Six months after the birth of my second son, I fell into a nightly habit. Once Paul was asleep, I’d say good night to my husband, Roberto, and our 4-year-old, Luke, and curl up in bed, smartphone in hand.
“What are you reading?” Roberto asked one night.
“The internet,” I said, without looking up. “All of it.”
The exchange became an inside joke between us, but most nights, I wasn’t surfing the internet. I was scrolling my Facebook feed, looking at pictures, glancing at headlines – and occasionally stumbling onto a post that mattered to me.
I was having a great time. I was also exhausted. Between working and caring for young children, long talks, books and TV had lost their appeal. By 8 p.m., I wanted something mindless. I wanted Facebook.
I started spending more time there, posting more frequently. My updates often centered on something Luke had said, from the funny (“I feel sad because the world is not made of doughnuts”) to the unintentionally profound (“Will I go to heaven?”– a question he posed after suffering the world’s tiniest scrape.)
These posts weren’t a polished version of life. When I posted something, I wanted the sentiment to reflect the reality of life with a preschooler and a baby, the tedium and the frustration.
I enjoyed sharing slices of my day; my friends seemed to enjoy reading them. At some point, though, the way I engaged with Facebook changed.
I went from scrolling my feed for 15 minutes at night to picking up my phone whenever I had downtime. Instead of posting a thought and returning to my day, I’d wait around, watching for “likes.”
Facebook was no longer a small part of my day. It shaped my day.
More than once, as Luke played around our house, I found myself listening to him through a social media filter: That will make a funny post. People will like that. I felt like a stage mom, inviting the world into my kitchen, wanting an audience to applaud my son as he played with Legos – needing that audience to validate me.
One morning in May, I realized I was keeping mental track not only of who had liked my posts but also who had not. My initial annoyance soon gave way to something harder: embarrassment and discomfort. What was happening to me? To sort out my feelings about all this, I stepped away from Facebook just before Memorial Day. A break from any habit or routine can give perspective. Right away, my time off had its perks. I stopped scrolling headlines and again read full articles, even books.
Rather than referencing a recent post to jump-start chats with friends, I had to ask open-ended questions. That approach often led to better conversations. I didn’t frame my thoughts into tidy posts or worry about likes.
During that time, though, I also realized that Facebook has become embedded in my life. I missed news of births, illnesses, promotions, parties, birthdays. When I had a thought to share, I craved that audience again.
For writers, social media provides access to ideas and sources. Shutting that window was a big pain. More than anything, I missed the fun of connecting with friends and family, seeing their photos, reading their updates. These aren’t superficial things.
In September, I logged back on, determined to use Facebook again, but this time more mindfully, with a better balance between my online and real life. My friends welcomed me back. “Oh thank God,” wrote one. “I have missed you every day,” wrote another.
Their comments felt like a warm embrace, but after a few minutes, I shut my laptop. In my kitchen, Luke and Paul were chasing each other, chatting away. I listened to my kids. I watched them play.