So Long, Social Media

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“You haven’t posted in a while. Are you ok?”

“Is everything ok? I can’t find your Instagram.”

“Do you and the girls need anything? You haven’t posted a story in almost a week.”

Those are actual quotes from real texts I have received in the past month. Yes, I am fine. The girls are also fine. No major events have rocked our family. The truth is that I have been focusing on deleting stress-triggers from my life. Some letting go has come easy, like decreasing the girls’ activity commitments. Some of it has been hard, like letting go of my gym membership. But the one that seemed impossible until a few weeks ago was letting go of social media.

I know the dangers of social media. I know how addictive it can feel and how harmful it can be to one’s self-esteem and self-worth. I have fasted from social media in the past but always come back. I have consistently convinced myself that the good outweighed the bad and that I was the ideal sensible user of social media. I needed social media, I told myself.

Life as a single mom can leave you feeling isolated. If I am not working, I am doing something for my kids. Hopping onto social media gave me a real sense of connection. Social media is where I found amazing social support networks, like the one on which this blog appears, for single moms. Social media is where I connected with other women struggling with anemia. Social media is how I kept tabs on family, friends, and former students with whom I wouldn’t otherwise have much time to connect. These were all such positive additions to my life, but then it got even better.

After one of my blog posts, I noticed an uptick in my Instagram followers. I remember the day I hit 1,000 followers on Instagram. Granted, that is not a lot in this world of “influencers,” but it felt like a serious accomplishment for a single mom just sharing pictures of her kids, recipes, and “real life.” I felt good. I felt affirmed. I felt like I was finally making the friends I didn’t have time for in real life. As my followers grew over the next year, the affirmation deepened. I started talking to people in my stories, sharing my day, and, of course, sharing my grievances. The degree of validation I got from the DMs affirming my “realness” and ability to “tell it like it is” was massive, and something about which I am now pretty embarrassed.

I found myself starting to live at least partially outside of my life, constantly thinking about how my real life played into the version that I put online. I caught myself thinking in captions and hashtags. On more than one occasion, I asked my girls to repeat behaviors so that I could capture their cuteness – not for the family photo album, but for the consumption of my followers. I now realize that I said “yes” to outings, when I was exhausted, because I thought it would make a good post. I started wearing makeup to places I usually wouldn’t, like track practice, because I knew I may “need” go live.

I was doing all of this – trying to be engaged in my life as it happened, as well as playing narrator for the life I was presenting online, deeply invested in the maintenance of both my spontaneous and reflected public face – while trying to deal with the increasing frequency and intensity of my bouts with anxiety.

So many of my anxiety triggers are inherent in being a single mom: Will the kids be ok after being asked about their dad by a classmate? How am I going to afford to send them to camp with the rest of their class? What if I am swamped at work and late to pick them up?

So many of my anxiety triggers are inherent in living in Southern California, too. Driving anywhere is a time-sucking, schedule-altering, emotionally-draining, combative, unpredictable nightmare. Everything is over-priced. Nobody is young-enough, cool-enough, or fit-enough. Nothing God-given is ever enough, and everyone is always busy.

I found myself anxious more often than I was at peace, and that is not ok. I realized that part of dealing with my anxiety was working on my own reactions and coping mechanisms for that anxiety, which is induced by things that are beyond my control – like the traffic and cost of living. But part of it was that I needed to stop inviting anxiety into my life. It was that realization, in the middle of the night, as I tossed and turned, that prompted me to open my computer and search academic journals for “social media and anxiety.”

In hindsight, I think I was hoping that the research would provide some skepticism and allow me to give myself permission to continue to live my virtual life. Instead, it prompted me to grab my phone, in a state of sleepy assuredness that best resembles the love child of a zombie and a droid, and just start deleting. I thought it would be hard, but it wasn’t. It was liberating.

I woke up the next morning and felt like my life was my own for the first time in years. My brain automatically defaulted to thinking about what attempt at witty faux-humility would kick off my day on my digital story. Surely, it would be something about the mundaneness of Mondays or the unending pressures of being a working mom. Then I realized that I didn’t have to say anything to anyone about my morning. I could just get up, drink my tea, and read the news. It took a moment for this new reality to register in my brain. I didn’t need to do anything other than just exist. There was, finally, no documentation or grooming needed for anything I did that day. I could just do it.

As great as my new freedom felt, the coming days did bring some rough adjustments. I missed scrolling through to find words of encouragement from other single moms. I missed seeing the pictures of distant family. I wondered who had gotten new jobs, was in a new relationship or decided to move. I missed that feeling of community and the feeling that my every passing thought could somehow entertain, support, or provoke another person. I still miss those things. But, I don’t miss them as much as I enjoy the peace of just living.

For me, this was the right choice. I have since reactivated Facebook for work purposes and will continue to share my monthly blogs and certain major life events on that platform, but I won’t return to being a daily poster. There is too much to worry about in life already. As anyone who is anxiety-prone can attest, the brain will do its best to invent things to worry about! So I am stepping out of this virtual space that is so ripe for anxiety. I am simplifying and finding peace in the version of me that exists in only one place, at only one time – free from the worry of how to package and convey the value of that place and time to anyone else.

Thanks for the memories, but it’s time for me to move on. So long, social media.

