Can Social Networking Save a Single Parent? Or at Least Give Her a Little Boost When She Needs It?

ethanicecream.JPGI felt a surge of power this summer. It was hot and my son and I had been apart for nine days while he was on vacation with his dad, the longest stretch of time we’d ever been separated. I expected him to act out after returning home, but instead he seemed kinder, more polite, easily filling in the last boxes on his good behavior chart taped to the refrigerator.And then I had this idea. It was, for me, a whirlwind of an idea, something I’d go crazy if my mother proposed or my son’s dad carried out. It was out of character for me, a mom who is all about consistency and healthy choices. But just as quickly as the inspiration came to me, so did the flash of power that I am the mom here, the person in charge, a relatively centered and sometimes person who can make decisions like these. Alone. Without guilt.

That’s when I told my boy we were getting ice cream for dinner.

It was an exhausting six-block walk (that was how I negotiated the splurge with my mommy-guilting, rational self) and our bellies ached as we read books at bedtime that night. Still, it was lovely and liberating.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about it, pulled back for a moment by the same feelings that almost kept me from proposing the ice cream adventure at all.  I wrote it anyway. I put it out there.

And then, the most lovely thing happened. Another mom met me, a single mom who’d recently taken her own son out for dinner in a cone.  She cheered me on, she shared her story, she got it.

I’d been reading blogs by single parents for months, but this was the first real connection for me. Her comment on my blog brought a slew of supportive comments and somehow, introduced me to single parent circles on other sites. Pretty soon, I was caught up in more blogs, leaving my own comments and seeking out more people who heard precisely what I was thinking and feeling and laughing and screaming and going through, even if our experiences didn’t match up completely, even at 2 a.m., even thousands of miles and words apart.

It hasn’t been that long since I spooning up chocolate-peanut butter for my supper but I’m standing among many other single parents. Not next door or at a support group or a special playgroup. Just online.

Of course, just online is not just online. For me, it means using Facebook , Twitter , LinkedIn and (of course) this fabulous site;  – the social networks most of know and many of us already use – for more than reading or playing Scrabulous or see which Sex and the City character we are (for better or worse, it’s Carrie, dammit).

Even if I am too exhausted or under too many deadlines or just really needing time in the tub to read every blog post by every single parent I now call a friend or admire or am getting to know one entry at a time, I can scan the members of a group like this one. It makes me feel better to see those names. It gives me a sigh of relief when I see that other single parents are updating their status way too late at night. I love knowing I can reach out with a question or a “woo-hoo!” or a laugh and a wink at people I’ve never met in person by sending a direct message or writing my own late-night update.

I was explaining this all to my mother the other day (and yes, she was shocked I let the kid have a big old waffle cone, let alone eat what?! for dinner), and she asked how in the world I find time to be active on all those sites, especially with how much I’m working and how overwhelmed I get at times.

I understood her concern. I’ve found that, as soon as most people enjoy social networking sites, they are teetering on the edge of complete addiction. And sure, I spend a lot of time on the sites and investing myself in near-strangers. But really, it’s a way I – and maybe even we – are taking over casseroles and scribbling out cards and popping into the Y in this generation.

We’re sharing stories and resources and friends in the same way women have for all time, and I imagine it feels just as empowering to have this kind of companionship. Meeting up in this way, I think, is one more way I am taking good care of myself. And I love the idea that, in return, I am participating in the self-care of another single mama.

I don’t think of us all out here tapping away on the social networking sites as being in everything completely together. Life and opinions and experiences and status updates are never that simple. But when I see it romantically, I envision us all as captains of our own big and swaying ships, sailing side by side on a vast ocean.

I like to think that we are on our own course, but not alone. One hand firmly on the wheel and one hand tenderly holding on to a child whose face is covered in ice cream.

Are you using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other sites to take care of yourself as a single parent?  Does it serve you well or is it just a big time suck? Let us know.

By Jessica Ashley


Jessica Ashley is a writer, editor and professional blogger who wears fabulous but inappropriate heels to playgroup. Jessica conducts spirituality workshops for new mothers, using art, writing and rituals for self-care. She knows 14 verses to Wheels on the Bus, is a social networking and reality TV junkie and posts about all that and more on her personal blog, Sassafrass. Jessica lives in Chicago, where she is raising her honey of a hilarious four-year old son. She has written for Strollerderby on, That’s,, MommyTrack’, and many other stops on the blogosphere.