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There’s a theme I’ve noticed recently as I’ve scrolled through Facebook (other than the election, I mean). Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the near end of summertime and parents are exhausted from seemingly eternal days with their children surrounding them. Maybe it’s the omnipresent nature of social media, beckoning us to write, respond, engage, and share. Maybe it’s a quest for community. Whatever it is, though, it’s concerning, and little discussed, though the ramifications are potentially damaging to some of the relationships in our lives that matter the very most.
What I’m seeing, what I’m wondering about, is this: why are parents sharing their children’s moments of shame on the Internet?
I can hear the backlash now, so I’m going to address it. I know that some of you are thinking, “Are you kidding me? All I see on my feed are pictures of perfectly dressed children sweetly smiling while playing with one toy for a sustained period of time until their sibling asks for it and they gladly hand it over.” I get it. I see them too, those pictures of the children of Pleasantville.
But I also see post after post calling parents, specifically mothers, to express more vulnerability, more honesty, more “real” in their social media content in general, and especially their posts about family. I think that this is a good thing, a helpful thing. I also wonder, though if, perhaps this is all related, if perhaps in our efforts to run away from the façade of perfect, we’ve chased down the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps, now, we’re sharing the ugly and the hard in order to show a more robust picture of ourselves. Perhaps we’re trying to tell the truth.
But the thing is, the pictures (whether literal or figurative) that we are sharing, aren’t just pictures of ourselves. They’re pictures of other human beings, whose lower moments are not necessarily ours to share. Despite the fact that they are our children, despite the fact that their wrongdoing or mess-making affects us just as much, if not more, as it does them, they are not merely our wrongdoing, mess-making, pleasantness-of-our-days-affecting children. They are image bearers of the Creator God. They are our closest neighbors, as Jen Wilkin observes, those that we are called to love as deeply we love ourselves.
And, we do. We love them so much it hurts. We love them so much that we wonder who we would be without them. But, sometimes, that love seems to lose its clarity when we begin talking about our children online. And so I’d like to invite us into a new way of thinking when it comes to social media posts about our children. What if we asked ourselves, “could this post bring shame upon my children (now or in the future), or will it allow them to look back on a legacy of trust?”
I want to be clear about what I don’t mean when I say this. I do not mean that we shouldn’t share hilarious, even if disastrous, moments that our kids have brought about, like the time that my friend’s two kids got into an incredible amount of paint and, how shall I put it, redid their bedroom (not to mention their own two bodies). I am also not saying that we don’t ever get to write about having a hard day with our children, about how family relationships (even between mommy and three-year-old) can be draining and hard, or about how there are weeks when nothing seems clearer than the fact that sin is crouching at the door of the hearts of everyone who lives in our homes. These can be valuable to ourselves, our growth as parents, and to those who read the post.
I think, perhaps, the key is to consider what we are making the center of the story. Is our child’s poor behavior and our resulting frustration, anger, or shock the center? Is our desire for parenting accolades or public commiseration the center? Is our hope for a slew of Facebook likes, which will make us feel known, or heard, or puff up our online platforms at the center? (I’d like to be clear that I’m only aware of these potential reasons for posting because I’ve been tempted by every single one of them myself). If these feelings or desires are at the center of our posts, then we are not considering our children more highly than ourselves, and we are not building a legacy of trust.
The time with our children in our homes with us, as we’re often reminded by mothers further along in the journey, is so very brief. We have only so many years to construct the narrative of how our children will think of us, how our children will think that we thought of them. We have only so many years to be their haven. We cannot protect them from everything, but we can protect them from the tenderness of home and all the sin and shame and course-correction that happens within those four walls being exposed.
So on those days when parenthood is overwhelming us, let’s text a spouse or a trusted friend, rather than broadcasting our frustrations out to the world. Let us live as though we believe that these moments of annoyance shall pass and not leave a permanent reminder of their occurrence online. And whether our children grow up to shrug at what we posted of them, or whether they care deeply, let us be parents who can say before the Lord and before the children He gave us that we considered how, even online, we could steward and shepherd well the stories our children lived out before us.
Abby is an old soul, a Jesus girl, better in writing. She is a pastor's wife and mom of two boys, one of whom has a neuro-genetic disorder, which Abby writes about (among other things such as faith, liturgy, depression, social issues, and literature) at www.joywovendeep.com. Abby directs communications for a nonprofit organization and co-facilitates two community efforts - one promoting bridge-building racial reconciliation conversations, the other supporting area foster and adoptive families. She has a soft spot for books, podcasts, learning about human relationships through television and movies, personality typing, and pasta. Abby holds a B.A in Communication from Texas A&M University and is completing her graduate degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. Twitter | Instagram | Facebook