Social Media and the Myth of the Perfect Parent

Of course they're happy! They're standing with a penguin!

The “perfect parent” is a bit of a moving target. One day you’re supposed to put your kids to sleep on their back and the next it’s their stomach. You’re supposed to keep them in a booster seat until they’re 8, and then until they’re 12 (really? 12?!). Don’t let them cry it out; they’ll be scarred for life. But don’t coddle them too much; they won’t be able to handle the pressures of the world. Mostly, I try to follow hardcore safety guidelines and ignore the rest. I breastfed Bug for a bit and then had to stop, and didn’t breastfeed Lady Bug at all. We generally don’t buy organic food, although sometimes I do. The whole family eats high fructose corn syrup. The kids drink juice and eat at McDonald’s now and again. I think co-sleeping sounds like some form of motherly-guilt torture device, and my kids are about as attached as I can handle.  I chuckle when the lactation crew tout that breastfeeding is a bonding experience, like people who don’t breastfeed couldn’t possibly experience that quiet, one-on-one bonding time with their own infants.  Bottom line? I generally don’t care how other people parent, and I’d like other people to feel the same about me. As long as your kid isn’t in prolonged emotional or physical distress, they’re probably going to turn out as messed up (and as perfect) as any other kid. This attitude works well online, where you’re up against people judging your parenting skills from all sides. I just don’t care. My kids are happy and (by some miracle) relatively healthy. They are loving and they are loved. They sit down in restaurants, follow rules, and are charming, funny and smart.

But although I can easily ignore the parenting advice that hounds you online, I am plagued by mommy guilt of my own creation. The trick with social media is that you tend to see extremes. People share most when they are happy and excited, and when they are angry, depressed, lonely. Despite jokes about people sharing what they have for lunch, this isn’t really the norm with parents. If we’re sharing what we had for lunch, it was because we made it from scratch, it was delicious, or it had far too many calories. We took our kids to the zoo today, did three amazing crafts, and made jambalaya from scratch from our grandmother’s secret recipe. And the proof is all there on our blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages. This kid takes soccer, scuba diving and origami. This one takes singing, gymnastics, and fencing. There was this glorious family vacation, followed by a weekend away at the beach cottage, and rounding out the month with two weekends of family bike trips. Hmmm. Everyone ELSE is doing all of these amazing things and I’m just sitting here reading about it.

Children's Museum

My mom guilt kicks in and I realize that I am depriving my children of a full childhood. They aren’t getting enough enrichment, travel and social experiences. I am FAILING them and they will be scarred forever. These other bloggers are perfect mommies and daddies and I am simply a slacker mom.

Like I said above, social media is all about the filtering. We don’t get the whole picture, and so the bar seems higher somehow. No family or child is perfect, but in all of the pictures and anecdotes, they seem perfect. Even the parents who go on about how imperfect they are seem to be really just fabulous parents masquerading as inept moms and dads. How can a family that looks so happy on vacation ever be miserable? How can a mom who takes the time to bake fancy cakes for her kids and do messy crafts ever be grumpy with them?

Yeah, tiny butterfly cookies and mushrooms made out of melted Starbursts. Top that, perfect moms!

And then I sit down to make our annual photo book. I scroll through hundreds of pictures of trips to the zoo, gymnastics, swimming class and the park. I look at the photos from beach weekends, Disney World and Storyland. We’ve got crafts, painting, and cooking projects. There are LEGO sculptures, funny outfits and goofy times. There are birthday parties and fancy cakes. And that’s when I realize that I am a perfect parent, too. At least on paper (screen?). When my kids are older and find some way to try to make me feel like I was an awful parent, I’m going to pull out these photos and show them just how perfect their childhoods were. Maybe they’ll even believe it.

5 Responses to Social Media and the Myth of the Perfect Parent
  1. Stickykisses
    March 24, 2011 | 12:16 pm

    Great point. Most of the ‘mom blogs’ I follow each revolve around a specific topic, so we never see the whole picture. So maybe the homeschooling mom with all the cool crafts feeds her kids pancakes for dinner (like I do). Maybe the mom who feeds her family meals made from scratch with only local, organic ingredients has a playroom that looks like a hurricane hit (like I do). And I challenge any mom blogger to post that she just spent an hour on the couch with a box of cookies and an old episode of Grey’s (like I did). My kids are far from perfect, and so am I, and I can live with that.

  2. Aline
    March 25, 2011 | 9:17 am

    Hey, you and I both know there is no such thing as a perfect parent. I was a foster parent for infants for years and some of these kids were left sitting all day in a car seat with no stimulation or human interaction. According to the Early Intervention specialists I worked with just talking, looking at our kids, and loving them stimulates them plenty. So whenever you feel like a “bad” parent just think about that.

  3. Melanie
    March 25, 2011 | 7:38 pm

    You my dear friend are a wonderful mom and your children are blessed to be yours. If my parents were like you I’d be a much more normal human being. :)

  4. Abbie
    March 25, 2011 | 9:14 pm

    Wow–you’ve touched on something that I’ve thought about so much in recent years. I enjoy using various social media platforms…yet you’re right about this: “People share most when they are happy and excited, and when they are angry, depressed, lonely.” At the end of a frustrating day I’m very uninclined to post on my blog or on facebook. Mostly because I believe in the old saying “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
    However, it does bother me that the result of abiding by that proverb could lead to a skewed description of my family and my life. That bothers me–I would much rather share the “real” me.
    Thanks for the great post. I’ll continue to work on figuring out how to strike the balance in this regard. Your words have provided more to think about!

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    May 25, 2011 | 2:53 am

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