Okay, I have a quick poll for everybody. How many of us have perfect children? Any hands raising? No? Cool. Now, how many of us can name off a few of our children’s faults. Anybody? You probably can name a few. After all, they are your children. You know them fairly well. But think hard. How many of these faults are just stage-appropriate things? “Always spilling his juice box” doesn’t really count as a fault. Not really. No, I’m talking about actual traits that one might consider undesirable. Do your children have any of those? And if so, are you willing to state, for the record, that you don’t like those things about them?
Maybe that’s the problem with parenting these days. It’s all “on the record.” With social media so strongly influencing how we interact with each other, things that used to be private are now, for all intents and purposes, public. We don’t invite neighbors over to look at the photo albums, we just tag them on Instagram. We don’t tell funny stories, we update our Facebook statuses. Where once I might have handed out invitations to a select few for an assembly or a concert, I now create an event and inform the world. This makes it difficult, honestly, to be honest.
Sometimes we have bad days. And when we do, we can post about it, so that everyone can block us from their feeds for being too depressing. But our children are another matter entirely. Once upon a time we had children, released them into the wild, and expected them home for dinner. Now, our children are our works of art. They are an expression of ourselves, and so much of our identity is wrapped up in them. Parenting articles, studies, research, and half-informed opinions are gobbled up by the masses, now locked into a set of parenting “rules” by which we must live, at least online. And none of us actually follow all of these rules, but you generally wouldn’t know it from our feeds.
One of the biggest rules is that we must like everything about parenting. Aside from the jokes about mommies needing their wine (and oh, I hope these are jokes, or we have a lot of alcoholic women raising the generation of tomorrow), it is not okay to dislike parenting, or your children. Yes, parenting is hard. In fact, according to the internet it is the hardest job in the world. But it is, at all times, rewarding. It is always worth it. It always ends in joy. And this is, of course, a load of crap.
Is there any human being with whom you agree entirely? About whom you like every single bit and scrap? Come on, even your spouse, who is your soulmate, with whom you intentionally chose in a moment of insanity to spend the rest of your life with, even they are full of flaws and faults that you constantly overlook or grumble about or point out repeatedly to no effect. So how can you possibly expect that your children, who are (hopefully) human, will have no pieces that you just can’t stand? It’s just statistically impossible! And I’m not saying that you don’t love your children, because of course you do, but I find it hard to believe that every parent in America has somehow created miniature creatures who are exact compliments to their personalities.
But you can’t complain about your kids. Because everything you say is public. Because if you say your kid is lazy and obnoxious, which they probably are, then someday they won’t get that promotion, due to the CEO’s obsessive reading of every employee’s parents Facebook statuses from thirty years prior. This is what CEOs and human resource departments do pretty much all day, which is why they always have to work late. And even if that doesn’t happen, don’t you, as a parent, have the responsibility to protect your children? To make sure that, while they are under your control, their best face is put forward? It’s just like combing their hair on picture day, even though every other day of the year their heads are covered with tangled messes. You want people to see the good in them. And children have always been a reflection of the parents, haven’t they? If something is wrong with the kid, it is the parents’ fault. So you’d better make sure that nobody thinks anything is wrong with your kid.
But when you always have to say how happy you are with everything, and that there are no problems, what you are doing is cutting yourself off from support. When you are forced to say how wonderful everything is, how can anyone possibly know what you need? This is a general danger of all social media, of course, but when you have children it gets worse. The feeling of judgement and competition get worse. But parenting is not rocket science. People have been doing it for thousands of years. And it is also not always easy or enjoyable. Sometimes it sucks. And not in a “Ha ha, my house is messy, pass me the Merlot” kind of way. Sometimes it’s just a thing you have to do because you have no other choice at this point, and you hate it. And you can’t tell anybody, because you fear judgement. And worst of all, you have bought into that whole parenting culture thing, so you start to judge yourself. Why don’t you love this more? Why isn’t this endless sacrifice more of a joy?
But even though you are seriously considering walking out the door, getting in the car, and never coming back to this life that you have created, you hop online and post a picture of your children doing something cute and caption it “feeling blessed.” Welcome to the insincerity of modern parenting. See that picture up at the top? We were actually having a terrible time. We were overtired. squished, couldn’t see any of the fireworks, and it was about to start pouring on us. But why would I say that? Better to smile and pretend, right? I mean, that is a great picture of us. It deserves a better story.
Is there a solution? Maybe. I know it would be social suicide to start posting pictures of your kids in the Burger King drive-thru every afternoon, or to support any sort of discipline, but even if you don’t feel that you can be honest about what you’re doing, at least don’t spread things around that you are not doing. When some ridiculous new rule pops up, don’t share it and agree with it (unless, you know, you actually agree with it). Just let it float away, down to the bottom of your feed where you will never have to read about how pregnant women should eat more frozen kale pops ever again. And really, the one thing that you can do is to make sure you have some friends offline that you can discuss things with and tell the truth to. Unplug. Be real. Speak sincerely. It may not solve any cultural problems, but it might solve some personal ones.