Parenting Today Can Be a Lonely Gig: Why social media isn't enough
Many families in New Zealand today just don't have those strong community connections that were so common a generation or two ago, and while there truly is a ‘Facebook group’ for everyone, when it comes to parenting in isolation, social media is a feeble plaster over a deep wound.
Parenting used to happen in the community
Rightly and wrongly, parenting in Aotearoa used to be different. Before industrialization, fast cars, low-interest rates, health and safety, early childhood centres, and the internet, parenting young children was often done in the community, by the community, and this even more true for Māori (Pool & Du Plessis, 2020). At home, grandma might be running the show, while mum and dad were busy with the daily chores of surviving a world without supermarkets, the Warehouse, or amazon.com. Older siblings raised younger siblings, cousins lived within walking distance of each other, and neighbours were just as likely to tell you off as your own parents… and you listened.
That doesn’t mean things were perfect. They weren’t. But in general, families were more connected to their communities.
Parenting today is a lonely gig
Today, if you’re lucky, one parent (either one), works full time, and the other only part-time, while doing the lions share of the parenting. Grandparents are either still at work, in a home, or may have retired to a quiet province far away from their grandchildren. Children have only one or two siblings (Stats NZ, 2018), and are not allowed out of the fenced yard for fear of traffic accidents or abduction. Furthermore, people might not even know their neighbours names, let alone trust them to watch the kids.
There are a lot of conveniences to help overworked and under supported parents manage on their own with kids. Dishwashers, washing machines and supermarkets to name a few. This enables parents, for the most part, to get by without having to reach out for support. However, as much as these conveniences help with the practical tasks of running a home, they don’t address the social isolation. The fact remains that parenting today can be a lonely gig.
Why social media doesn’t work
It’s not surprising that social media has found a foothold with lonely parents (and almost everyone else) who want to feel connected, understood, and validated in their day to day lives. There is a Facebook group for virtually every type of parent, and every type of parenting problem. There are community pages where people can buy/swap/sell and vent their frustrations. But parents continue to feel isolated and alone… why?
The answer is both simple and complex. On the one hand, it is painfully obvious that facebook friendships cannot replace real friendships. It’s great to be able to put your ideas and images out to the network and get feedback, but it’s not so useful in an emergency when what you really need is someone you can trust to watch the kids.
On the other hand, there are more subtle forces at work that prevent social media groups from forming meaningful, lasting friendships. In an online forum, people tend to feel common courtesy doesn’t apply. They will say things that they wouldn’t say to your face, creating divisions within communities that are left unresolved.
In the real world, a disagreement may be talked out, compromises are made, and friendships deepen. If someone doesn’t like a social media group, they can jump ship, and join another one instead. This is a lot harder in a real community, and people have far more incentive to work through an issue. I believe that it is in coming together in this way that communities strengthen, and form safe, supportive environments in which families can thrive.
What are we doing about it?
People are waking up to the disappointment of social media. While it has enriched the lives of many, and continues to be a valuable and useful resource, there is still a need for real connection in real communities.
Parent Village has joined a growing number of social network providers that are working to strengthen the bonds between people within existing communities. This is important for children, because it means that there is more likely to be someone they trust to help them if they fall off their bike down the road, or if mum and dad need a break.
Author: Parent Village aims to provide useful and relevant information to parents, grandparents, and caregivers.
Pool, I. & Du Plessis, R. (2020). Families: a history. Retrieved from https://teara.govt.nz/en/families-a-history/print.
Stats NZ (2018). Births & Deaths. Retrieved from https://www.stats.govt.nz/topics/births-and-deaths?gclid=CjwKCAiA4o79BRBvEiwAjteoYJW9aXgr5EzOp83JX1hrDK_6wcrUJ1AvSExL9MJ8EOUkikXZFqlvphoCtr8QAvD_BwE