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Moms, Internet Addiction, and the Problem That Has No Name

April 5, 2011

Lately, it seems that everywhere I look, moms are getting reprimanded for the amount of time they spend on the internet. And I’m getting tired of it. In fact, I’m getting downright angry.

I struggle with my predilection for the internet. While I enjoy traveling and connecting with others, all in the comfort of my bathrobe, I know this level of instant gratification and constant information can’t be good for my mind, especially when I sometimes stare at the screen like I’ve been glamoured by one of the vampires on True Blood.

But why, on parenting sites especially, are we made to believe that it’s moms with the problem that needs fixing? (If you don’t believe me, check here and here.) I am quick to worry about technology’s effect on our culture, our learning, our human connection. I see students everyday holding their  phones like they’re a life-line, afraid to let go for fear they may disintegrate into thin air. “I have a phone, therefore I am.”  As I’ve noted  before, I see people at restaurants, enjoying the company of their friends or family with one or more cell phones on the table, always ready to pick it up and continue or start some other kind of conversation. We are juggling so many personal and professional networks at once, we hardly know how to focus on a particular experience anymore, like watching a movie, having dinner with friends or family, sitting in a classroom or remaining attentive in a meeting. (Though obviously, some meetings are the reason Twitter was invented.)

So while I recognize that access to the internet has somewhat altered the way I and others think and communicate, the way we all behave, I am tired of condescending parenting magazines or top-notch newspapers reproving moms for their use of technology, acting as though their frequent use is a threat to the stability of society.

Google “mom internet addiction,” and you will see an abundance of titles: “Why Moms Are at Risk for Internet Addiction” (Cnn.com); “New Moms and Internet Addiction” (NYTimes); “Moms + Internet = Addiction?” (World of Psychology); “Mom vs. the Computer” (pbs.org).

Then, google “dad internet addiction.” Surprise! You won’t find any articles.

“Men internet addiction”? Articles about pornography.

And yet men are just as guilty of spending time on the computer as women (even when it has nothing to do with porn); they just don’t get condemned for it. Instead, I believe that our cultural biases assume men should and will focus on themselves, while women are supposed to be ever-present and attentive to their families. Did I just get a whiff of pot-roast and potatoes and Lysol, circa 1960?

Another place you’ll find vitriol directed toward mothers with laptops is the comments section of the New York Times Motherlode blog. In Lisa Belkin’s numerous posts about mom-bloggers, commenters scold mothers for neglecting their kids, for selling out to advertisers, and for seeming to have any ambition or hobbies aside from their children. It seems that a woman at the computer doesn’t quite match the fuzzy, consummate image of an aproned mom making muffins in the morning. Since the narrow width of a computer is seemingly insular, contributing usually to only one person’s entertainment, or knowledge, or connection to others through a social network, it challenges our expectation of what a mother should be doing. Take these two comments about mom-bloggers from the Motherlode blog, for instance:

Bob, from New York

I have a one-year old, and 90% of my free time is taken up by cleaning, catching up on work at home, or trying to sleep. On the weekend, it’s constant activities and play time. Yet, I always read about these blogs in which mothers write endlessly about how little time they have or are overwhelmed. How do they have the time to construct such rants when they’re taking care of a baby?? Is it when their partners take over? And if so, why do they waste that precious free time writing on a blog?

Marshall,, from Binghamton, NY

Mom blogs are a poor substitute for spirituality. Instead of Let Go and Let God, their slogan is Let Everything (and I mean THING) be of importance so someone will read it, I will accumulate millions of “hits” on my site and thus sponsors will give me lots of $$$$ so I can go buy more THINGS.

Beyond diseased. Mommy Blogs are a symptom of a country without direction . The weight of the Internet coming down on Maytag? How about the plight of _______? Get a life.

I can’t help but think that Bob’s inherent sentiment is that mothers should be spending their free time catering to their husband’s needs or taking care of their children. This modern business of sharing household and childcare duties is a drag. Can’t we all see that he is tired? And clearly, Marshall subscribes to the religion of judgment and bitterness. Mom-bloggers—moms looking for connection and acceptance and maybe a bit of ad revenue—are the symptom and cause of a spiritless America. Hmph. Wonder what his view was on those Wall Street bail-out bonuses.

This sense of ownership about how moms should be spending their time is way too close to 1950′s notions of motherhood and femininity for my taste. My reflections are no doubt inspired by Stephanie Coontz’s new book A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960′s, which uncovers the negative reaction toward Betty Friedan’s work, The Feminine Mystique, upon publication in 1963. Many women and men thought her book—which detailed “the problem that has no name,” women’s sense of purposelessness, hopelessness, and depression—was garbage, and told her so in writing. There weren’t internet commenters, but there were admonishing letters claiming there was no problem with the limited options for women in those decades of American society.

One housewife wrote, “It is reward enough for me to see my husband busy but happy, my children leaders in their own schools, because I am home each day making beds, cooking good meals, and ready to listen…to problems, sorrows, and joys…to be all-loving, self-sacrificing, gentle, feminine” (30). Good thing laptops weren’t yet invented. Then she might be searching for signs of “depression” and “repression.”

