If you’re a Facebook account wielding woman in her late 20s, chances are your newsfeed has recently been invaded by an army of chubby-cheeked, diaper-wearing little ones. I know mine has. And I’m not going to lie. I LOVE it.
Watching people you knew way back when—the same people who pushed you on the swings at school or told you boys had cooties—grow up and have kids of their own feels a little like coming full-circle. Not to mention, giant, toothless baby grins and toddlers in oversized overalls are a lot more fun to look at than the drunk college party pictures that once dominated the screen.
But to all my fellow Facebook moms and dads, I have one small problem with all the pictures you post. It’s a problem that is entirely MINE, and not a fault I find in YOU. Let’s clear that up right away. But I think it’s a problem that a lot of people have, so in talking about it, I’m hoping to provide a possible remedy.
So what exactly is my problem? Let me set the scene.
It’s nine o’clock on a Friday night, and I am sitting in bed performing my compulsory internet browsing. You know the drill—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, favorite blogs, Weather.com. (I know. I know. I lead an exciting life.) As I surf through the latest round of too-cute kid pictures, I find myself fluctuating between enchantment and envy.
This is the point where I usually turn to my husband and say something ridiculous along the lines of, “why can’t Oliver be as well behaved as all these other peoples’ kids.” Note that well-behaved could easily be replaced with numerous descriptors—happy, calm, easy-going, giggly…and the list goes on.
I’m rolling my eyes at myself as I type this. It seems so absurd now. But it didn’t when I said it.
At the time I was thinking, come on moms and dads of Facebook, where are all the pictures of your kid splayed across the floor mid tantrum because you wouldn’t give her a cookie? Where are all the pictures of red-faced colicky infants? What about the toddler screaming to get out of his restaurant high chair five minutes after sitting down?
Clearly because you don’t post images of these trying instances, they never happen. Right? Sounds silly, but that is the exact thought process I used to go through. I’d look at your happy, smiley baby, compare her to the fuss ball clinging to my leg, and end up feeling like I must be doing something wrong.
I know I’m not alone in making these kinds of comparisons. There is a whole psychological theory that delves into the intricacies of why we do it and it mostly boils down to determining personal and social worth. In other words, it lets us know how we measure up against others and in doing so, solidifies our identities.
In the Facebook era though, this presents a real problem since the images we use to make comparisons usually only represent the highlights of parenthood. These ideal moments set the bar artificially high, making it easy to feel like you are falling short.
The turning point for me came when I started to sift through the pictures I post of my own little guy. The first image showed Oliver grinning ear to ear during a trip to zoo. Another picture showed Oliver laughing, his face covered in bubbles. And then there was a rare picture of him sitting nicely in a high chair, quietly coloring.
On and on it went, one smiling picture after the next. In fact, out of the hundreds of pictures I have posted, there are only a couple that show Oliver less than exuberant. I am as guilty of only posting the happy moments as the next person. And why not? These are the moments that bring the most joy. They are the moments that make me feel like a confident and competent mommy. Most importantly, they are the times that reassure me that the hard times never last forever. The next smiling, happy kiddo picture is just around the corner.
When I realized the problem lay in my perception and not myself, I decided to take action. First, I recognized that the images I see on Facebook represent a single moment in time, likely one of your best. For every smiling baby picture that you post, I’m sure you could have posted another of your little one crying.
Next, I focused my efforts on limiting comparisons between Oliver and other kids, especially within the context of social media. Comparing my three-dimensional, lived experience with a two dimensional image is not the way to foster happiness.
The last thing I did, and possibly the most important was to choose to focus on joy. So maybe Oliver does cry and whine more than the average toddler. Maybe his tantrums are more epic. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. It doesn’t matter. By downplaying the struggles of parenthood and emphasizing the joys, I find that I am a happier mom, no matter the circumstances.
These are lessons that took me awhile to learn. They are ones I sometimes still have to remind myself on my worst days. But I’m getting there.
So Facebook moms and dads, keep posting those smiling little faces. Keep sharing the laughter and the fun. And maybe every once in awhile, post a picture of your kid screaming his head off. I can promise you that if it shows up in my newsfeed, I will be one of the first to like it.