My relationship with Facebook is a complicated one.
I wouldn’t consider myself to be a social media user, except that I am.
Well, Facebook at least. I activated my account when I had my first daughter. There was a lot of time spent sitting in a chair trying to figure out the whole nursing thing, and my smart phone was often in reach. Phone camera + cute baby + time to kill = fuel for my Facebook page. It was, I justified to myself, an easy way to share new baby pictures with family and friends who were far away. I also thought, “Hey! What a neat way to chronicle my baby’s early days.”
Not being one for scrapbooking (due to my incredible lack of time, organization, and know-how, not for lack of desire), I liked the idea of having a record of special events and adorable outfits. I had only about ten friends, so the traffic on my feed was like that of a dirt road through the country: slow but scenic and only trod upon by a few intimates. I got to stay up-to-date on what my friends were doing too, while I was trapped in the house trying desperately to keep our new dependent alive and well. It helped with the feelings of isolation; I was interacting with people, albeit in a strange new way, and it kept me connected to the rest of the world. I’d post a picture of my child to say, “Hey! This is my baby! This is literally what I look at all day. How are you?” And the world would respond with a “like.” And that was enough.
But, as they are prone to do, things kept going. More friends, more pages, more information, more, more, more….
[Cut to interior bedroom, three years later. Early morning. Like, reeeeeally early.]
Six o’clock already, I was just in the middle of a dream…but the baby has already been fussing for 20 minutes, and my husband’s alarm is going to go off any second so I might as well get up. I try to disentangle myself from my three-year-old’s limbs, finally heavy after a restless night of bad dreams and what I can only describe as sheer determination to evade sleep (a behavior that my own sleep-deprived brain cannot begin to understand). On my way to the bathroom, I grab my phone off the bedside table and “check it,” meaning quickly tap on the email app and scroll down looking for anything exciting (there is NEVER anything exciting) and then move on to my Facebook app, where I look to see how many “likes” the last picture of my kids received and if anyone left any amusing comments for me anywhere. I can also find out if today is anyone’s birthday, if any celebrities have passed away overnight, or have a laugh about a well-written Grumpy Cat meme. I can now do this information scan with one eye barely open, walking through a dark room, and sometimes carrying one or more child.
But then the inevitable occurs: I come across the “happy parent post.” You have seen these, perhaps you have even written one or two. They read kind of like this:
“OMG! I can’t believe little Johnny slept all the way through the night! Again!”
“So proud of my little Samantha at her piano recital. Her performance of Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka’ blew away the other three-year-olds!”
“Our trip to the zoo was awesome! James held Macie’s hand when she got scared of the lions. He’s such a good big brother. :)”
“Made this unbelievably delicious three-course meal for dinner. Little Mackenzie helped chop the radicchio, and Ashton was in charge of the balsamic glaze. The kids ate so many of the vegetables that they didn’t have room for their crème brulee! LOL.”
And often the posts are accompanied by a lovely picture wherein everyone looks cute and smiley and their socks match. The kids are perfect, and the mom or dad is calm, organized, and totally winning at this parenting thing.
I have not yet made it to the bathroom and I am already being plagued with doubt about my own parenting choices. My 15-month-old child has never slept ALL the way through the night; should I start letting her cry more? Or less? I should have the kids in more activities! Why can’t I get organized enough to plan anything? I could take them to the zoo…but remember what happened last time? How can I nurture a loving relationship between my children? Why do they only communicate by pushing each other?! Is that what I’m modeling? I should be better about exposing my kids to different foods. They never eat vegetables! And it’s totally my fault. I should hide more veggies in their food. But it’s hard to hide vegetables in Goldfish crackers, and that’s all they eat. Which is probably my fault too.
And so on….
And this is the part of Facebook I hate: what it can stir up in my own head.
And I still have not peed yet.
I know, I know, I know, I should be keeping my eyes on my own paper. I should not be comparing my entire life to a two-line Facebook post. At least, not before my first cup of coffee, when I’m at my most tired and vulnerable.
I have, at times, tried to save myself from my phone by keeping the charger in the kitchen, so as to make the onslaught of information a little more delayed, but my fear of a middle of the night Zombie apocalypse forces me to keep my phone close by while I sleep. I’m not sure whom I’ll call when they come in through the bedroom window, but perhaps I could get a quick Facebook post out warning my friends before grabbing the ax.
Anyway, please don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that other parents are deliberately trying to make me feel bad, and I know that my reaction to the “happy parent post” says more about me than about the person posting. I’m not hating on the “happy parent post.” I have even made a few of my own. It is absolutely important to focus on the positive side of things, and celebrating victories is a valuable thing, no matter how small they may be. Sally eating broccoli or Johnny putting his trains away are totally exciting and worth the Facebook space. Celebrate the good and ignore the bad, right? But some days it is hard for me to do. And these are the days that I need to set down the phone and walk away. I know this about myself; I know that when I’m feeling weak or insecure, other people’s victories can be twisted into my own personal failures.
