One Friday morning a couple of weeks ago – the first day of half term to be precise – my sons decided to do some baking. My eight-year-old has always enjoyed making cakes and buns but it’s become a real passion of his recently. On this occasion his younger brothers (aged six and just-about-three) were keen to help and I was told to “Sit down, Mummy or just take some photos of us or something.” So I mostly just watched them.
It was so sweet – the three of them were totally dedicated to the task and worked together brilliantly. The older two read recipes together and divided up tasks. They helped their little brother pour ingredients and stir the mixture. They all had far too much (messy) fun with the electric mixer and even came up with a solution when they realised they’d added butter straight from the fridge (instead of ‘softened butter’)… which involved the six year old sitting in front of a heater for ten minutes cradling the bowl of cake mixture in his hands! An hour and a half later they had made chocolate biscuits and buns and were (justly) very pleased with themselves. I photographed the whole thing and shared the photos on my personal Facebook page. I felt so happy and proud of them.
Ten minutes later though, I felt a sudden need to be more honest with my Facebook friends… because although those pictures of sibling harmony were absolutely genuine, they only told one part of the story. In fact, the reason I had been so particularly happy to see my boys working together and enjoying each other’s company so much is because the previous day my older two had had the most horrible, upsetting argument. It was probably the worst argument they’d ever had and it had taken me and their dad ages to calm them down and help them through it. I’d gone to bed feeling like a terrible parent and woken up as member of the Walton family! No wonder I’d wanted to share those gorgeous, harmonious photos!
Perhaps it was the recent furore over the ‘Motherhood Challenge’ playing on my mind (with the idea that posting happy photos can have a negative impact on others*), but suddenly, only sharing ‘part of the story’ didn’t feel quite right. So I went back to Facebook and wrote about the argument the previous day too, along with my reasons for sharing that. I’m not normally that open on Facebook so I felt quite exposed (even though I only have a hundred-odd friends which is by FB standards a mere handful!). But I did it anyway because it suddenly felt like something I needed to do.
You see, as much as I enjoy Facebook, I’m aware of its dark side too. Personally, I can find it really draining. And although I do genuinely enjoy the majority of what my friends post, there are times when it all feels too much. A bit overwhelming. It can tap into a side of me I don’t really like so that where in ‘real life’ I would feel happy for a friend’s success, ‘social media me’ is envious and dissatisfied. On a bad day this ‘me’ sees the dream jobs, the pictures of angelic, perfectly behaved kids, the fabulous holidays etc. and compares my life unfavourably to that.
I know, I KNOW this is ridiculous because I have a lovely life with very little to feel remotely dissatisfied about. I’m also well aware FB provides only glimpses into people lives (those perfect kids probably smeared ice cream all over the sofa three seconds after that photo was taken) and besides which, I project just the same images of an ideal life into others FB feeds. I guess that was why I felt the need to set the record straight a bit on this occasion. I don’t have perfect, Disney-fairytale kids!
That honest post got twice as many likes and (lovely) comments as my post with the harmonious sibling pictures and I don’t think that was a fluke. It’s lovely to see each other’s happy times but without sharing some of the harder moments too, I think we’re missing something. The roundness of human experience, perhaps. And the real part of friendship – the part that makes us see each other as fellow human beings, all on this crazy journey together. Isn’t everything easier when we’re not alone?
How much do you share on social media?
*for the record, I had nothing against the motherhood challenge. I was tagged but didn’t post any photos, more due to apathy than anything else. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with posting happy photos. I certainly don’t think parents are smug just for sharing moments like these. I do think there’s a question about the impact of what we share on social media but it’s much MUCH bigger than that one challenge, it’s to do with how we adapt to knowing so many selective details about so many people on the periphery of our lives. It’s a whole other blog post!