There was a time when if I didn't want any contact with the outside world, all I had to do with not buy a magazine and turn off the TV. Now, I can't put down my phone and I feel compelled to check everyone's statuses all the time. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.
My mother never had this problem. In the early '80s, I was in elementary school. Every class party, school fair, field trip, family outing, pool day, vacation, car ride, walk around the neighborhood, dinner out, and day at the playground was all about being in the moment. Sure, my mom would occasionally pull out the clunky camera, snap a picture, wind the film, and possibly take a second. But it was always more of an afterthought. The film would stay in the camera for several "magical family moments" and eventually make its way to the one-hour photo place at the mall. The pictures? They'd stay in the flimsy yellow paper envelope, get stashed in a shoe box or maybe end up in a leather-bound photo album.
Now things are different.
From the moment we get that double pink line on the pregnancy test, we start snapping pics to post. Gone are the days when we took pictures as little mementos or keepsakes to remember a something truly special.
Parenting today has become a sport — a game of, "Who has the most perfect family?" or "How can I be better than you?" Facebook, Instagram, and all those other social media platforms have taken over childhood. And I don't mean that our kids are using them too much. (OK, they are, but that's not what I'm talking about here.) It's more of the, "OMG, I have to get that 'perfect' picture of my family to post" effect that I'm talking about.
When I look back at the photos I've posted on FB and IG, I don't see my family's memories. I see my son sulking behind his less-than-enthusiastic smile. Why? Because while he was being a kid (e.g., rolling through the grass, belly-flopping into the pool, and racing around the backyard with our new puppies), I was constantly stopping him, making him pose and telling him to "Smile for Mommy!"
I'm not proud of it, but I have on occasion paid my teenage son (who absolutely hates having his picture taken) a few dollars to smile for the camera. Go ahead and shake your head, but I know that I'm not the only parent who has done this. We were at the museum, I saw an opportunity, and I wanted a picture to share with my friends and family. When he rolled his eyes at my first request, I offered a few dollars to sweeten the deal. He smiled. I snapped a picture. And that was that.
Posing for a constant stream of photos is a chore for our kids. With that in mind, a few dollars for a picture is kind of the same thing as paying your kid to take out the trash. (Kind of, in a strictly 21st-century, social-media-obsessed kind of way.) But I'm not proud of paying for a photo op, and this experience seriously made me reevaluate what in the hell I was doing as a parent.
Not only have I been totally interrupting all of those "moments" — and staging them — but I've also been missing them myself. Between thinking about the next picture — Where can I get the best angle? Is there a filter that will make it look better? — and taking the next picture, and posting said picture, I was off in my own silent social-media world. That's not to mention the constant checks-ins to see how many likes and what comments I was getting. It was taking over actually paying attention to my family.
If you think ruining my child's good time by forcing him into photo ops and then ignoring him to post and check on those same pictures isn't bad enough, let's not forget the hours of agonizing that I (like many parents) spent worrying about how others would view me.
In reality, I should have been worried that others were viewing me as a somewhat self-centered, neglectful parents. But instead, I was consumed with anxiety over whether my life looked "right." Dirty clothes piled in the corner as my son opened Christmas presents? Crop it out! A spot on the carpet from our not-so-potty-trained puppy? That's what photo editing apps are for.
When I think about why I'm so overly concerned with how everyone — and for me, everyone means other parents, specifically moms — sees my family on social media, I can't settle on a good answer. Part of me feels that I just might be a perfectionist. But another part of me is just scared. I'm scared that some "friend" will casually point out the paint splatters that I never cleaned off of the dining room wall or comment with a, "Well, I guess you're having so much fun that you didn't have time to do the dishes!"
But, I really can't come up with an answer that quantifies my obsession. I can't justify turning my child's life into a storyline for my news feed.
So, what's the answer? Ignoring all social media? In truth, that's the only way. Because in reality, I'm just not that perfect.