backing away from the overscheduled days of their youth, preferring more
responsive, less directorial approach to activities. And they're teaching their
kids to be themselves and try new things—often unwittingly conditioning their
tiny progeny to see experiences as things to be documented and shared with the
world," writes Katy Steinmetz.
The article goes on to document the darker side of the millennial Internet obsession—the cavalcade of opinions, judgment and competition. The
writer even notes that millennials turn to the Internet for advice before our
own parents. Imagine, the nerve!
As a millennial parent, I have a hard time stepping away from the Internet because it is precisely the Internet that allows me to be the parent I need to be.
For a company that just bought XO Jane in an attempt to
appeal to millennials, the magazine gets several things wrong. To be sure there
is danger to the interconnected, hypersensitive world of millennial parenting.
But there are dangers and downsides to every form of parenting that ever
existed. The laissez faire parenting of the '70s, celebrated as an anecdote to
the helicopter style of parenting, may have been easier for parents, but it was
more dangerous for children, who often found themselves adrift and alone in a
world of adults. And may I remind you, millennials didn't invent helicopter
parenting. That was all GenX, in response to their own sense of disconnect from
their own parents.
And to be sure, the deluge of information that rains down on
us is a little overwhelming. I sympathize with the parents in the article who push back from the Internet. There have been times as a parent that I've had to
remind myself to "step away from the Google!" But there is also a lot of value
here that is not being discussed: the value of community, the value of
responsive parenting, the fact that young parents are trying to nurture their
children's personalities rather than force their pursuits. And why not? Why not
value character over class status? Why not try to deconstruct the institutional
biases and gender norms beginning with our nation's youngest citizens? And if a
few kids get named Hollister or Cullynn or Astral Projection along the way, so
be it. It's not like great-grandma Gilma really loved her name that much
The Time article
notes that parents can't step away from the toxic environment of the Internet, because
us trophy-clogged, special snowflakes need the affirmation. But the truth is, as
a millennial parent, I have a hard time stepping away from the Internet because it is precisely the Internet that allows me to be the parent I need to
be. In a different age, I wouldn't be able to work and be a parent. I would
find it harder to balance deadlines and grocery shopping without the apps,
texting and online delivery that have made my life not only better but
Crane Brinton in his "Anatomy
of a Revolution" notes that whenever a revolution occurs there is push back.
Invent the washing machine and accuse women of idleness. Invent the microwave
and accuse women of taking shortcuts in meal preparation. The backlash against
the way the Internet is revolutionizing parenting is to accuse parents of
self-centeredness. But the pull toward the Internet is exactly the opposite: It's
a desire for shared community, for support and friendship that draws us close.
Surely there is a performative aspect of the Internet that
can breed competition. But that existed before millennials. We didn't invent
the mommy wars, we are just trying to find another way to bridge that divide.
Parenting is a consuming and lonely enterprise. Even in the
middle of the city, surrounded by friends, I can feel lost on toddler island,
scrubbing poop off the floor and feeling panic rise in my throat from sleep
exhaustion and not talking to another adult in the past six hours. That's when
I text a friend. That's when I send an email or a Tweet, maybe share a picture.
It would be easy to read those actions as self-absorption. But I see them as
Each picture, each update is a reaching out—not a reaching