Last modified: Sunday, June 20, 2010
Hi, my name is Tracy. I'm a writer, I'm the mother of two wonderful children and I'm a Twitterholic.

I never intended for this to happen. A year ago, I had no interest in social media. But then I attended two writing workshops, and the message was handed down to me like a commandment from Mount Sinai: "If you want people to read what you write, you must make it possible for them to find you. You must get the word out. You must tweet."

To the mother of a 4-year-old, "tweeting" was either the chirping sound that woke me through open windows on summer mornings or a mispronunciation of what happened on occasion when my preschooler didn't make it to the bathroom on time.

I had no idea what Twitter was, and once I found out, the whole concept seemed silly. People who don't know each other chatting in stunted online messages of 140 characters or less? I didn't see how any substantive good could ever come from such a limited form of communication, but I dutifully signed up for an account. Then I "followed" the people who had insisted I participate, tweeted a tentative greeting and waited to see what would happen.

What happened was that I began to grow a community. By the time my kids and I plucked the last October apples from the trees in the local orchards, my personal community of "tweeps" had grown to around 100 people. In a few months, I had begun to connect with other writers, parenting bloggers and book folks in the "Twitterverse," and I had learned to speak the language. I followed literary agents and editors who shared links to articles and blogs about writing; these sources enriched my understanding about my craft and business in ways the books I studied on my own never could.

By winter, I was chatting daily with a group of literary people to whom I never would have had access before the age of social media. As time wore on, I found myself conversing with this network about writing, about kids and about life in exchanges that were more than just useful - they were also fun.

So now I tweet for hours. Every. Single. Day.

 Signs of trouble

There's often a specific moment to which a person can look back and say, "this is the point when I knew I had a problem." I possess one of those moments. It occurred, naturally, while I was tweeting.

A few months ago, writer and parenting expert Lynne Griffin (author of Negotiation Generation and two novels including the forthcoming Sea Escape; Twitter handle: @Lynne_Griffin) tweeted that she had appeared on Fox Morning News in Boston, so I clicked through to watch her clip.

Her topic: the dangers for parents of being over-connected to their electronics.

After I viewed the clip, I re-tweeted Lynne's link (meaning I shared it with everyone who follows me) and told her: "Really liked the clip despite the fact that I am guilty (or maybe because I know I am)."

She tweeted back: "Thanks for sharing link. Notice I outed myself for texting while my son was talking to me. We all do it. Need to do it less."

I was about to respond to her when I halted, tweet half-composed in my mind, fingers poised over my keyboard. I realized that during this entire exchange, my kids had been in the room with me. And I'd been ignoring them the whole time.

On Twitter, we would call this a "#parentingfail."

My Twitter habit has gotten out of control. I tweet at all hours, as a companion to my first cup of coffee in the morning and just before I shut down my computer around midnight.

I have even caught myself sneaking out of the kitchen in the midst of making dinner to check my tweets. "Um, I just need to see if Daddy e-mailed me to say he's going to be late coming home."


 Twitter orphans

My tweeting is taking my attention away from my kids. They deserve better than to become Twitter orphans (and let's not even talk about my utter lack of credibility when I tell my 8-year-old son that he needs to spend less time on the computer). Something has to change.

The reality is that I can't quit Twitter, even if I want to - which I don't. It's good for me professionally, and I've begun to build some real relationships over the year that I've been using it. Writers flock to Twitter, which is kind of funny when you think about it, given that we're supposed to love words, revel in stringing them together and feasting on orgies of them until we're sated. On Twitter we whittle down words and phrases until they're barely recognizable, but maybe there's some form of literary art present in that act as well. Whatever the reason, writers are on Twitter and I need to be there, too.

But I need to set some limits.

I established computer rules for my son, so here's my new rule for me: From the time my kids get home from school or summer day camp until the time they go to bed, no tweeting. I will not open Tweetdeck (the application I use to tweet) during that time so that I won't even be tempted to peek when I walk by the computer. That time belongs to my kids, and they deserve my attention.

Feel free to follow up and see how my new restrictions work out. If you want to reach me, you can find me on Twitter at @ThahnBurkett - but only during my designated tweeting periods.

(Tracy Hahn-Burkett of Bow, a member of the Monitor's board of contributors, is a writer who focuses often on family topics. She blogs at unchartedparent.com.)