By A. Smith

Pushing Buttons

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My oldest son, now 26, was the product of divorce from about the time he was four months old. His father found someone new while I was still pregnant and filed for divorce when he was eight days old. I was 23 at the time. Being young and a first-time mother, I had no idea how to handle a divorce and a newborn. Someone wise once said, “You can’t control everything, only how you react to it.” At that time in my life, I reacted to every single thing! We were in court for any little disagreement or argument. Luckily, my parents were helping me with the legal bills. My ex’s father was a lawyer, so he didn’t have any legal costs and loved to go to court. The entire time my son grew up, we fought over any minute detail.

One time, in a meeting with my lawyer, she said to me, “You do realize that he knows how to push your buttons, and he is doing it every time he can?!” I ignored her thinking she had no idea what she was talking about and who I was having to deal with almost daily. We argued over where to meet for pickups, what my son was wearing, if the new girlfriend could pick him up, what he could take back and forth between homes…literally anything there was to argue over, we argued!

Fast forward to today. I am nearly 50 now, and my son is grown. I haven’t had to deal with his dad in several years. As I look back on the lawyer’s words, I realize that she was exactly right! He did know how to push any of my buttons that he could. He pushed me to the point of me arguing and getting upset every time. I now use those words in my life when dealing with others who might try to get to those hotpoint buttons. I take a deep breath and assess the situation. If I realize they are going that direction, I really try to control my reaction. I realized that at 23, I didn’t know how to do this!

I am writing this blog post in hopes that maybe some of you single moms will read this and take it to heart. You don’t have to react to everything the ex does! And realize that maybe he is trying hard to get a reaction so that he can use it against you, whether it be in court or in the presence of your child(ren).

Take a deep breath, look at the situation, and react or don’t. You are in control, not your ex!

-Julie Burr

Owning Up, to Ownership

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My first memory of postage stamps was when I purchased them from the local pharmacy. I think their value was 18 cents then. The price had just increased, and my grandmother was nearly offended at the additional three cents. I have always been amazed at the United States Postal System. In 1981, you could put a few handwritten pages inside an envelope, address it, and have it hand-delivered anywhere in the country. Door to door, for a full 18 cents. Even today, with postage at more than half a dollar, the statement stands true: Door to door. Quite extraordinary, don't you think?

 

With that said, I despise checking the mail. For one reason and one reason alone, I am terrible at managing money, and the mail is proof. The only things I ever find in my mailbox are notices, statements, and remittance slips for things I cannot pay. They come in a variety of colors because colored paper is threatening. They come with statements, claims, and words like "past due," "final" and "attention" written on them in bold, because bold words are equally threatening. They burst out of the mailbox when I force myself to open it because there are so many crumpled envelopes from one week, or two weeks, or more weeks. The threats and warnings can barely be contained within the metal box to which only I hold the key.

 

I work. I earn. I spend. I have been a poor money manager for all my years. My grandmother used to say, "that money's burning a hole in your pocket." And it was. It does. But I cannot live this way any longer. I have children, and their future is tied up in pink and green and grey paper with big, bold words on them because I don't have the ability to think more than a day in advance. I didn't even start saving for retirement until I had worked for 20 years. I have been stuck in a never-ending cycle of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" (also something else my grandmother used to say). I know that some of you are quite shocked, but I honestly didn't know to choose any better. It's true. I did not think far enough ahead to worry about how anything was going to be funded. Not even when it came to owning a car or having children. I used to just quickly think "it'll work itself out." But I know better now. I do.

 

I am owning my irresponsibility. I am owning my selfishness. I am owning my ignorance. And I am making changes. My first step was to open all. of. the. mail. You would think I had cut down a tree, but no, it was just a month's worth of notices. I addressed the most prominent and worked backward. I addressed and dismissed my shame and owned my tardiness. I spoke to so many people and explained all of this to them. I made arrangements and asked to have reminders in the form of mail, email, and texts. I even asked for patience. I accepted the fees, the late fees, the reconnection fees, and even the "it's been turned over to collections", and the "sent to litigation." It was so hard. By the time I was done, I was in tears. My notepad littered with amounts, addition, subtraction, months, balances, due dates, question marks, and many sad faces.

 

How could I do this to myself? And to my kids?

 

The truth is, it doesn't matter how I got here. What matters most is that I am aware that the fault is mine, and the responsibility is mine. I have to forgive myself, create a plan, get on track, and stick with it. Of course, it's not going to be fail safe to begin because I'm learning, but it's a start. I've been investing in my retirement for many years at the maximum level. I have payment plans set with everything that was past due. I'm eliminating a few amenities until I am back on track. I'll be cooking from a limited menu and focusing on household favorites until we can loosen our belt a little because I know they will be eaten and enjoyed, with limited waste. I'm aiming for very few extraneous purchases until the holidays. And even then, I plan to cut back.

 

The best part of this process has been the love and understanding I have received from my kids. I sat them down and explained it all. I told them the mistakes I'd made and how it evolved into this predicament where I have to make some hard choices. We talked about the past, the present, and the future in relation to jobs, money, earning, bills, spending, and saving. Of course, they don't understand the nuances of finance, but they understood enough. We agreed to work as a team toward a constant goal of spending less money. We talked about long term goals like college, vacations, cars, and weddings. And the definition of "needs" versus "wants."

 

It's not going to be easy to change my spending habits or save money. Certainly not as easy as putting postage on a letter and having it travel across the country for a few cents. But it will show my children that sometimes grownups make mistakes -- that it's always good, to be honest, and take responsibility for your choices (or lack thereof). It will also prove that our needs are met, goals have to be set, plans have to be made, and money has to be saved. Some money has to be saved. I know better, and I can do better, and we will all reap the benefits. As long as someone checks the mail.

Tanisha Ware

See more of her blogs at BrownSugarBritches.com