Digital parenting: reflections on becoming a mum before the internet (Guest Blog)

Jo is a freelancing, mum of two, who specialises in marketing, copywriting, social media and blogging. For the past 7 years Jo has been spreading her experiences, opinions and feelings worldwide through her wonderful blog The Slummy Single Mummy. Taking the time out of her busy work schedule Jo wrote a post for us here at Capture Education on what motherhood was like before the internet and how parenting has now evolved in the digital age.


My digital parenting timeline goes something like this:

1995: My first daughter Bee is born.

1998: I buy a word processor – the sort that looks like a typewriter, but has a tiny flip up screen and can save word documents. (Fancy.)

Early 1999: I use the Internet for the first time ever in the computer suite at university. (I visited the Hula Hoops website.)

Late 1999: I get my first computer, with dial-up internet access.

2002: My second daughter Belle is born.

2009: I start writing my blog and get my first smartphone. (Although it’s a Blackberry so pretty much does nothing.)

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When I talk to friends who have small children about how they use technology it’s a totally different story, and one that sparks a real mix of emotions.

On the one hand I’m kind of jealous. How much nicer would night feeds have been if I’d been able to spend the small hours scrolling through Instagram or binge-watching my favourite TV shows on Netflix? Might I have felt less inclined to want to bang my head against a wall through sheer boredom and loneliness by 2pm if I’d had an online community of friends to talk to?

Perhaps.

But on the other hand, perhaps not. Perhaps having instant access to a group of parents online would have simply lessened the need to leave the house, and led to increased feelings of isolation? Back in 2002 when my second daughter was a baby, if I wanted to talk to grown ups during the day I had to leave the house and find them at local parent groups. Yes, it was a bit awful to begin with, but I made friends, real friends, with whom I could share my worries, swap tips and generally hang out. These people are still close friends now, 14 years later. Would I have developed these same lasting relationships if we’d simply exchanged parenting notes on Twitter? I doubt it.

For some parents of course, online communities are vital, although it seems there has been a change online too. Jax Blunt home educates her children, and writes at Making It Up. ‘I didn’t have a smart phone or anything with the older two,’ says Jax, ‘but the internet was a lifeline when I was looking into home education and my blog was part of my virtual village – a group of us started them for precisely that purpose. We built strong friendships that spread across the country, going on annual summer camps and winter youth hostel holidays with people we’d met online.’

‘Bizarrely, now that there are more ways to connect, I think it’s harder to build a community. I still connect with a lot of home educators via Facebook, and blogs are still a part of it all, but maybe because it’s so much easier to share a tweet, there isn’t the community feel around blogs that there used to be. Parenting the younger two is a very different experience.’

Looking at the digital learning journals offered by Capture Education, I can see that they could be massively useful for parents like Jax, who want to be able to record and track their child’s development. There are certainly many aspects of the internet that make parenting easier.

But then of course there’s the digital pressure on parents. When I met up with my baby friends I could see for myself that they were tired, and that their clothes could probably do with a change. There were no filters, no strategically positioned succulents covering the stains.

It was real.

And we liked that.

Nobody looked around the room and felt out of place or less glamorous than they should be. There was no envy, no feelings of inadequacy, we just saw the truth of parenting and we found strength in each other’s reality.

I feel bad for parents today. I feel bad that they do scroll through Instagram in the small hours, looking at pictures of parenting that simply don’t reflect real life. I blog, and the temptation is always to present the best version of yourself, but that’s not the real version, and definitely not the version that’s going to make other women feel good about themselves. When I write, I want people to read it and think ‘thank God I’m not the only person who sometimes gives my kids Shreddies for dinner!’ I want parents to know that it’s okay to not always be holding your child up to the sky, dressed in a fox themed outfit, with your back to a sunset.

But this is all fairly frivolous isn’t it? We all know to take Instagram with a pinch of salt? Maybe so, but when you’re feeling vulnerable, either with a new baby, pregnant, or trying to conceive, it’s all too easy to get drawn into online negativity.

‘I found both infertility and early first time parenthood a lot more stressful after getting sucked into Fertility Friends and Mumsnet,’ admits Eleanor, author of The Bristol Parent. ‘The ‘advice’ style threads can be brutal, and a complete emotional vacuum if you are already worried and needy. Conversely, I have found (most) local parent threads and community boards on Facebook extremely helpful and supportive. The conclusion I have come to is that the username anonymity really gives some people a license to speak in a way they wouldn’t normally.’

Amy, creator of AmyTreasure.com, agrees. ‘When I was struggling with infertility I found some of those places drove me barmy and I did some crazy stuff in order to get pregnant. I wrote about it recently and the response I’ve had has been enormous! I’ve found the internet both a blessing and a dangerous thing – it’s way too easy to turn to ‘Dr Google’ and send yourself insane with worry.’

It seems that parents nowadays are digitally overwhelmed, and I certainly don’t envy them that. I may not have been able to make friends online, but I certainly didn’t feel disconnected. Yes, night feeds were dull, but they don’t last forever. The internet is a massive resource, for practical and emotional support, but it has the potential to do harm as well. For that reason, Capture Education’s founder Paul Campbell will conduct a webinar on 22nd November 2016 in which he will discuss the importance of securing early years data in the digital age as well as share some practical advice on the key security features you need to have front of mind for anything to do with the ‘cloud’.

My advice? Google with caution.

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