Another said, “Real women are wanted, needed, loved, and desired because we are happy, having learned the finest lesson of all: selflessness” (31). Yuck. I’ll take a “self” with my fries, please.

In the above messages from two very different time periods, one can’t help but see the parallels when it comes to society’s expectations of mothers. 50 or 60 years ago, mothers weren’t supposed to want more for themselves than the happiness and comfort of their families. Now, when women make the choice to be home, the assumption is that they shouldn’t want more, either. But they do.

While we have made countless gains toward equality, we still live in a society that, to some extent, fears female ambition, female desire. We much prefer a female archetype of selflessness and giving, and fail to recognize the personal and societal price of achieving that model: women’s happiness. As we all know, the old adage–”If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”–can not be more true. (And it can not contain appropriate grammar, neither, when Mama is angry.)

We all need to be careful about our use of technology—men, women, teenagers, educators, college students, workers. We should be endeavoring to live a life more focused on the depth of experience (an idea explored fully in William Powers’ book Hamlet’s Blackberry), rather than shuttling from one thought to the next to the next, making superficial connections and retrieving arbitrary data from a plethora of websites. But what we need to throw out are the old-fasioned ideas that a mom who is seeking some form of connection, an escape from her suburban isolation, is going to harm her kids and her family, that she is not subscribing to society’s expectations (usually also her own) of ideal motherhood.

Despite our many gains, what we still haven’t come to grips with is that women have dreams.

Image: “Housewife” by mrrobertwade via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah April 5, 2011 at 9:47 am

An excellent and timely post! I am really interested in all of these issues, because I am interested in how the phenomenon of mom-blogging is changing our perceptions of motherhood, culturally. There has been a double standard in parental and gender roles for only a short period of time (we like to think that it has always been this way, but in fact, it has really only been this bad since the industrial revolution– when we didn’t need quite so many people– aka women– in the workforce), and we seem to be experiencing a resurgence in this mentality as of late, with the economic downturn.
So, while I understand your view that culturally we do not accept or promote dreams, goals, aspirations for each gender equally, I would personally add that there are market forces also at play…

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Jana April 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm

I’m sure there are market forces at play. I’d love to hear more about them, because that is an area where my brain is sorely lacking!

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courtney April 5, 2011 at 10:39 am

As always, so well put Jana. As a sahm, I feel the bulk of my job is to care for, lead, and teach my child about the world around him, understand his strengths and be proud and confident while providing a safe and gentle place for him to come back to no matter what. I love that he has had so many amazing experiences at the age of four because we do so many things together…classes, reading, family movies, etc. With that said, I also love the time I allow myself to take during the day to be connecting to all kinds of people and a lot of that is done via the internet…as I write this sitting waiting for a pregnancy glucose test, using the hour that I must wait to read your blog and play games on my phone:)

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Gale @ Ten Dollar Thoughts April 5, 2011 at 10:47 am

I go back and forth on this. On the one hand, I understand that full-time parenting is hard and largely thankless work. If mothers find connection with other mothers online and benefit from it, I don’t begrudge them that. Not at all. A lot of mom bloggers use their own and other people’s blogs as creative outlets and opportunities for mental stimulation. And I applaud that.

But I sense that there are lots of mom bloggers (many of whom eventually “out” themselves and change their ways) who spend a great deal of time online without much purpose. Afraid to miss a FB status update or a Tweet they become slaves their technology, rather than letting it serve them. Then household jobs and parenting tasks fall by the wayside for no real reason.

I certainly don’t believe that women should live to serve their husbands and children. (Those quotes were pretty scary.) And I’m all for women pursuing their own interests. If I didn’t believe those things I wouldn’t have a job and a blog. But if 25 years ago a mother spent three or more hours a day watching soap operas and then complained about a lack of time I doubt many people would have sympathized with her.

Maybe that’s a fair barometer: “Is my time online more or less valuable than time spent watching soaps?” If the answer is anywhere close to less, then it’s time to close the laptop.

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Jana April 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Interesting response, Gale! I definitely think internet addiction is real. There’s a kind of hypnosis that takes hold, and I am often victim to it. Many times, I get on for one purpose, but quickly forget because I’m immersed in a world of emails and tweets and advertisements.

My issue is not so much that internet addiction doesn’t exist, or that moms can’t be addicts. My problem is more with the cultural condescension, that we all think we have the right to monitor or react to how moms spend their time. Without a doubt, I know that plenty of people are not using their time in a valuable way at work. How many people sit at the computer appearing to do work for a company, while at the same time updating their Twitter and Facebook feeds, watching random YouTube videos, or reading the news? So it’s clear that this is a problem that faces us all, regardless of whether we’re staying home with kids or at an office we don’t like very much.

Beyond that, a person who is watching soap operas all day is probably not feeling very fulfilled or happy, like many of the women Friedan wrote about and for, back in 1963. I think it’s better for us to find out what the root cause is of the “addiction,” rather than assuming moms are just not being very good mothers, or that more of their time should be spent with their kids. It seems that those moms are actually looking for time to spend alone, and they deserve it!

