“My best friends live in my computer.”
That is the sticker I saw on someone’s laptop the first time I ever ventured to a conference full of bloggers. I knew immediately I had found my people.
I am probably the only parent that I know who doesn’t stress out about the amount of time my teenager spends online. This is not because I’m not worried about too much time in front of screens or the very real dangers of online predators. While I know a life in a dark basement in front of a laptop all day isn’t ideal for any child, I also recognize the value of the personal connection that can happen across a fiber optic line.
We are built for connection. Humans do best when in relationship with others.
There is a reason that ever since Hillary Clinton first titled her book, we westerners keep quoting the perhaps made up proverb about a village raising a child. Even if we can’t trace the roots of that particular saying, the sentiment remains compelling. We know, deep in our guts, that we can’t do this parenting thing alone. Or maybe we can, but it certainly won’t feel good.
That gets us back to my best friends living in my computer. Much like the dodgy origin story of the Village Proverb, this isn’t entirely true. I have great friends that came from time spent together in the flesh. I also had great neighbors that helped in those early days of new babies and too many toddlers at once.
But when I moved out of state with three under 6, I was far away from those neighbors and I suddenly felt isolated and alone. I didn’t know which doctors to use or where to buy the cheapest diapers in my new hometown. (Spoiler, nothing is cheap in my hometown.)
The village I had built didn’t live across the street anymore and I missed the connection desperately. So, I headed to the internet.
I started blogging in 2008. I adopted social media as soon as each new platform it came out so I was no stranger to the online world.
It was there, in the comments on my posts and the posts on those commenters’ pages that I found my new mom friends. I knew, at nearly any time day or night, I could head online and ask the scary questions moms sometimes have at any time of day or night.
As my kids got older and entered school, I started to make friends IRL (as the kids used to say). No matter how great a community I built around me, I still found myself going back to my online mom friends.
Sometimes, it just felt right to ask certain them questions or vent about frustrations in a way I maybe didn’t want to share with the parents of my kids’ friends.
The relationship I have with the women I have met online is different than that of the women and men I know as parents in my community. I need both.
Sometimes, I want to talk about parenting outside the context of the schools, groups or teams I have in common with the women in my neighborhood.
When I want to share about my kids and our struggles, it is sometimes easier to do it with people who won’t see either of us in person. Vulnerability is easier if you know you don’t have to look someone in the eye at a school fundraiser.
Then there are times I want to talk to other women about something totally different than parenting or my kids. I want to talk about work, or marriage or aging gracefully. I can do all of that from my laptop. When I need those moments, they are as rewarding as sitting across from my best friend for coffee.
Now, that seeing people in person has gotten harder and harder, I feel incredibly lucky to have an online village.
Of course I have missed hugging my people in real life, but I have not felt the isolation and loneliness that I know is out there during quarantine.
That is in large part because I have connections online. I was already on zoom with some of my favorite people before the rest of the world was forced there. I was used to Voxer messages and using Facebook groups as a way to communicate and share each other’s lives.
I had an online village and we stepped up for one another in quarantine like the real friends that we are.
There is power in connection. There is value in connection with women online. Now, more than ever, we need each other, and we can get what we need from the friends in our computer.