“Put your phone down and look at me, Mommy!”
If there was ever a moment when motherhood came crashing down on what I call my “other lives,” it was last week when my sweet baby girl with the even sweeter face said the words above to me. Sure, as a writer, editor, and educator, there are numerous justifications—reasonable ones—for why I would need to spend more time on my laptop or phone than the average person. But I think what pricked me the most was the sense that, if I’m honest, some of the time I spend with my eyes peeled on some technical device or another, isn’t so much about advancing my career as much as escaping the overwhelming anxiety I often feel in trying to balance my life—and stretching the lengths I will go to in order to feel legitimate.
I certainly make time for my daughter. We have Mommy and Daughter Fridays. We work on the sounds of the alphabet. We sing the Doc McStuffins and Sid the Science Kid theme songs; we rock out to her current fav, Erica Campbell’s, “A Little More Jesus.” We do a bunch of stuff that, of course, I just now felt the need to run down to all of you just in case you think I’m a horrible person and worse mother.
And there it is.
One of the downsides of the always-accessible, social media-crazed world we live in today is this: if you are like me, a person who wrestles with her need for external validation and struggles with feeling like she’s enough, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms become much more than a way to market books. Or keep in touch with friends and family. Or group-watch a favorite television show (Scandal anyone?). Or even stand in community with others around a particular cause (200 missing Nigerian girls). Yes, you do all those wonderful things but there’s often something deeper taking root.
Bottom line? Facebook and the like are the ultimate impression management tools. But what no one ever tells you is this: when we use these tools to try to manage what people think of us (as opposed to the more benign activities I just noted), they only end up devastating us. It’s like when you are thirsty and instead of drinking water (which is what your body really needs) you drink soda or kool-aid or…vodka. LOL! Your thirst is only temporarily quenched. You’ll be thirsty again and soon. I’m quickly learning that my thirst for love and acceptance is never quenched by artificial means.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. – Psalm 139:14 ESV
I believe this scripture. In my head and heart, I know that my intrinsic value does not come from anything outside of myself. But sometimes, the residues of past abandonments and embarrassments can cause momentary interruptions in my soul. In those moments, there’s a disconnect between my head and heart and it’s easy for me to consider using any influence I might have on social media to feel better about myself.
And check it: I’m not talking about catfishing people. I’m not even saying I pretend to be someone I’m not. I am too old and too grown to bother putting any amount of energy into overtly and/or intentionally trying to make myself look a certain way online.
Wait…another disclaimer? See. Impression Management is a beast. What I just said is true but, if it weren’t, would it still be okay? Would I have still shared it? Could I accept that going forward all my posts online would be viewed with a side-eye and a hefty grain of salt?
I’m a word person. And I think it is both genius and absurd that Zuckerberg and company used words like “friends” and “followers” and “likes” when creating their social media platforms. These words appeal to the 13-year-old kid in all of us. Without a doubt, if you were the kid that always got picked last for the kickball team; or you were a little bit strange and quirky; or maybe you were always on the fringe—cool but not really, cute… kind of—then having people “like” and “follow” you must subconsciously (and maybe spiritually?) fill a deep-rooted need that, in turn, will make you say things online that are not necessarily untrue but might garner you the kind of attention you think you’ve missed out on.
I can only hope that one day you’ll also be lucky enough to be checked by your toddler.
Hear me: Social Media is not the devil. It is a useful resource. But when that resource is used to fulfill even subconsciously our need for attention, validation, and acceptance, then it’s gone well beyond its utility. We are then just a hop, skip and a jump from finding ourselves, as my little one so wisely pointed out, “not looking.” Not truly seeing the people we love. Not looking (being present and engaged) at our lives.
Toni Morrison said something a long time ago that struck me even before I had children. She said that, as a mother, she learned (and I’m paraphrasing) to make sure that her face lit up whenever her son walked into the room. This was so he would always know that he was loved and appreciated; that he was wanted and heard. I suspect this gave him a kind of inner-confidence that was invaluable. He knew that she was present with him. That she saw him.
I suppose the same message doesn’t come across as well if all our children see is the top of our heads because our faces stay glued to our screens. It’s certainly a wake up call for me. I love what I do as a writer, etc. I’m certain that I am called to do it. But I’m determined to do everything I possibly can to make sure my baby girl knows without a doubt that the apple of my eye is HER and not the brand of my phone.
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This post is the latest in Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Faith & Motherhood” series.
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.
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