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Gale @ Ten Dollar Thoughts April 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm

You make a good point about the amount of time wasted online by people working in offices. I wonder if SAHMs inadvertently bring it on themselves by talking about it. That is, people who work in offices have huge disincentives to disclose how much time they do or don’t spend surfing the web. But SAHMs can’t get fired and seem to find comfort in hearing about other moms who are similarly addicted, and so they talk about it. Not only do they talk about it, but they talk about it ONLINE, where nearly anyone is privvy to their self-disclosure. And that, of course, is basically an embossed invitation to anyone who wants to throw them under the bus.

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Jana April 8, 2011 at 9:04 am

You’re right! Glad we figured this out. Next up: how to end war and hunger.

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nic @mybottlesup April 5, 2011 at 10:51 am

GREAT job with this post! It’s insightful, thought-provoking, and real.

THANK YOU!!!

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Jana April 8, 2011 at 9:04 am

Thanks! And glad you stopped by!

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Wendi April 5, 2011 at 10:51 am

I never before thought about how men aren’t ever considered “addicted” to the internet unless it’s for porn reasons. Great point to make, especially when you see dads using their phones constantly, too, and I highly doubt it’s always for business.

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Ameena April 5, 2011 at 12:11 pm

This is really a brilliant post…I never thought about it like this. I always feel guilty when I’m on my laptop, especially when I’m on the Internet. I know my hubby has zero feelings of guilty surrounding this though…

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Monica April 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm

The past issue of Bitch Magazine (which I know you dislike) actually just ran an article very similar to this post. I have the hard copy here, but you should search it out on the internet. It’s basically about “mommy bloggers” being reprimanded for making money off their blogs. It was a good piece. You might enjoy it.

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Jana April 8, 2011 at 9:03 am

I meant to tell you that I’d like to read this. If I could borrow it at some point, that would be bitchin’!

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Allison @ Alli 'n Son April 5, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Very thought provoking. I struggle with all of these things, internally. I often worry that blogging and social media, and the people I’ve connected with there, take too much away from my family. I still sometimes feel that I should be happy just to be at home with my son. But I’m not, I still need something more, which is what I get out of blogging. I just do my best to not let it interfere with my family life. Unless I need a break, that is.

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Christine April 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I drafted a long comment in which I found myself confessing my technology sins. For some reason, my gut response was to fess-up. And then I deleted it because truly, I have nothing to fess up to. I am more than just a mother and that is ultimately what matters. I am a working professional, a blogger, and a member of a strong, vibrant and important online community that is making a difference in my life. How I choose to divide my attention is something for me and my family to worry about, which you have so eloquently argued for in this piece.

But I am slightly torn, and agree somewhat with Gayle, I think there is a line that can be easily crossed and I’m not sure those of us who discuss these issues are the ones who are truly doing the crossing. Ultimately, the question is less what mothers are doing, and more what they are sacrificing to do it. If it’s an hour of housework, than I say, tweet, facebook and blog away! Any kind of connection that offers respite and support is more important than housework. In the end we won’t be remembered for clean toilets.

However, if it’s outright ignoring children in the interest of reading blog posts, or following the latest online celebrity drama, well that is another story all together.

The bottom line is, and I think you would agree, what happens in our homes is no ones business but our own, and unless we are willing to take a close look at society at large, than the critics should just butt out.

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Becca April 6, 2011 at 9:27 pm

My daughter did not fall of the couch and hit her head on the coffee table whilst I read a blog post yesterday. That certainly did *not* happen in *my* house. Just sayin.

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Jana April 8, 2011 at 9:02 am

It might have been worse, though, if you were running to the laundry room to switch the wash. Dangerous things happen when women fold clothes.

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Carrie April 8, 2011 at 1:51 am

I think the, lecturing from the side lines, folks are scared. All the advice on how to live seems to want to take us backwards. Very few people have a foreward thinking mind set, or the ablitliy to imagine how it “could” be, so, out come the naggers.
Tech wise, we rarely move backwards. Who knows what tomorrow brings in terms of what we will be able to do. Also, moms blogging has become a force!! We are starting something right here and now. I’m not sure where it is going, but we are connected, honest, informed, and dare I say it, UNITED. I’m not breaking any of these blog bonds I have made just because someone says I should do this less. They don’t know me, when I blog, or what I’m getting out of it.
Instead, of spending all their time trying to reel back in the god awful technology, they might want to ask themselves, what are we getting from this and where are we taking it?
As for those who get ad revenue selling out? Why would any woman accept that guilt? Intellectial property is of worth. Get paid. Men would.

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Carrie April 8, 2011 at 1:55 am

All that and intellectual is spelled wrong. Sigh. ;-)

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Jana April 8, 2011 at 8:59 am

Well, when a mama gets impassioned, she might spell wrong or use bad grammar, as noted above. No judgments, here! :)

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