When we stopped sharing about our family online, my husband and I didn’t expect a lot would change. After all, we weren’t influencers, we weren’t addicted to social media. We couldn’t have imagined how such a seemingly small decision would really impact our parenting style in a lasting way. We knew people did social media detoxes – usually in an attempt to be more mindful – but for us, the decision to delete our accounts happened because we had a second child.
Going from one to two children had proved infinitely more draining on our emotional health. There was quite simply too much on our plates to handle now. One of the first things we had to do was re-prioritise everything. We had to make time for what mattered most at the moment: our family.
Thankfully my husband I are really good at having important ‘life or death’ type conversations, a direct result of having lost several loved ones to cancer. We reflected on what we wanted our family culture to look like on a daily basis. How we wanted our children to remember us when we were gone. We had already been pretty mindful about raising our children with presence and purpose. Having our second child, however, really pushed us to rethink what worked and what had to change.
Of the many things we decided to restructure, the one that showed the most surprising results was leaving social media. We came to discover how distracted and disconnected we had become with our digital lives. There was a renewed appreciation for privacy and authenticity, and it helped both our children and ourselves thrive in (real) life.
Here are the three things that have had the most positive impact on our lives as parents:
The Only Opinions that Matter
As a Girl Scout in school, I’d been taught that ‘the chief obstacle to happiness comes from the over eager desire to have people think about you.’ Funnily, I had grown up to do exactly that, especially when I became a mother. I wanted to portray myself in a certain way. I posted pictures of my kids eating healthy food or having fun outdoors, in an effort to seek validation and external praise. David Brooks writes in his book, ‘The Road to Character,’ that social media has bred a ‘broadcasting personality’ where, “the self-cultivator spends more energy trying to display the fact that he is happy, posting highlights, than being truly happy.” Reading that struck a chord with me because even as a new mother who was honestly exhausted, resentful and oftentimes unhappy – there was still a huge part of me that craved the approval of others.
In truth, the only opinion that matters to me is my husband’s. He has a very practical long-game way of looking at life which I have always loved. So in retreating from all public exhibition of our lives, he became my source of judgement and approval. I also sought the sincere counsel of only the closest to me. I could feel myself becoming more secure as a parent, as the circle of people I entrusted became tiny. As I disappeared from friends’ feeds, the external pressure I’d felt to be the ‘perfect’ mom lifted. My mind was no longer occupied with self-glorification, or comparisons and strife. Instead, I was finally able to focus fully on the responsibility that had been placed before me: raising my children the best way I know how.
Model an Authentic Life
My boys are constantly watching me, whether it’s at work, speaking to strangers, or driving in the car. They detect what really matters to me, through my daily interactions and behaviour when we are alone. Being on social media meant my children saw how I took photos, posted them, and then checked for likes, all during our play time together. I had been intentional about putting my phone down as much as possible. But it was extremely distracting to be online around my children. It was only a matter of time before my ‘screen-free’ sons would be constantly connected too. I was not exactly modelling the healthy relationship with technology I hoped they would have in the future.
I wanted to demonstrate life through agency and action. I’d like to give them the wisdom to grow in humility, not the desire to be famous. I hoped to impart a sense of joy that doesn’t necessarily need to be shared with the whole world. As my sons continue to witness how I live without social media, I can only hope it will have a positive influence on what they choose to focus their lives on. If that fails, at least they will have interesting stories about how their mom had no digital life!
Build a Real Community
These days, I only know what’s happening with my friends when they update me directly. I’ve missed birthdays, have no idea when people are traveling, or who is pregnant. It’s been great, largely because I love catching up with people in person. The biggest change in friendships however, is that I’ve unexpectedly made lots of new friends. Actual people-who-live-in-my-
It has been more fulfilling to be a part of someone’s life, than it is to receive ‘likes’ and comments on my posts from distant connections. It also takes a lot of effort to construct relationships as a grown up, with people who live and work around you. Being part of a real community has proven to be my favourite thing about being social media free. I’ve come to love being able to walk over to a friend’s house on the way to the park. It could be just to say ‘Hi’ or drop off some food. I’ve learnt that real community is not about Facebook groups, but a vital part of everyday family life. And children, who again watch what we do, can learn kindness, friendship and love on the very street they live on.
Some people wonder if our family will be ‘back’ on social media, as if it was just an experiment. We usually reply that we see no real reason for being connected that way as parents anymore. Being social media free has been life-changing. I am still an overwhelmed mom most days, struggling to balance work and family, and I am constantly trying to improve. Social media-free parenting did not magically make my life easier, but it personally challenged me to really focus on my family and truly give this whole parenting thing my best shot.
By Michelle Chua
Michelle Chua is the author of ‘The Mindful Mom’ and Co-facilitator of the Art Discovery Tours for Kids at the ILHAM Gallery in KL.