Social Media is for the {Consenting} Birds

Social Media is for the {Consenting} Birds

Something became clear to me today, and I felt it necessary to share.

I’ve felt uneasy, and I wasn’t sure why. I do my best to live honestly and purposefully. I work hard, give hard, love hard, think hard, cry hard and play hard (with stuffed animals and blocks, obviously). I rarely feel true regret for my actions anymore because everything I do is done for the well-being of my family. But still, I felt uneasy, off-balance and like something was simply out of place.

Quite slowly, the cause of this feeling revealed itself to me. With every Instagram scroll I felt weirder and weirder, and I knew that the app had to be the source of my discomfort. In addition to friends and family, I follow a variety of semi-famous artist/blogger moms with beautiful feeds, beautiful lives, beautiful thoughts and beautiful children. I sometimes found myself comparing my success as a woman to theirs, but, for the most part, that was manageable.

What really began to bother me was that I didn’t feel like I was following the feeds of cool and successful moms anymore. Rather, I felt that I was following the feeds of their children, who (since the majority are toddlers and babies) didn’t actually choose, edit or post the photos of themselves being shared with tens of thousands of people, some of whom leave comments like, “Ugh I just wish I could take your beautiful babies and keep them for myself!” The abounding creepiness and borderline obsessive followers that I often noticed commenting on the feeds of others was certainly enough to make me rethink posting photos of my own children without my girls giving me their very informed permission, which, clearly, they are too young to provide.

I considered changing my account to private, but realized that wouldn’t be beneficial for my business endeavors in a time where social media accounts are basically mandatory, and I thought about what it might mean to have an account focused on my mom and baby business without sharing any pictures of my own babies. It’s pretty much the norm in the mom blogger community to share absolutely everything about your own personal motherhood and your baby’s babyhood, and for a while there I was more than willing to do just that. One of my main priorities as childbirth educator and postpartum doula is to educate women about life postpartum (which, by definition, involves a lot of TMI), but I was coming to realize that my children’s life experiences don’t necessarily have to be the topics of discussion, at least not in excruciating detail, nor do their faces need to be the face of my business.

These thoughts swirled around my mind for months as I continued to post photos of my girls here and there. I often questioned, why did photos of my girls need to be at the center of all that I am doing? Why is sharing photos of our children doing normal things like bathing, playing, eating and sleeping considered normal now? Does being considered normal mean it’s okay to share all of these photos, and that doing so is free of repercussions? I was leaning toward no, but the Instagram community was screaming, “Yes!”, and it was hard to ignore.

Then, something clicked, and it convinced me to change the way I approach social media, as well as the way I work toward accomplishing my goals as a mother/writer who hopes to motivate other mothers by sharing my own experiences. The revelation was this:

As much as I love my daughters, and as beautiful as they are,
their story is not mine to tell.

Though I created them and brought them into this world, their story is theirs, and they deserve to have ownership of it from day one, no matter how crazy-adorable they are when they’re sleeping, eating, crying, etc., nor how "acceptable" it is to share these moments with the world. All of the weirdness and social pressures aside, it became apparent that the bigger issue for me was that I was creating an internet presence for my babies and telling a lot of people about their failures, accomplishments, silliness and sacred moments – all of which are things they should be in charge of sharing with others one day (if they want to, and at their own discretion). Using my daughters' faces as the faces of my own personal (and, technically, business) brand is no longer something I want to do, and it was probably something I never should have done in the first place. 

I don’t wish for them a life centered on how their experiences will be displayed for the people they care about. I don’t wish for them a life where said experiences are remembered with a little less joy because the photos of that experience didn’t receive as many comments and likes as they thought it would. I don’t wish for them a life that feels less worthy because it’s not as followed on the internet as those of their peers, nor do I wish for them a life full of approval from strangers on the internet, because we all know how unimportant and fickle such love stories can be.

Furthermore, how many of us are so, so, SO tired of feeling glued to our phones, tablets, computers and social media in its entirety? I most definitely am. I’m in an interesting position, as I was in high school when MySpace took over. This means I experienced a social-media-free childhood, but still got to experience social media during a highly impressionable time in my life. For the past decade I’ve concerned myself with creating perfect profiles, debated with myself over whether or not I should delete a comment from a cyber-bully, posted awkward statuses, posted cool statuses, “liked” things I didn’t really like but felt obligated to “like,” accepted friend requests from people I didn’t know that well because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings and shared my political beliefs in hopes of swaying just one person to vote in favor of nationwide paid family leave. I've also felt left out on so many unnecessary occasions, simply because someone shared a photo of something I wasn't invited to - events I probably never would have found out about or cared about if it hadn't been for social media. Hell, this happened today! It's an irksome part of daily life now, and I already fear the days this same feeling burdens my girls.

