This debate roams the Internet on a daily basis. How much time do we invest in online relationships versus how much time do we pour into our IRL friends and family? For homeschooling mothers, it really is a delicate balance, because we are, in many ways, isolated from the opportunities most other women have to nourish friendships. And it’s one of the reasons I am intimidated to intentionally create community here on this oft-neglected blog.
We all need friends. Period. The end. If you say you don’t need friendships, you are wrong. Our husband should be our first and best friend, but since as women we were created with different gifts than men, women need women. Girls need girls. A man can do his best to try to understand our thoughts and emotions, but ladies, they just aren’t built the same way. It’s important to remember that Christians are not meant to live in an inward-focused isolation. Our Catholic Church is an invitation to live in Christian community with one another, in service and in love. How do we do that when we are at home most of the time in order to homeschool?
This generation has a tremendous gift in the web and social media. We can make and nourish online friendships in a variety of forums from blogs to Facebook, from Twitter to hangouts, from email to Instagram. Online relationships can be convenient for busy mothers, because conversations usually happen outside of set time frames. You often don’t have to be in the same place at the same time to enjoy one another’s company. I also find that online friendships work for both extroverts and introverts, because you decide how much you talk and there is a layer of protection between a shy individual and her keyboard.
But we still need the flesh and blood interactions, too. A hug from another woman, a smile, even a raised eyebrow and a snarky chuckle are essential to our humanity. IRL friendships with faraway friends are often inevitably converted into online relationships. I propose we need to be more intentional about nourishing our nearby IRL friendships and maybe step out on a limb to make new friends or deepen existing friendships in order to grow in humility and holiness.
Years ago, most families didn’t move from state to state, following jobs and dreams, over and over. Consequently, we often don’t have those tight-knit life-long friendships or nearby extended family that our grandparents enjoyed. The internet allows us to keep in touch with IRL friends from far away and to find friends who share the same values and mesh with our lifestyle even if they live far away.
A skill we might be losing, though, is how to make friends with just about anyone. If we are only making friends with people like us, which I have deliberately chosen to do in certain seasons of my motherhood, we cannot truly be open to the prompts of the Holy Spirit to influence change in our lives or to be an instrument of change in the lives of others. Stepping out of our comfort zone at the park with moms who are “strangers” or joining a new group to meet new women can give us that shot in the arm we need.
I also believe that online interactions can be key to filling our emotional tanks as homeschooling mothers. We need a sense of community that, perhaps, men don’t need as much as we do, and it’s very hard to find the time to meet with local friends with nursing babies, teenagers in transition, math lessons, soccer practices, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and everything else. It’s hard enough to find time for the occasional date night with our husbands. Being online can mean the difference between surviving and thriving in this 24-7-365 vocation we have chosen!
Still, I also believe we need to nourish those friendships we have with women nearby, even the ones that seem to take more work than we are willing to give. We were created with a need for one another. Couldn’t you use a real human hug more often than not? To ignore that desire, is to ignore how God created us.
Saint John Paul II said both, “The feminine foundation is relational and other-focused,” and “Friendship, as has been said, consists in a full commitment of the will to another person with a view to that person’s good.” Surely, it is putting our femininity to good use by developing friendships and nurturing other women both online and in real live.
How can you reach out today to a friend IRL? Can you call or text her? Stop by with a plate of cookies or flowers from your yard just to say hello?