When it feels like everyone is living their perfect life on social media, it’s either time to pull back or see the wood for the trees. Like feeding, nappy changing and potty training, so too is social media the normal “parenty” thing to do …
Want some quick advice? You ask Facebook. Want to lament a bit about the 2am wake-ups and toddler tantrums? There’s Twitter for that. Want to share the cutest pics of your children? Head to Instagram. Looking for inspiration for your baby’s nursery, or ideas for your child’s Frozen party? Log in to the beautiful platform of Pinterest, or post your own “perfect-ish” pictures there.
Social media sure has changed the face of parenting – how we do it, how we share moments of it, where we source information relating to it, and how we feel as parents. We celebrate moments and create social memories by posting pictures; we connect with other parents we might not otherwise have; we look for and use information from all over, and we are triggered in so many ways – we could feel insecure, validated, well equipped, happy, envious, disappointed and confident with any post or comment, or lack thereof. Our social media habits are taking our attention away from our children, and once our kids are older, we sometimes compete with social media for their attention.
I can tick every box of how social media has influenced and shaped my parenting journey and how I feel as a parent. I have my feel-good and positive moments with it, and days where I mute people because they either anger me with their opinions, or because I feel inadequate because of the beautiful lives I see (which, we know only tells one side of the story).
I have sometimes behaved badly, and people have hurt me, too. I have anxiously waited for likes on my Instagram pictures, and have looked away from my kids many times while scrolling through Facebook. For each thing I dislike about the parenty side of social media, there are three things I love. I’ve categorised what I like – and many that doesn’t work for me.
The good of social media
I have made some fantastic real-life and “in the computer” friends on social media. There is love that can spring from posts and tweets, and interestingly, I met my husband on Twitter too. There are some people I’ve chatted with online for years, and who I consider friends, even though we’ve never met. Many times, social media can be very “social”, so to speak, and while I’m not suggesting that social media interactions should replace face-to-face relationships, there’s a lot to be said for the building and bridging the capabilities of social platforms.
Building your brand and business
People use social media as a platform to gain awareness, build themselves and communicate about their businesses and blogs. I often use social media to support my parenting blog’s messaging, and to promote the blog – and therefore a part of my business – via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even Pinterest. When done well and not too often or brazenly, which could irritate people and therefore harm your brand, social media is a fantastic conduit to opportunities and new engagements and relationships.
The joy of sharing and support
In my earlier days of Twitter, I remember tweeting at 2am that I had a miserable and sick baby. I just needed to let it out, and I wasn’t expecting anyone who followed me to even be awake at that hour, let alone reply to me. However, there were some other bleary-eyed moms awake too, offering words of comfort and well wishes.
I have also posted Facebook announcements about the births of my kids, or my daughter taking her first steps, or me finishing a marathon months after giving birth, or my son when he lost his first tooth. There’s joy to be had in sharing, and in receiving love and support back. And it’s just as rewarding seeing other people’s wins and moments, and being there to high five them, commiserate or give advice.
The mixed bag of social media
There are some Facebook groups that offer something great, whether it’s humour, advice, camaraderie or even great sales. And then there are others who drain your energy, cause angst or irritation, or don’t necessarily subscribe to your way of parenting.
Sometimes you might realise a little later than you should that the groups you’ve been giving airtime and energy to just aren’t that worth it. I try to pick mine carefully, and if I’m not in the right mood to read or engage, but still want to be a part, I’ll unfollow and join at a later stage. I know, too, that it’s okay to exit a group completely.
It’s difficult, of course, to know when we reach that point of oversharing our parenting moments – is it one tweet or 10 tweets a week about our kids, or is it a picture of them throwing a tantrum, or is it a whole blog mostly about one’s kids, as is my case with my personal blog, ‘Dear Max and Rebecca’. For me, though, it’s not always about frequency, but rather about the content. And while it’s probably innocuous regularly posting about your child on various platform, the question is, what are you posting exactly?
It’s all fun and games to post about your child’s tantrums and potty training, and may be cathartic writing about our kids’ issues, but what is it doing to their future, and how will they react when they are old enough to see what we’ve written and posted about them?
Just as we add filters to your selfies, I feel we should be putting editing touches to what we publish about our kids. It’s not a lie, it’s a cut, and I believe they deserve that. While I don’t turn away from reading honest posts about other kids’ learning difficulties, social issues and even difficulty in letting go of wearing a nappy until age five, I think the last people to be “served” by these posts are the kids themselves. And until we get their permission to share these things, I feel we should be doing less of it. Maybe it won’t be so great for our sense of sharing, for our readers and “friends”, but who should come first – our kids or us?
So, while I love the opportunity to share, I’m nervous about how it will affect my kids one day, and if I’m casting them in the best possible way.
