(NB. Most of my gaming references refer to Resident Evil, none of it could be considered spoilers, but just be aware if you’re planning on playing. Twitch is by no means the the only way to socialise online, it's just the method I currently use.)
I work from home, one of the reasons for this is that the hours I would need to do in the same job at an office would clash with school pick up times. Some jobs allow for it, but for mine, it’s easier and suitable to work from home. It also means I can work on several other projects. As we all know, being a new Mum can be very tough on the social life. I’m not just complaining about missing out on margaritas with the girls here; isolation can be a real issue for women in those first months. They’ve been handed a tiny human that plays by a whole new set of life rules, you tend to not know what time of day it is, and that’s if you keep on top of WHAT day it is.
And until the child goes to school, that loneliness can often remain an issue. Childcare is tricky and expensive, and can often leave women feeling like they spend months, sometimes years with very minimal adult contact. Working from home can do the same. So if you work from home as a Mum, it can be really difficult to remember what ‘normal’ functioning life is like. Baby and toddler groups, and school groups can be a lifeline in themselves, but it’s centred around the children. At school, most of (not all) of the friends I’ve made (admittedly I’m not great at the school gates, I’m socially awkward, never know what to say and usually am concentrating on how we’ll get to swimming on time and finish an assignment I’ve got), but they know me as Scarlett’s Mum, or Holly’s Mum (I have two children, I don’t have one that gives separate names!).
But do you know what has made a huge difference to me? Online gaming. Sometimes, I will have failed miserably during the day. My youngest daughter won’t have eaten her nursery packed lunch so will be screaming hungry when we get home, and she’ll then eat some crisps which means she won’t eat her dinner. And her older sister desperately needs some toilet rolls or something equally random because there’s a scrunched up letter in her bag talking about ‘pirate day’ the next day at school and she wants to make a peg leg from paper mache. So I run round like a chicken with no head trying to make sure it’s a decent enough outfit; because we all know Harriets Mum will essentially have made her child into a replica of Captain Jack Sparrow purely out of cotton wool AND made parrot biscuits for all her classmates taking into account nut, milk and gluten allergies. And they’ll still taste like liquid gold. This all means I’ll be snappy, and five minutes after putting them to bed and telling them we’ll get to do that other thing I’d promised we’d do tonight before ‘pirate gate 2020’ tomorrow ‘I promise’, I’ll be having a little sob on the sofa. Because why aren’t I able to stay on top of all this like Instagram and Pinterest tells me I should.
ANYWAY, sorry, very long side road there, but we’ve all been there. But once they’re asleep, I have started loading up my PS4, grabbing my headset and playing my games on Twitch. (I’m Ladeington on there should you want to join). And for one or two glorious hours, I am just that, Ladeington, zombie hunter, or point and click adventurer. If I make a big mistake, I won’t let any tiny humans down, chances are I’ll just respawn back a bit and I’ll try again, no harm done. AND, not only do I feel invincible and like a real life Xena Warrior Princess, but I’ll have friends chatting to me. None of us need childcare, we can be there and in the main, we can all be present. Last week, with my husband away with work, I had two close friends, my brother, my husband and my brother in law all online with me. All of us chatting about the upcoming Resident Evil 3 game while also sharing the ‘oh my goodness Mr X came out of nowhere’ jump scares, and sharing tips on how to solve that bloody wiring puzzle before completing Sherry’s side mission.
And honestly, it was the most relaxed I’ve been in ages. Ok, so the zombies I encounter aren’t healthy, but none of the characters I play need to be worried about their family members battling cancer, or if shop bought cupcakes are going to be frowned upon at the bake sale, or if my husbands long drive when I know he’s exhausted will be ok, or if I’ll edit that podcast episode on time. For just a little while those things can be suspended, because gosh darn it raccoon city needs me and G isn’t going to fight himself. And we can all disappear into that world. And we can laugh together and debate trivial things and argue without consequence. It’s a safe space.
Now I know there are a lot of trolls online, and you do get the odd person appearing just to tell you you’re crap at whatever you’re doing, but you can adjust your settings to minimise that and I have found Twitch to be very good at swiftly dealing with that particular white noise.
I wish I had known about it and tried it when I was pregnant, or just after both girls were born. That link to the outside world, the potential to connect with friends without getting babysitters or...showering, whatever, some days are harder to get yourself organised than others. I think it would have made a real difference to how I managed. Some of the games I play are even suitable for me to stream while the kids are down, and frankly it’s a nice way they get to see me being good at something instead of digging in the recycling bin for toilet rolls! And they get to chat to people they don’t see as often as they’d like, like their Uncles. And in the future I will absolutely recommend they find a video game they can happily disappear into when they need to.
I work from home and by far my kids are the two people I spend most of my time with (and rightly so), so my time online playing games with friends is an absolute lifeline. It keeps me going when I’m watching the Easter bonnet parade and my child’s walking round with pieces of card indiscriminately glued together, when other kids have the full crucifixion story with flashing lights and narrated by Hugh Jackman on their heads. Parenting is hugely rewarding but it’s a job that needs to be done well with no instruction manual or training, and like millions of women, my children growing up secure and confident and happy is my main priority over all things. So for me, shouting ‘why won’t this licker just die’ while a friend asks if it’s true that stabbing it from behind can be an auto kill, and another tells me there’s a mod where Mr X is Thomas the Tank Engine, as ridiculous as it may seem, really helps me do that. And if you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it.