My life looks great on Instagram—and I'll bet yours does, too.
Sure, I'll post the occasional complaint—for example, the supplies I used to fix the bathroom sink and big bags of laundry were featured this week—but otherwise everything is sunny over at my account. More than 90 percent of my Instagram photos are of my four-year-old daughter. “Look! Anna and I made tacos!” Or: "I dressed Anna like Rainbow Brite today!”
A friend once commented that my Instagram made parenting seem fun. Another friend said it looked like I was living a good life, based on my photos. What I don’t post images of, however, are the rejections for writing grants, piles of resumes that haven’t landed me jobs, the spot on my ceiling I stare at while struggling with insomnia, medication bottles and bank statements. I also don’t post many photos of myself wearing new shoes, because I can rarely afford them, or of myself with other adults, because I rarely ever see them.
Likewise, my child always appears happy on Instagram. You'll see Anna wearing her tap shoes, playing in a splash pad or covered in ice-cream. Is it real? Yes. Is it an accurate glimpse of our whole life together? Absolutely not. Anna still doesn't sleep through the night, hates getting her nails trimmed and refuses to go to the washroom before we leave the apartment. But she's just being a kid. Do I post photos of this side of parenting? I could—but I don’t.
Recently, Salon.com published an article called "Keep your kid's meltdown off Instagram" in response to the viral series Asshole Parents, where moms and dads share images of their children mid-breakdown. Although I've written about Anna's tantrums in the past, I still cringe at these types of photos. Something about the image of kids crying makes me wish these parents would drop their smartphones and go hug their crying child, regardless of the often ridiculous reasons for their tears.
I’m sure some would argue that I’m too showy—even exploitative—with Anna. Her face is often featured prominently in my Today’s Parent blog posts, I let Toronto Life snap her photo for a piece on the new streetcars and I recently agreed to her image being used on the website of a fancy doughnut shop.
So, if I’m going to show so many photos of Anna, why not post things that capture something closer to our reality, right? Well, here's why I don't: My daughter gets to make choices about her own emotions and her own humility. When I was a kid, I modelled for fliers and catalogues because I wanted to. On the flip side, my stepfather was committed to embarrassing me in public at any opportunity. He had to be the loudest person in the room and draw the most attention. He got waiters to sing "Happy Birthday" to me at restaurants that don’t do that kind of thing. And I hated it. I loathed it, in fact. And I had no say in it.
As an adult, I'm a chronic over-sharer. I’ve published books with personal details in them. I don't shy away from sharing tidbits of my life online. I share a lot of things my daughter says that I find smart, unexpected or charming. But we all have our boundaries—the things we want to keep private. One writer I heard speak recently said that, for her, it's the details of her romantic relationship that she keeps to herself. In a recent post for Today's Parent, acting managing editor Tammy Sutherland explained why she complains about her kids on social media. And we're all, hopefully, ensuring our children's safety in the process.
I want Anna to have ownership of her difficult feelings, even if she's choosing to express her frustration with a tantrum. My hope is that later in life she'll be able to acknowledge that while I wrote about her a lot and shared photos in a public forum, I never embarrassed her or took advantage of a situation that I found amusing. I want her to realize that as much as my posts make reference to her, they’re mainly about my thoughts and parenting experiences.
I turn to social media a lot. It’s my connection, my lifeline, to other adults, parents and friends. I’ll ask a pragmatic question, or for advice. I know how easy it can be for parents to vent every frustration online after a hard day, but I avoid it in an effort to protect the feelings of my daughter. Little people, big feelings—no need for public documentation.
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