People use social media to lie about their lives. This revelation should not come as news to anyone who even casually uses Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or whatever cool new app The Kids are using these days. These platforms provide wonderful opportunities for all of us to lie to each other, to create sparkling, sanitized, envy-inducing holograms of the lives we’re actually living. No one is totally honest on social media.
This is not news. I know. But I want to talk about it anyway.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how parents of young children, in particular, use social media to craft certain, let’s say, misleading narratives about our lives and what it’s like to be a parent day to day. If you scroll through my Instagram feed, among the cute dachshund pictures and soothing portraits of succulents and heirloom tomatoes, you’ll see an abundance of Shiny Happy Parents and their Shiny Happy Children. It’s hard not to be bowled over by the #joy emanating from these pics. EVERYONE. IS. SO. HAPPY!
Except for the occasional “funny” picture of a kid scowling in a cute, photogenic way, there is nary a tantrum — or even a frown — to be seen. Parents are polished, kids are well-behaved, and no one has boogers stuck on their faces or spit-up on their clothes. Everyone is well-rested and smiling and and wearing cute, fashionable clothes! Everyone is doing SO great, you guys! Hey, look at us picking pumpkins! Look at us snuggling lovingly on top of a crisply made bed! Look at us tidily baking muffins together! We’re so happy! Our house is so clean! We’re so #blessed!
It’s all bullshit, and we all know it. And yet, we all do it. I do it. I’ll admit it.
Do I post pictures of Lucia having her fourteenth meltdown of the day because I wouldn’t carry her upstairs when she can walk and I’m 36 weeks pregnant with a bad back? Nope. Do I post pictures of myself right after waking up after a horrible night’s sleep, looking like I’ve been dragged behind a truck for several miles? Nope. Do I post any pictures whatsoever that would give anyone the impression that my daily life with a toddler and a metaphoric bun in the oven is anything but idyllic, full of laughs and smiles and cute hijinks? Heck to the nope.
There are so many reasons I don’t post pictures of tantrums and insomnia and scrambled egg on the hardwood floor. First, I figure no one wants to see it. My guess is that people prefer the shiny, happy version of others’ lives because it’s less upsetting than the raw truth. Honestly, if I posted a video of one of Lucia’s epic tantrums, I’d have to post a trigger warning with it, letting other parents of toddlers know that what they are about to witness could be disturbing or even traumatizing for them and to practice self-care. For real, it’s rough stuff. Why would I want to inflict that on anyone else? Other people are already suffering through their own quotidian nightmares, I’m sure, so why would I want to spread the misery?
Relatedly, I don’t want to see the bad stuff about my own life, either. When I post the Shiny Happy pics, I’m practicing a form of proactive memory erasure for my own benefit. A year from now, if I’m scrolling nostalgically back through my own posts, I don’t want to be reminded of the myriad horrors of parenting. No, I want to see the good stuff: the dimples, the toothy smiles, the times I brushed my hair.
I learned this lesson the hard way. When I first had Lucia, I kept a diary, in which I faithfully recorded my thoughts and feelings about new parenthood. Big mistake. I should have censored. I should have edited. I should have crafted a version of my own story that I could live with more easily. When I look back at that very honest diary now, I cringe, because it reminds me of all the bad stuff about having a newborn that I would have forgotten about otherwise: the sleepless nights, the worries about poop and pee and spit-up and jaundice, the struggles with breastfeeding and pumping and bottles.
There’s a reason our brains choose to skip over the trauma that inevitably comes with new parenthood: it’s so our species can continue on. If we all had to be reminded constantly of how hard having a baby is, no one would have more than one child. Not to make too big a deal out of this, but our reproductive destiny as a species is one reason to be thoughtful about your social media posts. And if not for that, do it for your own mental health. When I look back at my own Instagram feed now, 21 months into being a parent, I’m filled with warm, fuzzy feelings of love and affection for my family. If my feed was filled with raw footage of diaper blowouts, tantrums, and insomnia, I’m not sure I’d feel the same way.
However, despite the very good reasons that we all edit our parenting experiences for public consumption, there are some very good reasons to let the occasional brutally honest post slip in. The main reason, I think, is solidarity. As a parent of a young child, it’s easy to feel isolated, like you’re the only person in the world whose kid does whatever annoying or trying or worrisome thing she’s doing. You can know, logically, that whatever you’re going through is probably normal, but if you don’t see any evidence of other parents struggling, it’s extremely discouraging. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told Al that I think we must be the only parents in the world whose child does [x]. Al, eternal voice of reason, always reassures me that whatever infuriating or baffling thing Lucia is doing is perfectly normal, but as the pessimist and official Doubting Thomas in the partnership, I want to see proof, dammit. But if you’re hoping to find evidence of other parents’ struggles on social media, you’re going to be sorely out of luck. Because, as discussed above, social media is where we lie to each other about how easy and fun and beautiful our lives are.
So wouldn’t it be great if, once in a while, we all just posted the real stuff that was actually going down with our kids? Along with Throwback Thursday, we could have Real Talk Wednesday (#rtw), where we share the things that we’d normally keep hidden about our lives as parents. I think a tiny, weekly nugget of honesty would go a long way in reassuring each other that, in fact, we’re not alone. I’ll start! Today, my adorable, sweet, funny toddler took a break from being adorable, sweet, and funny to throw a tantrum when I wouldn’t carry her up the stairs. Important background information: her legs are not broken, I am the pregnantest, and I’ve recently thrown out my back. Also, this was pre-coffee. Yeah. You feel me, right?
Here’s my question: if you, a fellow parent (or even a non-parent) read a post like this on social media, would you feel a little less alone? I promise I’d go right back to posting beautiful, beaming pictures of my gorgeous child in cute clothes and picturesque surroundings right afterwards. I know if I saw the occasional honest post from my fellow parent friends, I’d appreciate it deeply. So here is my little plea for some (limited) real talk on social media. I’m not advocating that we all constantly bitch and moan about how hard our lives are, because that’s obnoxious (and depressing). I’m just saying that we can afford to lower the digital curtain just the tiniest bit and let some real honesty shine in, once in a while.
In the meantime, here’s a cute, happy picture of my daughter! #blessed