I’m an unlikely person to become passionate about defending new parents who talk about their babies and children all the time through social media.
Because if my “pre-baby” self were reading my current Facebook feed a few years ago, I would have “defriended” myself.
Here are five categories of new parenthood experience that I’ve shared with all my Facebook friends during the last two years since my son was born that would have elicited groans, eye rolls, and sighs from my pre-baby self:
- Details of sleep training: my thoughts on cry-it-out, number of nights of interrupted sleep, nap refusals
- The timing and chronology of my son’s birth: labor, c-section, recovery
- Descriptions of tantrums: screaming toddler insanity of all types
- Developmental milestones: crawling, cruising, walking
- Illness and health concerns: teething problems, hand foot and mouth disease, colds, fevers
Am I an “oversharer”?
According to the insanely popular STFU, Parents blogger Blair Koenig, I just might be. Maybe not the worst offender, but she would probably say that I’m describing details about my kid WAY too much. (Take a few guesses about what her blog stands for: she’s telling parents to be quieter in the most direct way possible.)
I guess I must be living under a rock, but I had never read about this blog until the last few days, when I started hearing about her book — based on the blog — being released in a couple weeks. She’s a 30-year-old, childless woman who got sick and tired of the absurdity and self-relevation of parenting in the social media age. Her blog is absolutely addictive.
It’s based on reader submissions of the most egregious and self-absorbed instances of parental oversharing.
Just a few examples:
- Descriptions of baby poop (the “gross out” examples)
- Moms who complain about other moms’ gifts, behavior, style sense, or parenting (the “sanctimonious” ones)
- Parents who share about their daughter’s first periods
- Examples of placenta-related art work
And I get her outrage. I really do. I was 36 when I had my son. I suffered through years and years and years of boring Facebook updates of ultrasound pictures, constant e-mail photo bombing (first steps, first ride on a swing, first airplane ride, first tooth), birth stories, hours of discussions and social media planning about baby showers, staff meetings at work that degenerated into child discipline strategy sessions, online discussions of baby registries, etc. I was a childless thirtysomething woman too. And it’s really annoying to listen to all the parental oversharing. No doubt about it. I hated it.
But I have one thing to say to the woman behind STFU, Parents: Check back with me once you have kids. (She says that she does want them.)
Like it or not, even the most “private” of us in today’s world have a connection to social media (Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and lots of other ways of connecting and sharing with the world).
There is also nothing lonelier and more desperate than a parent who is trying to figure out if they’re doing a good job. Years ago we had close neighborhood networks, we had our parents and siblings in the same town coming in and out of our homes giving tips about sleep and feeding, we had circles of stay-at-home moms gathering on porches while their kids roamed the neighborhood. Now we have Facebook.
And at the same time the standards for today’s parents are skyrocketing with each year. You can’t avoid discussions of parenting philosophies. Especially for a mom, you’re never doing enough. You’re presented in your daily life with endless items to worry about, from everywhere — social media, television, magazines, your doctor, the playground. (Is my baby sleeping too much? Is co-sleeping safe? Am I a bad mom because I don’t want to breastfeed? Does all this crying mean that he has an allergy or food sensitivity? Would my child be better on a special type of diet? What if my child is only meeting half of the developmental milestones for his age?) And if you worry too much, ask too many questions, do too many things, you’re also worrying if you’re a “helicopter parent” and that you might be damaging your child with all of your overinvolvement.
There’s nothing good about today’s parenting standards.
And there are many, many legitimate questions to ask about the developmental consequences of parental sharing (and oversharing) about private details on the internet: When do kids understand that they’re being discussed in a public forum? What is the parent’s responsibility about respecting child privacy? What are the developmental consequences of social media?
As a parent, I’ve been there, at 2 a.m., listening to my baby sob for the hundredth time that night and then deciding to post about how awful it is that my baby is crying. I knew that I could be annoying some people (some of my Facebook friends who truly don’t care). But I didn’t care either. I want the connection. All those theoretical questions about the long-term effects of the digital age go out the window. I want someone there with me — even in a “virtual” sense — who gets it and may have a suggestion about what to do or tell me that I’m doing a good job.
Time and time again, social media has helped me deal with so many parental issues. Have I been a bit disgusted by the minute details of family life that some people have shared? Of course. Would my “pre-baby” self still have defriended “pre-baby” me — or ignored my updates — on Facebook? There’s a good chance.
But lay off the new parents, STFU, Parents. I’m just as grossed out by some of the oversharing as you are, much of the time. But we’re living in a very tough, tough world of parenting. The standards are exacting, and the consequences — all of us parents are told again and again — are severe for screwing it up. Please cut us parents a bit of slack. We’re looking for support and validation, no matter how bizarre many of our ways of asking for it are. Maybe someday soon you’ll see what I mean. And maybe we can learn a little bit from each other.