Monday, August 26, 2013

Motherhood in the Virtual Village

(Originally posted at Catholic Exchange, but fell off my radar during the great relocation event of the summer.)

When I was growing up, I didn’t envision myself as a stay-at-home mom. Sure, I had some vague notion that I would have children one day in the distant, hazy future. And that those children would need some kind of nurturing and supervision, but I must confess, I didn’t spend many afternoons playing house or tucking my dolls into bed, dreaming of raising my own sweet smelling babies one day.
Actually, I sort of dreaded the thought. I have an amazing mother. And she raised 7 kids, spending a lot of time flying solo while my dad commuted to a job nearly 50 miles away. They wanted us to be in a better school district, they could get more house for their money, et cetera et cetera. So they made sacrifices. My dad’s sacrifice was a two solid hours of commute time each day. And my mom’s? Solitude. And not the refreshing, contemplative kind.
When I think back on my younger years, when siblings were coming fast and furious and there seemed to be a constant flurry of activity and noise, I see my mom, doing everything. And not always loving it.
My grandmother died when my mom was 12, and she spent a good chunk of her teen years shepherding her own siblings through the minefield of motherlessness. But I think she probably missed her mom most when she became one herself, and, looking around for someone to turn to, found only a void.
I can relate to that. I’m a stay-at-home, work-from-home, call-it-what-you-will mom myself now. And it is lonely. Where I live, I’m the only mother on my entire city block who stays home with her young children. Granted, I’m one of the few mothers of young children in my part of town. And while it’s charming to see the smiles of my elderly neighbors when I wheel past them on the sidewalk or in the grocery store, there’s hardly a sense of camaraderie as they sit, sipping their cappuccinos while I wrestle two toddlers into the double stroller for yet another episode of ‘who’s going to urinate in public today?’
But I have a secret weapon that my mom never had: the internet.
And not just talking about my medical degree from Google, MD or the ability to summon a fresh episode of ‘Curious George’ when I desperately need 11 minutes to shower. Alone.
Those are perks, but they’re not the best part of the world wide web.
The thing I’m most grateful for is more intangible than that, and much more unexpected: it’s the relationships that dwell there.
My generation is a migratory one. My best friends and I are separated by thousands of miles and several time zones. Even when I make friends in my own little corner of the world, an increasingly global job market ensures that most of us don’t stay in one place for more than a handful of years. Maybe as we approach our mid-thirties, that trend will begin to slow and we’ll start growing those mythical ‘roots’ our  parents talk about from time to time. Or maybe we won’t.
But I have something my mother longed for, and couldn’t seem to find in our affluent commuter town filled with dual income households with few children: community.
It’s a lonely thing to spend one’s days changing diapers and wiping counters and filling little hearts and minds with knowledge. Eternally worthwhile and occasionally fulfilling, but lonely. And for many of us, it’s peerless. I don’t have any comrades in arms living in my apartment building or across the street, ready to swap battle stories or offer encouragement for when your three-year-old keeps biting strangers, or when it’s been another all-nighter with the teething baby and you just want someone to share a bleary-eyed cup of coffee with.
Sure, it might be over Skype. But it’s better than nothing.
It’s a lot better than nothing, actually. I’d venture so far to say it’s revolutionary, really. Because in spite of the physical isolation felt by too many modern moms, I know that at almost any time of day, I can log in and talk to my best friend in Virginia, my funniest fellow-blogger in St. Louis, or my sweet college roommate in Las Vegas. I can Skype to Naples or New Zealand and get advice from gals with boys the same age as mine, some of whom I’ve known for years, and some whom I’ve never ‘met’ except via the Web.
And that is amazing. Because with the click of a button, I can communicate with other women who share my worldview, who are striving for holiness with their families, who are unashamed of their choice to spend their time being ‘just’ a mom for now… and who long to connect with other women living this somewhat counter-cultural existence.
It’s not perfect, and it’s no substitute for honest-to-goodness face time with another human being. But it’s so much better than nothing. And some days, aside from prayer and God’s grace, what gets me through another day.
We were never meant to do this motherhood thing alone. It’s neither natural nor ideal, and I admire women who have formed physical communities of support and friendship with other moms. I aspire to have my own sort of ‘village’ one day too, God willing. But for now, while my children and my husband’s career are in their infancy, I still have to make it to the end of the day. And most days, that means going it alone.
Thankfully, there’s usually a blinking message in my inbox telling me I’m not, in fact, as alone as seems.


  1. I love this, Jenny! I can't imagine how lonely it was for my mom when she was raising us, far from family and with no close neighbors, let alone ones with kids.
    By the by, you should come out with Hillary and crash my sister's wedding so our kids can be friends.

  2. Thank you for this post! As a working mom turned stay at homer (who never would have uttered those words two years ago), the loneliness is the hardest part, most days. The solitude can be unbearable and I am thankful for this group of mama bloggers that I can scroll thru and know 'we got this'!

    You're mama sounds like a pretty amazing lady :)

  3. So true! My husband always smirks at me when I say "my friend Jenny" or "my friend Grace", but it's true - I do feel like you are my friends, even though we haven't met. And even though I have some really, truly good IRL friends right in Atlanta. But the circle can never get too wide in the trenches of mothering.

  4. This is beautiful! Thank God for the blogging community!

  5. Yes! I'm a new SAHM and I'm quickly seeing my need for community. Have you heard of the book Homeward Bound? I just started it. It addresses some of what you said here...very fascinating!

  6. Thanks for this. Honestly, it just feels really good to have someone else acknowledge that it IS lonely. I get the feeling sometimes that my single friends assume I'm too busy to do much of anything else, and I don't have any friends with little kiddos like me...trying to reach out to strangers is a real battle for me and one that I am trying hard to overcome. Im not sure what I would do if I couldnt come read your blog, or so many others, because it really does make me feel less alone. Its hard to express to someone who isn't living it that while I love love love my life, and feel so fortunate to have my husband and kids, that the loneliness and isolation is really real. So thanks for doing what you do and being a friend to the other mommas who stumble on your blog. We really do appreciate it!!

  7. Yes yes yes! I know a lot of other stay-at-home moms here in Seattle actually but most of them are over 35 (and therefore have a good ten years on me.) They're all really great but I love having the internet to keep in touch with good friends from college, who were also fortunate to jump on the marriage and babies thing a little faster!

  8. Wonderful to hear. I honestly didn't realize this type of solitude came with motherhood. I am grateful (not as much as I should be) for being able to be with my son all day, but miss any social interactions with other moms because apparently this whole SAHM thing isn't in vogue right now?? who knew...


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