When I became a parent almost a decade ago, I didn’t even have a Facebook account. I thought Facebook was solely for college students of my younger sister’s generation. If people wanted to see pictures of my kids, I would have to email them each picture individually, or they would simply come over and actually see my kids, like, with their eyes. If friends and family wanted updates on my life, they would call me. I had a dinosaur cell phone — a flip phone. Back then, I didn’t even text.
In fact, I remember distinctly having a brand new baby at home, the phone ringing off the hook, and being unable to answer everyone’s calls. My great aunt and grandma thought I was being rude. But I’d just had a baby. I needed my space. And I got it — mostly.
Sure, there were people who poked into our business when we became parents. Some people made comments that rattled me. And there were certainly times when I was getting such conflicting advice about parenting and baby care that I didn’t know where to turn.
But none of what I experienced is anywhere close to the magnitude of judgment and unsolicited advice that today’s young parents have to face.
Today, about 72% of adults in America have a Facebook account, and that number is of course higher in people who are of childbearing age. Even if you rarely use your account, or you are selective about whom you interact with on Facebook or other social media, life is drastically different than it was a mere decade ago. Practically everything we do is filtered through the lens of social media — at any given moment, there are 400 eyeballs on our parenting. Watching. Analyzing. Judging. Even when we are not online, we feel this scrutiny.
These days, if a new mother shares a photo of her newborn on social media, she has to be concerned not only about what her mother-in-law will say about how she’s holding or feeding or dressing her little bundle, but also about what her nutso friend from high school might chime in with. You never know when someone will burst out with something inappropriate and boundary-pushing from “I hope you aren’t vaccinating. Don’t want to poison them so young” to “Did you circumcise? That’s mutilation, you know.”
It almost sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I think we all know I’m not. We see these sorts of judgmental, accusatory diatribes all the time. Because they are hiding behind screens, people spew all kinds of nonsense that they wouldn’t dare speak in real life. They’ve lost the ability to mind their manners, to think before they speak, and to remember that their words — even the typed ones — have more weight than they might think.
If you are a brand new mom, or a youngish parent, you are vulnerable to critique as it is, just by virtue of your inexperience. You are just trying to figure out how you want to raise your kids. Maybe you want to follow closely in line with how your parents did it. Maybe you want to veer of course somewhat, and maybe you want to push away all your childhood crap and start anew. Regardless, you are a bit of a blank slate. Add to the inherent newness of everything the fact that you are dealing with hormone changes and sleepless nights, and you are raw and exposed and easily hurt by what others say.
And it’s not just your own social media presence where you feel judged. Now you see that any parent who makes one tiny little mistake can be castrated in the public eye via social media. No one is immune, accept, apparently, those who feel so free to cast judgment (may these people never have to learn the hard way not to judge so quickly).
Parenthood is riddled with opportunities for mistakes, both big and small. Absolutely no parent is perfect. This is a fact most of us slowly accept and internalize as our parenting years go by. But now, with parenting being held up on such an impossibly high pedestal, there is little opportunity for the new parenting generation to acquire this message, that imperfection is a given. They barely even have room to breathe, for Pete’s sake. And God forbid they do make a mistake, the kind that any good, loving parent could easily make — they now must fear that someone will come after them claiming neglect or worse.
Obviously there are truly neglectful parents, and all kinds of horrible stuff happens to kids as a result. I hate even thinking about it. Still, most of us are good parents just doing our best. But “doing your best” is not something that seems acceptable anymore. It’s “Pinterest perfect parent” or bust.
So, to the brand new parents — to those who have had to parent in the time of social media insanity: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the shitstorm of judgment on the internet. I’m sorry for how deeply it must get under your skin, at this vulnerable moment when you are trying so hard to figure out this whole parenting thing.
I want you to know that in real life, parents are kinder to one another than what you see on social media. Seek out compassionate friends, ones who seem to get that parenting is sometimes flying by the seat of your pants — that sometimes, just showing up is the very best you can do.
And maybe step away from the internet more, or find ways to use it for good. I have made great friends online, but I am increasingly choosy about whom I will interact with. You know that “friends list” feature available on Facebook? Use it. Make a list of people who feel safe, understanding, and kind. Only show your posts to them. Unfollow or unfriend anyone who doesn’t make you feel loved and supported.
And know this: You are a great parent. Truly. The nitty gritty choices you feel like you have to make now — breast vs. bottle, working vs. staying at home, free-range vs. helicopter — don’t matter as much as social media would lead you to believe. I know you make thoughtful decisions, that you love your child with all your being, that you are doing your best.
So please, do your best to let go of perfection, to ignore the naysayers. You get to choose your parenting story, not anyone else. You’ve got this, mama.