Do we wish these annoyances on our sweet little babies, who should know nothing right now of this world of digital congratulations, condolences and stabs in the back? I don’t wish it on my own children, but if they were to want that for themselves one day, so be it. That’s their choice – not mine, but I will do my part in raising them to know that they don't need social media profiles to survive, nor do they need to use them solely for "humble" bragging. Our duty in life is to promote joy and acceptance, to be light for those surrounded by dark and to help those who need it. We should never use our life experiences to promote doubt or sadness in others. That should never be okay, but so many people do it, and if that is the example they are setting for their children, I have a feeling their children will assume that's how social media is to be used. 

Though I am now choosing to avoid posting photos of my girls doing nothing more than living their daily lives, I’ll continue to have my own social media profiles because they are a necessity when it comes to owning a business. Another reason is that I would like to share my story of motherhood because it is my story, and it is my choice to do so, and I believe that the more honest all of us moms are about motherhood, the better the experience of motherhood can be for moms who need to know that they’re not alone. But I will no longer be posting photos of just my girls. Family photos or abstract snapshots where they are in the distance, yes, but daily life portraits, no. The photos I take of them might be photos I own and love and want others to see because I am so, so proud of my daughters – but they are photos of two sweet girls who one day might not want their faces and life stories shared on the internet with people they don’t know or love. I would never want them to feel exposed as a result of my past actions, nor would I want them to feel that posting photos of themselves on the internet is a necessary part of social living. I also don't want them to feel used by me to help me further my career or accomplish my goals, especially if I didn't succeed. Would they blame themselves? I would hope not, but, thanks to my recent decision, the thought won't cross their minds. 

In addition to these concerns, I am fully aware that one day, my girls will care what others think about them, both personally and physically. I picture them looking at my Instagram profile (if I were to keep things the way they are) and scrolling way back to pictures of when they were babies, toddlers, little girls. I imagine them noticing that some of the photos didn’t get as many likes as the rest. I picture them comparing the photos and trying to figure out why some people liked a few but not the others. I hear their voices in their heads saying, “Maybe it’s because my hair is in a bun in that photo, or maybe it’s because I’m wearing pink in one and blue in another. I never noticed how bad I look in blue. Oh wait – I know why. It’s because my crooked tooth is showing in that one. I should probably not smile with my mouth open in pictures.”

Imagining such self-criticism in the little people I’ve brought into this world makes me cringe, especially if it were to come about as a result of my past posting. While I will do my best to make sure my girls know how beautiful they are, how loved they are and what it means to be a good person in this world, it is inevitable that they will experience things like self doubt and insecurity. My responsibility as their mother is to enable them in positive ways, not in ways that could potentially have negative interpretations. I want them to know that their lives are theirs to share if they want to, but that the opinions of others should not define the value of their story, or anyone else’s for that matter.

I know I am not the first or only person to do this, and I also acknowledge that this idea won’t resonate with every parent, nor will I judge those who post photos of their children on social media. But this type of decision is a first for me, and it will be a huge transition, as I am an over-sharer at heart. My plan is to continue writing to my daughters in journals, to create photo books that they will be given on every birthday, to share our favorite photos with family and to continue sharing my story, a story within which my daughters are a part, without taking over their stories as a whole. The way they see their lives is different than the way I see their lives, and I can’t wait for them to show me just how different our versions are. My hope is that the underlying themes will be the same from all accounts, and that they feel their lives were built on a foundation of love and understanding.

Atop that foundation will, hopefully, be the knowledge that family is sacred, and that childhood is sacred. I remember being a child who was so impatient to grow up. I couldn’t wait to be in high school or have a real job or have babies. At times I couldn’t wait to get out of the house I grew up in and start a life of total independence. Now, I’ve done all of the above, and I still don’t feel totally satisfied. There’s so much more I want to do; more that I will do – and yet, I miss being a kid who couldn’t do much more than get creative in the backyard, and I miss the time spent with my parents when I depended on them fully. I want my girls to be aware of how special and magical this time in their lives is, and to live without concern regarding the thoughts and opinions of mom’s social media community or their own social media communities in the future. I want them to know that having a family and being a part of a family is something to be treasured and treated with total respect, and that there's nothing wrong with choosing to not show everyone just how awesome their family is. It's kind of like the "tree falling in the woods" scenario. Just because other people don't see evidence of the awesomeness and confirm the awesomeness with comments and likes doesn't make our family any less awesome. 

I’m starting to believe that in a time when people share everything with everyone whether or not anyone wants to see it, the best way to maintain the sacredness of something is to keep it private and unexposed to the outer elements. So, that is what I will do, and I have a feeling only good will come of this change. In fact, I’m excited about it. So excited that I have updated almost all of my social media accounts by deleting hundreds of photos, and I even archived quite a few blog posts. If my girls want to share their story one day in the future, they will, and I'll have all the details of the very beginning of their lives packed up and ready to hand them if that time comes. For now, it remains where I believe it belongs - safe with me, the person they trust with all their hearts to keep them protected.