These days, it’s hard to separate a pop-culture phenomenon from its surrounding commentary on social media. If an episode of The Bachelor isn’t dissected on Twitter, did the episode even happen?
Ironically, it took arguably the biggest television event of the past decade to break me out of my post-kids social media funk. I’m talking, of course, about the series finale of Game of Thrones, after eight seasons of dragons, zombies, confusing names and intentional and unintentional trysts between blood relatives. My husband and I had watched every episode together over the years—or rather, he watched every episode and I buried my head in a blanket whenever I sensed a skull was about to be crushed.
Then he was booked on a last-minute business trip that had him on a cross-country flight the evening of the GOT finale, and out of town for four more days. (Apparently, needing to find out who will claim the Iron Throne is not a valid excuse for postponing a work trip.) I could have watched without him, sure, but then who would let me know when I could remove my head from the blanket?
So I was left with one anxiety-inducing question: how to avoid spoilers? Step one was avoiding TV and online news—something we might all consider doing more often, for our overall mental health. Step two, just as crucial, was staying off social media, except to check direct messages. That was a lot harder.
What I discovered, however, was a blessing in disguise. Four days away from people’s cute baby or pet photos, vacation updates and funny “guess what happened on my subway ride to work” stories, was also four days away from people’s divisive political commentary, food photos and the kinds of posts that had increasingly made me feel envious, insecure, or simply left out, especially since having kids. I haven’t graphed it because I stopped graphing things after graduating high school, but I’m pretty sure that my sense of self-worth and confidence drops in direct proportion with how many times I scroll through Instagram every day.
I was on social media before becoming a mom, but the comparison-anxiety has gotten worse since my kids were born. Even knowing most of what I see on Facebook is an extremely airbrushed version of reality (both literally and figuratively), I still find myself wondering: “How does that mom keep her children in spotless, color-coordinated outfits, while also wearing full make-up to school drop-off, while also having the energy to cook dinner before heading to ‘moms night out’?” Usually, I wonder this at 9pm on a Friday when I am sitting around in sweatpants after letting my toddler take a cinnamon-raisin bagel to bed with her.
Social media is supposed to help me feel connected, but instead, I often feel excluded from the nonstop-fabulous lives so many of my friends seem to be leading. It’s also hard to resist the pressure to maintain my own glossy online narrative, one that leaves out the vast majority of the messy, often monotonous reality of work, marriage, and parenting young kids. Let’s not forget about the unnecessary-distraction factor: it’s one thing to do a quick scroll while waiting in line at the post office, but what am I missing out on in real life when I’m swiping through Instagram stories at the playground with my kids?
I’m hardly the first person to experiment with a social-media diet of some kind, and I don’t believe it’s realistic to cut it out completely; it’s often the best way to keep track of important life updates from people I care about. In my case, the time I spent disconnected was more like a quick cleanse. Once I finally watched the GOT finale (no spoilers here, don’t worry), I was back online, but I found myself checking in on my feeds far less frequently. After just four days off, I was out of the habit of constant “refreshing.”
This is a positive development for my psyche, but it also opens up new windows of time for my greatest and most meaningful source of entertainment and joy: being the mother of my own three dragons.