Mom Talk: My Virtual Village

Written by

Nikki Ridgway

9:00 am
08/25/17

Zinzi Edmundson, Photographed By Maria Del Rio

We’re back with another round of  “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Nikki Ridgway talks creating a virtual tribe, while raising kids miles away from her family, and finding balance in these modern tech times. -JKM

Like half of all Americans, I’m raising my children more than 25 miles away from any extended family (who are all 3,500 miles across the pond in the UK). My decision to move from London to New York City for 12 months at age 25 led to a good job, a great man, a wedding, two sons, and a move to the “burbs” in eight short years. It was the best change of plans I could have imagined, and I wouldn’t swap my New York stories (“yes, your very cool mother did once get drunk in a secret speakeasy inside a water tower”) or my American boys for anything. But, as they grow and grow with inconsiderate speed and heart-bursting sweetness, I miss sharing it all with my nearest (really, farthest) and dearest. The solution? Data-plan-busting group chats, lots of them.

My phone pings day and night with the dozen or so chat groups that were started in the months after the birth of my first son. Yes, there were the hours of nursing and nocturnal wake-ups that put me on everyone’s timezone for a short while, but I also remember feeling totally uprooted by this precious and bewildering baby, and needing to get back to firm ground. For me, this meant the ease and shorthand you get from family and old friends, but your “rock” can be anyone in those blurry infant days. One friend found it in her town’s Facebook group, another in her husband’s colleague who happened to email on the right day. Today, my own chats cover everything from labor induction and nipple shields in “Mamas” to epic reminiscing and rants about husbands in “Uni Girls”. I receive embarrassing childhood photos in “Cousins” and pre-baby #tbts in “Vacayyyyy”. As it would be in-person, these aren’t profound discussions about raising a family, just outlets for all of the everyday details, and some of the hormonal junk.

But, where I found emotional support via WhatsApp and Skype, there were also the practical bits of parenting that no amount of calls or clever emoji-ing would cover. I have Fresh Direct and Seamless where there might have been home-cooked meals from relatives. Amazon Prime and Ebay for all the stuff I could have pinched from my sister. A sanity-saving babysitter not from a friend of a friend around the corner, but with help from Care.com. And, momentarily, a personal shopper via Trunk Club when I’m sure my best friends would have “tsked” and approved sweats for another month. My mother laughed at this point and assured me she wouldn’t have been my private chef wherever I lived in the world, but it’s the familial safety net that’s missing and can be replaced, in part, on the web.

As for the sage wisdom you might get from your village elders? I found the Insta-mums. Unconsciously in those early baby days, I started scrolling through parent-focused profiles from women including Courtney Adamo and JetsetMama in Australia, LaTonya Yvette and Read Tea Leaves in the U.S., Mum Face and Natasha Bailie in the U.K., and more. Some of these feeds feel like family life put through a Kinfolk rinse, and others are just reassurance that other people find raising children hard and hilarious in equal measure, multiple times a day. My husband is baffled by my affection for these women, but just as I read Just Seventeen as a teen and Nylon in my early ’20s, these are my people right now, and I’m grateful for the advice and escapism—as well as the blatant product plugs I’ve fallen for a handful of times. Zillion dollar organic knit baby beanie? Give me two.

The virtual village only feels like a bad fit on big community pages where huddles of strangers are brought together by the only thing we have in common—parenthood. I would never ask a bunch of motorists for their thoughts on my car’s weird whirring sound, so I should have known better than to crowdsource opinions on my toddler’s thumb sucking on a parent’s chat board; the responses ranged from judgmental to alarmist. Happily, and unlike almost every other part of parenting, you can opt out by simply logging out or adding filters through a mama-friend-finding app like Peanut. The other problem, of course, with all these worlds existing in one place is that you can spend a giant chunk of the day staring at your phone. I usher my kids in for FaceTime with grandparents and request birthday videos for friends, but say “no” to Toca Boca at random and insist that the phone is not a toy, while laughing my way through a podcast. Like everything else, I’m still figuring out a balance, while making up the rules. But, at least for now, I’ll take the delighted shriek of “Grannnnnnnnny!” as my mom appears on the phone over warnings about screen time any day.

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