Before the start of the new year, I took Instagram off of my phone. It was the last of my social media apps to go, and while I expected a pang of regret or FOMO, all I felt was a sense of freedom. I have finally regained my private life, and as a mom, that is no small feat. I feel like I’ve been glued to the internet ever since my first child was born over nine years ago, oversharing and comparing myself to others and gathering the opinions I thought were necessary to my parenting survival. Yet living online, hoping anyone would see my every move and thought, was hurting me more than it was helping me. It wasn’t building connection. It was building a wall between me and my real life.
I’ve spent the past couple years slowly chipping away at my online life, and it’s been a tenuous process. I would do well for a little while, get fully present during a weekend away or while reading a particularly compelling book on digital detoxing like Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, but I would often fall back on old habits. I’d be standing in line at the grocery store and start obsessively checking my phone, or I’d spend a late night scrolling through Facebook in a blind rage over the news. I’d use an ungodly amount of my morning brainstorming and taking photographs for Instagram posts. Even when I had a plan for why I was going online, I would often end up down another rabbit hole, wondering where my hours were going and then spending more time online because I didn’t want to confront that question.
Being online was such a deeply ingrained habit that it felt impossible to overcome. As one of those elder millennials who straddles the pre-internet era, I never imagined that I would be, in some sense, addicted to social media and being online. Yet after I had kids, being online became my lifeline to the outside world. It had the information I needed to figure out how to parent. It had social media where I could vent about my tough parenting days or post cute pictures depending on my mood. It had other people somewhere on the other side of that screen that I could feel connected to when I was struggling with postpartum depression.
And don’t get me wrong, I know that the internet is a wonderful and useful thing. Even now that the time I spend connected to the internet is down to about 30 minutes a day, sometimes less, I would never wish it out of my life completely. It has introduced me to so many amazing people and ideas. It is the reason I have my job as a writer. The problem was that I didn’t need that much time online to reap the benefits of technology, do my job, or connect with others. I simply couldn’t see that because I was either in a monk-like pursuit of no tech or off the deep end in social media.
By the time I got to this point, my parenting life was a lot easier, because I was no longer comparing myself to everyone I saw online.
Moving away from social media slowly and deliberately is what finally made my tech habits stick. I started by reducing my time to a really unimpressive two hours a day. Not of online time, of social media time. Sometimes just of Facebook time. Then slowly I cut it down little by little, and realized my goals were easier to stick with if the apps weren’t on my phone, singing their siren song every time I was really bored at the park with my kids. Eventually I got down to 15 minutes or less a day, only at my desktop computer, and usually those minutes were used strictly for work. Once a week, I even put away my phone completely and eschewed all screens, and while at first it freaked me out a little, now it’s my favorite day of the week.
By the time I got to this point, my parenting life was a lot easier, because I was no longer comparing myself to everyone I saw online. I also had figured out how I wanted to parent without the barrage of ads, curated content, and hot takes that did a lot of thinking for me. Deleting all my social media apps and forced myself to spend more time in my own head, and slowly but surely, I learned to like my own company. And I really learned to like all the free time my internet restricted life afforded me.
Now not only am I the type of mom who finds time to workout daily, reads 80 books a year, and does creative work, but I do so without the mom guilt because without being tethered to my phone, I am still spending way more quality time with my family. I know that less than a couple hours a week online and next to none on social media might seem like a pipe dream (it certainly did to me a couple years ago), but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I regained hours of each day back, years of my life that won’t go scrolling into an abyss, and that’s worth being a little bored at the grocery store any day.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.