Listen, we’ve all been there.
The house is somehow a disaster even though the kids have only been up for an hour. You can’t seem to find your grip on life, let alone the dishes, and your 2-year-old just threw himself to the floor in tears because the mayonnaise on his sandwich touched his hand. Or you’ve saved up for a year to take your kids to Disneyland. You’re finally in the happiest place on earth and you’re trying your damnedest to make everything magical and your 5-year-old is throwing a fit because you forgot to pack her green sneakers instead of her blue ones and OH MY GOSH, MOM. DON’T YOU KNOW THAT DISNEYLAND ISN’T THE SAME IN THESE STUPID GREEN SHOES? Or it’s just another day. And your 3-year-old is seriously about to lose her mind because the Lego fort you built isn’t big enough to hold her teddy bear and basically the world is ending and her screams are the harbinger of the apocalypse and oh my gosh, is it nap time yet?
As parents, we all deal with these meltdowns differently. There are harsh words and soft words, capitulating and grandstanding. Sometimes we are proud of our responses, sometimes not so much. I imagine parents have been reacting to the kid conniption in the same varied ways since Adam and Eve finally decided to put down the parenting books and start, you know, parenting.
Nothing much changed. Until it did.
Now when their kids lose their cool, parents don’t just reach for words of comfort or frustration. They also reach for their cameras on their phones.
We’re all pretty well-acquainted with the result — the photo of the sobbing child accompanied by a funny comment and witty hashtag. Heavens, we haven’t just seen those photos — if you’re anything like me, you’ve also posted them. And it isn’t just for the laughs we’ll get for sharing the oversized agony about a silly little kid problem.
No, we share them because parenthood is hard. It is as shockingly difficult as it is shockingly beautiful. We’ve all heard it takes a village to raise a kid. Well, I think it might take a village to keep a parent from going absolutely bleeping crazy. In so many ways, sharing the hard parts of our days — including that kid crying over something small or ridiculous for the hundredth time — is how many of us search for our village.
It’s all well-meant. They are just little kids having big fits over little silly things. They’d laugh, too, if they knew what we knew. There’s no harm intended.
But I think we are hurting our children and ourselves by posting photographs of them in their extreme moments, even when we know everything is going to be all right.
A few thoughts.
1. Ridiculous is relative.
Yeah, that one time my 3-year-old cried until she threw up because she was so upset her shoelaces were uneven WAS pretty crazy. I mean… what the hell, kid? But somewhere between searching for scissors to even the laces and cleaning up the puke, I took the time to really look at her. Sure, the problem seemed imaginary to me, but her distress was real. She was torn up inside. She doesn’t like crying hysterically. I guarantee she would have bypassed the whole experience if she could have managed to do so. But she couldn’t. Because something about that uneven shoelace upset her perspective or introduced just a little more disorder than her already disordered toddler world could handle. So, she cried. And she screamed. And she gasped in air until she expelled the contents of her stomach. And it was gross.
You know who else freaks out over things that other people could take in stride? Me. When it’s one of those days when I am positive I’m never going to think of another thing to write… ever. Like, not even enough words for a grocery list. Or when my husband is driving and I AM REALLY, REALLY SURE THAT CAR ALMOST HIT US. Or, you know, any of the three days before I start my period. I don’t need people to pander to me when I am being irrational. Heavens, please give me a talking-to when I start hiccup-crying over the grown-up equivalent of uneven shoelaces. We all need help with our perspectives now and then. But I cannot imagine how violated and invalidated I would feel if my husband started taking photos of me mid-breakdown and posted them to Instagram with witty hashtags.
2. We do not want to teach our children that the Internet is the dumping ground for all emotions.
I know that when I take that picture of my kid mid-tantrum in Target, I am really trying to express my emotions about HER emotions. But what does she see? She sees me taking a photo of her in a vulnerable moment and posting it online. Kids may be consistently irrational, but they aren’t dumb. They’re watching us. And they are going to take the behavior we model and apply it to themselves. Do we want our kids exposing their vulnerabilities on Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat? Do we want them to think a screen is the correct receptacle for their heartbreaks or triumphs? Do we want our children to spend more time tagging their experiences than actually, you know, experiencing them?
3. Parents do need a village, but sharing photos of crying kids isn’t the surest way to build one.
Listen, parenting is a hard, messy, lonely, beautiful, peanut-butter-covered business. We need to be able to share our experiences — not just as an act of edification, but also as a sign of solidarity. Oh, your kid screams in the middle of parking lots sometimes, too? Thank goodness. I thought I was the only one. But the most effective means of communicating both our need and our support does not have to come at the cost of our children.
As parents, we get to witness the highs and lows of our children’s lives. That’s a privilege that we don’t need to share with everyone who follows us. Let’s acknowledge that and find other ways to communicate the hard, ridiculous, funny ways our kids freak the heck out. Call a friend or walk outside and talk to a neighbor. Engage with your community online, by all means. I have found so much solace and support from women on social media. Maybe post about your hard day from your perspective with a picture that doesn’t include your kid’s tears. There is something incredibly intimate about portraiture, even the kind snapped with a cracked iPhone. Those break-apart moments belong to them. Even though it’s hard to recognize at times, it’s a privilege that they feel comfortable enough to share them with us. I want my kids to know their irrational, out of control, crying-on-the-floor selves are just as safe with me as their well-behaved selves. Safety doesn’t mean I always tolerate, give into, or encourage freak-outs, but it does mean I respect the kid behind them.
We never completely outgrow an occasional inability to see beyond the moment that holds us. We need to teach our kids how to navigate that reality, not publicly mock their failed attempts to do so. Can we chuckle about puking over shoelaces? Of course we can. Hell, not just CAN, we SHOULD. Laughter is healing, and sometimes, as a parent, a sense of humor is the only thing that gets me through the day. (There are a few Instagram accounts that basically feature kids standing proudly next to the incredible messes they’ve made. These crack me up. Kids: 1 Parents: 0.) But let’s be more discerning about what we publish permanently to the Internet about our kids. And let’s see what happens when we reach for our kids before we reach for our phones. Who knows?
We just might learn something worth sharing.
(Hey, guys, we’ve got this. And you’re doing a good job. Past kid crying photos, puke and all.)