Thursday, August 1, 2013

Social Media and Parenting

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about social media and its effect on our lives.  I've come to the conclusion that it's a necessary evil- no matter how much you don't want to like it or choose not to participate in it, it is here.  And not only is it here in the sense that I can log onto Facebook and be filled in on the latest details in the lives of my 531 "friends", but it is also a part of the business world.  From the grocery store's Facebook page or app with coupons and recipes to restaurants rewarding customers who "check in" during lunch to the clothing posting special coupons *just* for its' Facebook fans, social media has permeated our entire culture.

"So what?" you might be thinking.  "What does it matter?" you might wonder.  Especially as a mom, I've been taken aback by the potential impact that all of this technology will undoubtedly have on our children.  As a recent CNN article states, "Children grow up learning that posting pictures of one's self and sharing personal information is typical. We've created a sense of normality about a world where what's private is public. The sense of being entitled to privacy has been devalued.  And our children will never have known a world without this sort of exposure. What does a worldview lacking an expectation of privacy mean for the rest of society?  The founders of our Constitution could not have imagined a democracy in which our physical movements are tracked by cell phones, our personal correspondence is scanned for key words by corporations and we willingly surrender our reading lists and fleeting private thoughts.  It's an arrangement we've made not just for ourselves but for our children, as well."

A couple of years ago, I found myself bombarded with posts on my Facebook news feed filled with complaints.  I remember thinking to myself, "Do these people not know the difference between a status update and a private journal?"  I mean, seriously, most of the people on your friends list don't care about the pimple on your nose, the traffic on the interstate, or the latest drama with your ex.  However, the complaints that stuck out to me were those about children.  Some moms seem to do nothing but gripe about the difficulty of being a parent.  Yes, of course, at first, I felt a sense of camaraderie toward friends who were up all night with a fussy baby or had to leave a restaurant with a too-hyper toddler.  We've all been there.  I think we can all agree that motherhood is not for sissies.  But how much complaining is too much?  How far is too far?  Is there a line out there that should never be crossed?

Yep.  Found it.  Enter the Tumblr, Reasons My Son is Crying.  At first, I laughed a bit.  I mean, what parent hasn't witnessed a meltdown over something we deem ridiculous or petty?  And yeah, we laugh, because often we find ourselves uncomfortable with the intensity of our child's emotions.  What do you do with a toddler who completely loses it because the sky is blue?  But then, I got really introspective for a moment... surely there have been moments when I have been really upset over something that my husband couldn't understand.  Surely I've cried over something that he thought was no big deal.  How would I feel, as a grown woman, if my husband took a picture of me in the depths of my emotions and started a public blog, "Reasons My Wife is Crying"?  And not only that, but tons of people started reading it and commenting about how ridiculous my feelings are?  And then, as if it couldn't get any worse, it "goes viral" and all of a sudden, my husband is being interviewed on Good Morning America, talking about the time I got really frustrated over a stain on my favorite shirt and bawled my eyes out?  How utterly humiliating would that be? 

I think we forget sometimes that our kids will grow up all too soon, and it won't be that long before they have their own Facebook accounts.  We don't think about how it would feel to read some of the things we've posted about them.  Imagine that your mom passes away, and as you're cleaning out her things, you discover an old journal.  You pull it out of the drawer, blow the dust off of the cover, and as you skim through the pages, you find that it is full of things she wrote when you were a child.  Desperate for a connection with your mom, knowing that you are deep in the trenches of motherhood yourself, you sit back and begin reading, page by page.  Only, instead of the endearing remarks about yourself as a baby, you find nothing but complaints.  Oh sure, there's the occasional, "My sweet baby smiled for the first time today," and the, "I love my baby so much," but the overwhelming tone of the entire journal is about how difficult you were as a child.  How many times she almost lost her mind.  How many times she almost walked away and never looked back.  Can you imagine the devastation?  Now, let's bring it full-circle.  Think about your child as a teenager, curious about what the earlier years were like, looking back through the archived status updates on your Facebook page and finding years of gripes and complaints about the difficulty of motherhood.  But remember- it's not a private journal.  It's a public record, posted for all the world to see.  Of course- maybe your settings are pretty private, but it's still been seen by all of your closest friends.  Pretty devastating to a teenager, don't you think?

Motherhood is hard.  Nothing can prepare you for how much it will stretch you.  You might grow up playing house, thinking about how blissful it will be to rock your babies to sleep and play with your toddlers, and take your preteen shopping.  And yes- it is all kinds of wonderful.  But it. is. hard.  The sleep deprivation alone is enough to make a sane woman mad... in fact, you suddenly understand why it's such a useful torture technique.  Here's the thing: if you're a mom, you get it.  You know.  It's not always sunshine and roses and ponies.  There are days when one of my biggest accomplishments is taking a shower and putting on 'real' clothes. Seriously, though- what have we {or our children} to gain by constantly complaining about it?  Venting is necessary, I've learned, and I encourage you to find a few close friends who welcome you to "let it all out".  But don't do it publicly.

By the time our children are old enough to understand, we've already told the world exactly who we think they are with all of our photos and anecdotes.  We unwittingly form shape opinions about them from those who are on our Facebook friends' list.  Do you really want future employers or friends' parents having a preconceived notion that your child is difficult or rebellious or disrespectful? 

After months of this rolling around in my brain, I made a commitment about my social media activity:  I will not publicly complain about my child.  Period.  Not only do I want to focus on the more positive aspects of my child's personality and the blessings of being his mother, but I have also learned a valuable lesson via social media.  Do not publicly begrudge or complain about something that others would give anything to have.  I have to be cautious not to go too far off topic here, because my thoughts could easily fill another blog post.  However, there are so many women who struggle with the heartbreaking pain of infertility, some publicly and some privately.  And, I can say from personal experience, until a woman has walked the path of infertility, it is impossible to understand the pain that is inflicted by seemingly innocent comments.  While I trust God completely with my body, my life, and my desire to have another child, the fact of the matter is that there are days when I feel like a failure because something that comes so easily to others is difficult for me.  I've also been on the side of the equation where I conceived a child without trying.  Prior to my current struggles, I made so many rude and careless comments and likely hurt so many feelings because it just never occurred to me to think about the feelings of other people who might be struggling with something that came so easily to me at one time.  No more.  I will speak with circumspection, which means that I tailor my words so that they are pleasing to the ears {or eyes, as the case may be} of those who hear {or read} them.

So, my challenge, for those who might read this post: Think carefully before you voice your complaints about your children.  In the best-case scenario, they won't even know to thank you for it one day.

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