“Social media is a habitat for kindness and nastiness, and with everything you post … especially with a more open platform like Twitter, you need to expect that someone could react negatively and have a go at you.
Also, we’re creating a digital footprint for them from when they’re born, and we should make sure it’s a positive one – prospective schools, universities and workplaces could one day go back on these posts, and while it might seem like a ridiculous prospect, what little Johnny is doing today, could impact how he’s perceived in the future.
Swift information sharing
I do appreciate that there are so many information resources, and when you ask a question on any platform, you can get dozens of answers. It can, however, be tricky to discern between the great and the average advice, and I sometimes find it confusing – What should I do? Who should I follow? – and a bit scary too – Can I trust this source? Is the information accurate? Should I be asking a doctor rather?
Negative news and stories
When I went for a specialised foetal assessment when I was pregnant, I asked the doctor if my baby had ears, and if her organs were inside her body. He asked why I would even ask those questions, and I meekly answered that I had read real-life stories that week on Facebook about one baby born with no ears, and another born with his organs out his body. Sometimes bad news breeds worry and negativity, and while it’s hard to stay away from it, when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable or sad, I try to stay away.
The not-so-good of social media
The styled “picture perfect” moments
By now I know that pictures are edited, poses are practised, and dozens of photos are taken before a decent one is chosen from all the duds. I know this, but I forget it, and I have to really give myself pep talks when coming across pictures of skinny moms with their kids, all dressed up (usually in matching colours or accessories), everyone looking happy and relaxed. Their “reality” appears perfect, and it’s not just a picture that suggests this, but a grid of choreographed and styled images. While these photos are beautiful and gorgeously crafted, they don’t truly depict that person’s life.
The ease of social media mistakes
You might be able to delete a tweet that lands you in trouble, but someone has likely seen it or taken a screenshot of it. When we’re angry or sad, it’s easy to vent on social media and hurt someone else – or even your reputation in the process. We’ve heard of people losing jobs, friends and face after posting damaging or discriminatory things on social media, and it seems we have long memories.
Social media isn’t easy to navigate a lot of the time, and one has to be so careful, even if it means holding back an opinion or advice.
I’m often too scared to check my phone’s report on how long I spend on each social media platform. Granted, some of it is for work, but there’s no outstanding reason or even need for me to be scrolling through Instagram instead of reading a book before I go to sleep. I feel a tad nauseous when I think of the books and articles I could have read, or the online courses I could have done, instead of trawling through the holiday pictures of the friend of the friend of mine. It’s so tempting to enter in, but it’s often a waste of time, and worst of all, it takes time away from more valuable activities – and people.
“So, while I love the opportunity to share, I’m nervous about how it will affect my kids one day, and if I’m casting them in the best possible way.”
Reliance on social media for self-esteem
We gauge our relevance, popularity and success on likes, follows and shares, and ask ourselves why the pic of my dog got 120 likes, but the one of me only got 105. We wonder why that mom got six comments on her Instagram photo, but why we got none. We feel good when we get positive engagement, and unfairly, we judge ourselves based on how people have engaged, and how many.
The perfect-ish and not-so-perfect-ish representation of parenting
Sometimes it feels like a competition out there for who has the best life and family, while other times it seems as if it’s a race to win the title of “least perfect” mom, or busiest mom, or most stressed-out mom. It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not, or what’s been given a figurative rose-coloured filter, or a sombre one.
Not everyone is going to play nice on social media, especially with the “safety” of non-face-to-face communication. Social media is a habitat for kindness and nastiness, and with everything you post, especially with a more open platform like Twitter, you need to expect that someone could react negatively and have a go at you. It might not be fair but, unfortunately, it’s open season out there, and we’re all targets. Word of warning: if you want people to have a go at you, just bring up topics such as vaccination, formula feeding and Caesarean births.
Our kids search for validation on social media
As my nine-year-old becomes even more digitally literate, he’s also becoming more social-media savvy, and sometimes asks me to post videos of him on Facebook reviewing toys. In fairness to him, I am often asking him to pose for pictures and videos for my own platforms, including the occasional sponsored-by-a-brand post. He will often ask how many likes his video got, and check in again to see if this number has gone up.
Research has shown that when we post our kids’ pictures on social media, we’re also creating what they call “fame-hungry” children. They assess their own popularity by how many of our followers and friends have engaged with or liked posts of them.
Tanya Kovarsky is a mom of two (Max, 8 and Rebecca, 1.5 years) and works by day in PR and communications, and by night as a blogger on Rattle and Mum. She loves Paris, Jelly Tots, pink things, makeup and sneakers, and running (she can tell her kids that she’s run 11 Comrades and 14 Two Oceans). She also has a personal blog, Dear Max + Rebecca.