I was at the beach the other day with my 8 and 5-year-old niece and nephew. They pulled together driftwood and towels, beach chairs and tree branches to build a fort. When it was done, it was a hideous fort, pretty much a pile of stuff balanced precariously atop each other, with a long blue noodle (of the swimming kind) flying from the top like a flag. The kids and I couldn’t stop laughing.
“Take a picture and put it on Pinterest,” my 5-year-old nephew yelled out.
How do you explain to a 5-year-old that we would never put this picture on Pinterest. His fort, well, it was a real life fort. It was the kind of mess that happens when two creative kids pull a bunch of stuff together to make something that feels special to them. It wasn’t a trimmed burlap tent perched on a lush swath of grass with tea lights hanging inside and chevron throw pillows lining the walls. Pinterest? No way. It wasn’t remotely good enough. I wouldn’t even put it on Facebook.
We’re all guilty of posting snippets of our lives on some sort of social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. What parent doesn’t love to share photos capturing the first time their kids crawled or walked on Facebook, or post a photo of the robot birthday cake we labored over on Pinterest? Many of us share cute things our kids blurt out or sweet moments we want others to appreciate as much as we do. I get it — it’s fun, and we love our kids so much that we get a rush when someone else gets just how awesome our child is.
Here’s what I hate about social media: It makes all of us seem way too perfect, like we’re all trying to live in our very own glossy magazine ad. Every status update about an adorable thing your kid said or photo of a gorgeous sunset while on vacation seems to push us farther away from real life; your photo of the sunset isn’t going to reveal what that sunset was really like, when your kid, say, whined about eating ice cream the whole time the sun drifted toward the horizon. Obviously, we all love our kids, and I’m not saying posting on social media is wrong or lame. But I’ve seen so many people begin to think in terms of clever Facebook statuses. I have friends who post a picture of their kids online and then constantly check back to see the comments. Part of me wonders if anything feels real anymore if we don’t report on it to our network of followers or friends.
This was a low moment for me:
Last year, I bribed my kid with a chocolate bar to get him to sit for a photograph on the first day of preschool. He held a sign that said: “First day of the 2’s.” It was charming and smart. I love this picture. I posted it to Facebook. I emailed it to friends. Now, here’s the embarrassing part: I copied the idea off Pinterest. I should have had a disclaimer that went with the photo: My son looks perfect in this photo and he’s beaming not because he wants to go to preschool and not because he’s just full of happiness, it’s because he wants the damn chocolate bar I’m holding in my hands.
Stealing the idea from Pinterest doesn’t make the photo any less valuable to me. It’s framed on my fireplace mantel. I love my son and I was proud, but was this photo also a way to project myself as a mom that’s got it together and is pretty cool to boot?
Maybe in a mother’s harried (and often unappreciated) days, it’s nice for all of us to get to feel a little perfect. Who wants to admit to their Twitter followers that they were up crying the night before because they were convinced they were a lousy mom? Who wants to take a picture of themselves in their pajamas at 10am on a Monday with their disheveled house in the background?
But we could all benefit from a little bit of authenticity when it comes to social media. I want people to know the real me, not the me I project in a series of snippets pedaling mock exasperation about my kids, photos with that Instagram glow, and tweets and status updates about how great my life is. Because life is complicated and hard, and filled with so many high moments as well as low moments, especially (particularly!) when it comes to being a mother.
So next time, when it’s 10am and I’m in my pajamas padding around my mess of a house or the pancake batter spills all over the floor before I’ve heated up the pan, you’re going to know. I’m putting it on Facebook, just this once. Because maybe we all need to stop pretending that our lives are perfect.