I don’t have a husband. I have Facebook.
As a single mom, there are lots and lots of things that I can handle really, really well. I run the house, make all the meals (mostly from scratch, I’m proud to say). I own a small business that does well enough to support us – with a little extra for fun stuff and vacations. I take care of the innumerable school obligations. Birthday parties? Check. Potty training? Check. Ditto for doctor appointments, manners enforcement and issuance of a chore program. Most days I can pull together the patience to discipline the kids without losing my mind, and dole out enough hugs and praise to convince myself that they’ll never spend a single minute in the state pen.
But there is one thing that I cannot do: I cannot be my own companion. And so I turn to Facebook.
When people think about being a single parent, they immediately jump to worst-case scenarios. What if a single parent had to deal with a devastating illness, or even worse, if their child does? How would they cope with unemployment or a natural disaster? And then there are also the tiny paper cuts of daily life – loneliness, financial shortcomings and the relative uncertainty of the future.
So far, my worst cases have been thankfully nothing more than being burnt out while the kids bludgeon each other over who gets into the bath first. Or playing musical beds all night long, as two preschoolers vie for a spot next to me in my queen-size.
It’s all of the best cases – without a husband to share them – that hurt the most.
It’s those little, unexpected moments when the kids are so funny and sweet that leave me yearning for another person – a warm body, a sympathetic ear, an open heart – to take note, to belly laugh and roll his eyes and most importantly, to remember.
That is what I want and need: someone to hear me. And then I want him to remember with me.
Instead, I post our moments on Facebook.
I'm proud Lucas is man enough to use the electric power saw toy as a hair dryer on the toy dinosaur.
Helena's take on the election: “Maybe they can both get the job and work it out.”
I’ve gotten really good at crafting snippets of my children’s dialogue that I believe sketch out each of their personalities as well as our family dynamic.
My four-year-old, Helena, is known among my 608“friends” for being hilarious, droll and wise beyond her years:
Me: Please eat four bites of oatmeal since you're 4.
Helena: Let' s pretend I'm 1.
Helena: I saw a butterfly!
Me: Oh yeah? What color was it?
H: The inside was orange, and the outside was brown and crappy.
Unprompted, and with sincerity and eye contact, Helena walked around the dining table and said, “I'm sorry I said your breakfast was gross. And I'm sorry I whined.”
Meanwhile, Lucas, at 2, never ceases to slay me with his sweetness and generosity. Apparently, he slays a lot of people, according to the numbers of thumbs-ups I’ve received on posts describing this little boy:
Me: In this picture you’re in mommy's tummy.
Lucas: I hiding.
Morning with Lucas …
L: I kiss eyebrows. (Kisses my eyebrows. I return the favor.)
L: I kiss ears. (repeat)
L: I kiss chin. (repeat)
L: I kiss cheeks. (repeat)
L: I kiss mustache. (frown)
Sweetest Lucas habit of late: As he snuggles into bed, he asks, “Hold hand, Mommy?” and gives me a squeeze with his chubby warm fingers, then says, “I love you.” I could just die.
Each of these posts serves several purposes. For one, all of the digital high-fives give me a genuine sense of affirmation and companionship. These people, too, see how brilliant, how witty, how fantastic my kids are. It’s not just me! I am not alone!
Helena: Do you know how you get old?
Helena: You get decorations all all all all over your body.
Helena: Oh yea? What do the decorations look like?
Helena: You know like Great-Grandma Shirley? Like that.
Helena: Yea, wrinkles.
Lucas, about his dinosaur: “He nice guy. He no bite you.”
Facebook also serves as a log of our lives. While I may not have a significant other to share in creating an oral history of our family, Mark Zuckerberg created the Timeline. I envision the day when my children dig into my posts and see just how much I cherished their every little quip, and through my words (not to mention the hundreds of approving “likes” and LOLing comments) will come to know themselves through what will be their own scrollable history.
Mom brag: Friday night I took the kids to a nice neighborhood bistro where they sat quietly at the table, ate all their food, chatted with the wait staff, respectfully shared dessert, and were entirely delightful dinner companions.
Triumph: Helena is systematically giving butch haircuts (neatly, over the garbage can) to all of her Barbies and other plastic dolls with unreasonably long locks.
Social media has replaced a husband in several other ways. If there were an engaged father living in my house, we would certainly consult each other on all child-rearing issues. Instead, I post my questions on Facebook.
Anyone else use shame to discipline their children? As in:
“Do you see anyone else sucking on a ketchup bottle in this restaurant?”
“You are the only naked person on this entire beach.”
“Civilized people do not pick their noses.”
A husband would also share my enthusiasm for planned vacations, or cheer me on about new work projects – roles that my Facebook tribe now fill. These folks “share” links to the articles I write, “like” my blog fan page, and offer encouragement and good will in response to my daily happenings.
On the flipside, my collective Facebook spouse satisfies a good chunk of my human need for good old-fashioned company. After all, my dream husband and I would chitchat about the latest news every morning. We’d email each other video clips and interesting articles and hilarious pictures of our kids. Now I do those things with 608 people – most of whom I’ve never met in real life.
Of course, co-parenting is not always as easy as uploading an iPhone pic to a hearty reception of emoticons. I was reminded of this recently when I posted:
Me: If you don’t stop playing with your penis at the breakfast table, I will take it away.
“Now I’m worried about you,” chided a real-life (and also FB) friend in the comments. What? My quippy little comments are not universally awesome? Well, no they are not, as my real-life ex-husband will readily tell you.
Real-life romantic relationships are also equal parts simple and complicated on Facebook. Some months ago, after a few dates, a love interest and I took the always-wobbly step and became Facebook friends. I found pictures of his ex-girlfriend (who looked young, crazy), and his friends (cool, interesting, normal). Without meeting my kids, a prospective mate can scroll through slices of our life over the past four years. It’s as if my posts and pics serve as an OKCupid profile of my family.
The classy Johnson-Tambakakis bedtime convo:
Me: “Helena, did you fart?”
Helena: “No, you farted!”
Lucas: “I fart.”
This morning I woke an hour early to write, but the monkeys got up extra-early. So we sat in a heap on the couch, shared our dreams from the night before and watched the sun rise.
“Here,” it says. “Have a look. This is the whole package! Aren’t we great looking? Funny and sweet? Look! Here we are doing interesting and charming things! Wanna come along?”
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.