Saturday, December 19, 2009

Twitter Mom: It Could Be Me

You may or may not have heard or read about this, but just last week the big splashy headlines screamed out another controversy by saying things like "Twitter Mom Tweets While Son Drowns in Family Pool". Of course, that's not what actually happened, and not in the way that it happened, but headlines are supposed to shock you enough that you read the story and ones like this seem to really do the trick, don't they? Of course the story I refer to is that of Shellie Ross, known on twitter as Military Mom. You can read about her tragic story at any online news outlet.

When I read the story, my heart just broke for this mom and this family. When I read the details of what happened and how it happened, it hit so close to home I felt rather uncomfortable. When I read (at one source) the comments being posted I felt absolutely enraged at the collective ignorance and judgemental attitudes. The more I thought about it, the more defensive I felt and wanted to take a moment to stand up for all twitter/blogger moms out there. There are A LOT of us, and what happened to Shellie Ross could have very (VERY) easily happened to any one of us.

Now, I don't know this family and I wasn't there, so I can't honestly speak to any of that. What I can do however is give a little picture of the reality of being a mom who is also online. I've been a mom for 27 years and been online for 16 of those years, so I think I have a little experience with juggling the two. Or, maybe it's blending, or balancing - not sure.

I will set aside the whole idea that mothers should never be online in the first place while their kids are young, because quite frankly I don't think it's realistic at all. The internet and all its ease of communication is today's version of the telephone, times 100. Yes there are definitely far more distractions than a simple telephone, but it IS the way the vast majority of the population communicates these days and to expect a mom to avoid it is simply unrealistic. So, that subject can just be left over there on the shelf.

In this particular case, a lot of the criticism was leveled at the mom for tweeting while the tragedy was occuring and thereby neglecting her son and leaving him unsupervised. Further, after she realized what had happened she tweeted again (asking for prayer) and that also upset a lot of people.

From what I've been able to gather, the way it really went down was a situation far more common in just about every home. The mother, reasonably assuming her son was safe, tweeted about the fog rolling in and needing to get some work done outside before it got too thick. What she did not know was that at just about the same time she posted that, the accident was occuring. I can only imagine her horror at realizing what was happening and then her painful desperation moments later when she tweeted again from the hospital asking her followers to pray.

Being a mom for as long as I have been, I know first hand just how easy it is for your kids to get hurt when you genuinely think they're safe. You could be doing the dishes, sorting the laundry, making dinner, blogging, tweeting, chatting online, taking a shower or any number of things at home and before you know it your child is in grave danger. I will never forget the morning I stepped out of the shower to the sound of screams coming from my oldest daughter's bedroom. Not quite two years old at the time, when I turned the corner and found her laying on her floor my blood ran cold. I didn't piece it all together until later in the ER while she was getting her arm in a soft cast, but while I was in the shower she decided to jump from her bedroom chair onto her bed. She missed the bed and hit the bedrail with her arm and fractured it. Another time, I was puttering around the house one late summer day, when I was about to lay down for a little rest in the afternoon. The younger kids were all together outside playing and my teenager was to keep an eye on them while I had a rest. Just as I was about to sit down, my 4 yr old son let out a blood curdling scream from the yard. He made it into the kitchen the same time I did from the other part of the house. Between trying to calm him down, getting a bucket full of ice and calling 911 and keeping calm myself, I learned that he'd gone out to the barn where the workers had lit a fire, and he'd stepped (barefoot) in a smoldering pile of trash, and burnt his foot.

These are just two examples I can share of situations where moms are home, assume the kids are safe, and within mere moments the kids are in a tragic situation that you never even imagined could have happened. While I wasn't on twitter at the time tweeting about some unimportant thing, I certainly could have been and would have had no idea what was about to take place. I recall last winter how many times I tweeted about going back out to shovel MORE snow. I could have easily tweeted that any number of times and 5 seconds later discovered one of my kids had been hurt. Stay at home moms do not follow their kids around the house and the yard watching them 24 hours a day. Sometimes we reasonably assume they're fine, and safe, playing in their rooms, with an older sibling, playing on the swing or in the kitchen up to the table coloring. Even with that, it only takes seconds for a child to get hurt, and I think every logical thinking adult knows that. No, moms and moms online do not watch their kids 24 hours a day, and it's not even realistic to assume we do. No parent does that, even if they're not online. Of course we make every effort to supervise them, check on them and stay aware of what they're doing, but even with that accidents happen.

Sometimes... we even go to the bathroom by ourselves.

For anyone to automatically assume you're an irresponsible, neglectful parent because you're online and your kids get hurt, is rather ridiculous. Granted, there are irresponsible parents out there but the truth of the matter is, kids get hurt all the time, even when the parent is standing RIGHT there, for crying out loud. I can't imagine a parent out there that couldn't relate to that. While some parents (and stay at home moms especially) might spend a little too much time online (or with any other hobby or interest - lets be honest folks, who cannot relate to that one?), that also does not automatically mean you're this horrible person who neglects their children.

The other part of the criticism that really upset me, was the verbal bombing of this poor woman because she tweeted again and asked for prayer. Several commenters on one site were saying the same thing, along the lines of "how can she be on twitter when her son just drowned!?" Good grief, I ask you, isn't that the ULTIMATE use of realtime, mass communication like twitter? How many reading this saw the urgent prayer requests for Matt Chandler when he recently learned he had a brain tumor, and how many of you retweeted that news, immediately? I mean sure we can all tweet about sports, tv shows, snowstorms or whatever, but when it comes right down to it, one of the best uses for such social networking sites like twitter is to post such prayer needs and be assured that your followers WILL pray. Now you or I might not immediately turn to twitter and post a prayer request after such a tragic situation, but it makes perfect sense to me that a lot of people would, and a lot of people do. I commented a few days ago that twitter (and sites like it) are this generations version of the telephone. Where 10 or 20 years ago someone might call a friend or their pastor or a prayer chain and put in an urgent prayer need, today a lot of people post it right to twitter or FB or other places where they know their friends, family, church family and online aquaintances will take that prayer need seriously and spread the news of your need. It's most certainly a lot easier than making 10 or 20 phone calls and repeating the upsetting news over and over.

It was really frustrating to see the mixed reaction to this news story. Folks jumped to all kinds of conclusions and even retweeted the controversial headlines, but as I read more about it I just kept thinking "wow, this SO could have been me". It could have been just about any mom at home, online, with young kids. Instead of demonizing the poor woman for being on twitter, I think the best reaction is to pray for her family's comfort as they deal with the loss of their precious little boy.

I can only hope that might be the reaction of folks if it were me, instead of her.

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