But I could never stay mad at you, Facebook….
You continue to serve as a lifeline to me.
Confession: I do look at my phone throughout the day.
There, I said it. I don’t like that I do it, and I would love to be able to say that while I’m being the daytime parent the kids always have my full attention.
I guess I use it as my “water break” or “smoke break.” I look often, but not for long. Sometimes I use it as a way to disengage, purposefully, from an otherwise stressful encounter with the kids. I try not to ever accidentally disengage, while I should be playing with and tuned into my children. But, especially on the days when they refuse to nap at the same time or give me any kind of breather, sometimes I do check my phone and check out for 30 seconds. It allows me to shake off whatever anger and frustration may have been building up. Continue those tantrums amongst yourselves, kids. Mommy needs to see how many “likes” the picture of you when you were being cute has so far.
Facebook helps with my mental health in other ways too. (Caution: Gonna get a little meta up in here.) Have you noticed how there are an awful lot of mom-related blogs out there? Funny ones, helpful ones, supportive ones, inspiring ones, crafty ones. And isn’t it interesting how the parent-themed covers of music videos seem to go viral faster than political parody or sexually explicit pop culture? Perhaps it’s just the circles I move in—you know, being a mom and all—but I think it’s more than that. There is a social movement out there. I call it momiseration.
Momiseration (n.) : the act of sharing parenting-related hi-jinx in the hopes of connecting with other parents, finding validation, and ultimately surviving the less joyful moments of one of the most amazing experiences in the world.
Now, this can get into a bit of a gray area here… It’s a fine, fine line between complaining and letting off steam so your head won’t burst into a million tiny pieces. I don’t think it’s healthy to wallow in all the crappy and ignore the happy. But, I have found value in sharing some of my less awesome moments.
I read something somewhere about overcoming trauma. The grossly simplified explanation goes like this: talking about traumatic experiences, reliving the trauma, helps the person get over it. Had I more time, and if I had slept more than three hours at a time over the past three years, I might have looked up some real scientific information supporting this idea, but maybe next time. Just go with me here. Freud’s “talking cure,” journaling, and even telling your BFF about what happened, makes you feel better, right? Giving words to feelings allows us to tame them, to domesticate our fears, anxieties, and insecurities. This is good.
One day I found myself “writing” the story of my latest parenting disaster in my head. I even thought it out in third-person narrative point of view, which helped to separate me even further from the drama. It made for a pretty entertaining story, too. And I’ve had plenty of moments where, at the time, I was close to tears. Really upset. But, when I started to retell the story in my head, it became funnier. When I tried to figure out a way to word my experience into a Facebook post, it got even sillier. I was not crying anymore; the knot in my stomach loosened, my teeth unclenched, and I was able to see the moment for what it was: material for another momiseration post on Facebook.
Most of my most difficult parenting trials occur without witnesses. Wrestling the baby with a poopie diaper into submission to do the change before the house needs remediation usually happens when I am the only adult to see it. When I have made it through to the other side, I am shaky and sweaty and kind’of want a high-five or something. And that’s where Facebook comes in.
I write a brief synopsis of my experience: “Poop. Poop everywhere. That is all.”
With that, I have opened myself up to some healing momiseration. Any “likes” my post gets let me know that I am not alone. Any comments demonstrate that my experience is not singular; they validate and then alleviate the stress of the moment: “Ugh! Why do they poop so much?!” “You go, mama!” and my favorite, “Totally been there!”
I do not take pleasure in the suffering of others. However, it is possible that I take pleasure in knowing I am not alone in my suffering. I don’t need to be better than the next mom, and I don’t feel joy when I hear my friends are having a hard time, but some days I just want to know I am not alone. Is feeding your kids exhausting too? Will they eat only one food a day and refuse to disclose which one it is until you’ve already opened and prepared half of what is in your kitchen? “Oh, you wanted to eat an apple all along?! Guess I can toss out the rest of this food. Thanks, kid!”
I know I should be, and usually am, more focused on the reality that I am totally blessed to have kids to feed, food in my fridge, a kitchen to prepare it in, and running water with which to clean up after. I don’t want to lose sight of that. And yet, sometimes I feel like throwing the mac ‘n’ cheese out the window, clocking out, and hitting the showers a little early.
Then I’ll write a post about it. Sometimes just the act of putting the drama into words magically makes everything seem less dramatic. As if to say, Oh, is that all that happened? Guess that’s not so bad, even though in the moment it all seems totally devastating, and I have no idea how I’m going to make it through without CPS realizing that I’m an unfit parent.
I am not suggesting that we, as parents, flood the Internet with our lamenting and complaints. But there is no need to try to present that perfect parent persona all the time. There is much good to be found in opening up about our failures as well as our successes. Given the opportunity, we can support one another and use this social networking thing right! I truly do want to share in your victories, celebrations, and good nights of sleep, but if you happen to post about the time your kid had a meltdown in the drop-off line at school, my comment will be, “Totally been there!”