Co-written by Stephanie Sprenger
Are you a mom whose communications with your friends happen through Facebook or texts? Or are you a new mom who's having trouble meeting other new parents in your neighborhood?
Maybe it's true that social media connections are not a true replacement for "real-life" friendships. Maybe it's true that texting has become a cop-out for high-quality, face-to-face interactions. Maybe too many people choose to email instead of talk, send Facebook messages instead of get together in person and spend more time in front of a screen than in the physical company of friends and loved ones.
And yet... we're here today to say, "Get real, folks." In the world of potty training, temper tantrums, the ever-sacred naptime and power struggles -- over everything from the request for one more episode of "Dora" to the refusal to eat anything that isn't beige -- that's easier said than done for most moms.
Enter online friendships. Yes, yes, it's true: chatting online is no replacement for actual time spent with friends. But as the experience of motherhood shows us time and time again, you get what you get and you don't throw a fit. Some connections -- even the so-called not "real-life" Internet ones -- are better than none. We'd all love to have harmonious playdates at Starbucks while our well-behaved offspring sit patiently in their chairs, carefully eating their muffins while their mamas gab over lattes. We'd give anything for those daily, weekly or even monthly happy hours with girlfriends. But let's be honest: Many days, we're unshowered, still in our sweat pants and a small person has just used our hair in lieu of a tissue. But that doesn't mean moms don't get lonely or crave connection.
The world of social media and blogs has made it easer than ever for isolated moms to reach out; in fact, there are some ways in which online friendships are even better than real life ones, in addition to the obvious convenience factor. For one, you never meet her kid(s), so there's no way they can annoy the crap out of you. (Come on, admit it, we all have that friend whose kid is totally annoying.) Online friends are also great at assuming the best and lifting our fragile, self-doubting mom-egos. They're quick to point out your cleverness and how stunning you look in your profile picture. (Online friends never have to behold the wonder of Pig Pen Mommy.)
But there are certain DO's and DON'T's to making online mom friends. As blog partners and co-editors of The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, we have a lot of experience in this area. Thanks to our own online camaraderie (we've never met in real life!), we thought we'd share our wisdom with you...
- DO become a mini-stalker. If she has a blog (doesn't everyone?) make sure and peruse her "Favorite Books" page and comment enthusiastically on her great taste. Or "like" her Facebook updates, chiming in with your own similar woes/triumphs.
- But DON'T go crazy with it. Nothing says creepy like the same person "liking" all your photos from two years ago the day after you "friend" them.
- DO let her see who you are. Moms love commiserating over shared parenting fails, so knock off the bragging and tell her what your life is really like. Not the Pinterest-inspired life -- the meltdown, missed the bus, made Mac and Cheese again one.
- But DON'T forget to pay attention to subtle cues. If you share the fact that your toddler pooped repeatedly during nap time, wait for a reply. If you're met with awkward silence and a swift subject change, retreat! If, however, she responds with, "OMG! Mine smeared poop all over the crib today!", then you're golden. Feel free to commence with future bodily waste disaster tales. If you comment that your child was a "stinker" today and she says, "Yes, but aren't they such blessings?" proceed with caution. You can decide whether this mom is your kind of uplifting, gratitude-minded gal or it's time to jump ship. If she says, "Stinker? I've got a better word for it," congratulations. You've found a soulmate with whom you can officially complain about your bad parenting moments. You may even be able to use your favorite profanities to refer to your children's abhorrent behavior... Score!
- DO seek out mothers who are going through the same struggles you are. Sometimes our IRL (that's "in real life," for those not up on their online vernacular) friends are at different stages than we are: They may not have kids yet, or may have older kids. Maybe they work and you stay home. It's always helpful to find another like-minded mama dealing with infant sleep deprivation or preschool drama.
- But DON'T rule out friendships because of differences. No need to perpetuate the mommy wars by only befriending other breastfeeders if you are nursing, or by judging working moms if you stay home. Rich relationships can develop in spite of -- and sometimes because of -- differences.
Online friendships can be extremely rewarding. You can connect with women you might otherwise have never met, sometimes even as your "old" self. You know, the one whose job description doesn't include wiping someone. We bonded over a shared blog project about female friendship (The HerStories Project) that later turned into our book. It's always nice to be able to use your non-mom brain when connecting with other women. Online friends can remind you that you're more than just a parent. You might be able to dust off some old skills and discuss common interests that don't include verbally eviscerating "Caillou." (Not that that's not awesome, because it totally is.)
Even though the two of us have a lot of differences -- from our educational backgrounds to our writing style to some parenting choices -- we've found that our connection is real, validating and uplifting, even though we've never met IRL. So, the next time you find yourself feeling lonely but getting out of the house isn't happening, open up your laptop and open yourself up to the possibility of making a new friend.