I’m from a huge extended family, so I spent most of my formative years changing diapers, cleaning up vomit, chasing after younger cousins, and listening to my aunts discuss the highs and lows of parenting. By the time blogs and social media gave moms new platforms to discuss how much fun potty training isn’t, I’d already heard enough for a lifetime.
Babies whose diapers I had changed as a teen are now adults planning their own weddings. By now, there is no exploding diaper story that can surprise me. That’s why I couldn’t understand why anyone bothered sharing these tales with the world on Facebook.
I couldn’t care less about all the parental overshare that’s frequently lampooned on sites like STFU, Parents. Nor did I care to debate over whether the children of these parents would be haunted and embarrassed by their online legacy when they hit middle school.
Then I became a mother myself. Not to a newborn, but to a 13-year-old girl who’d spent most of her life in the foster system. With my bad back and knees, I just felt better suited to dealing with emotional meltdowns (many teens in the foster system are traumatized) than crawling around on the floor and playing with Legos.
My husband and I visited with our soon-to-be daughter — we’ll call her ‘S’ — for four months before she moved in with us, and the adoption wouldn’t be final until as much as a year later. Until she became legally ours, I would be required to protect her privacy by the State of New York. Friends and family were kept informed on a need-to-know-basis.
If something in S’s background became relevant, we could mention it — for instance, we banned talk of dieting in her presence because she hadn’t always had easy access to food.
But online sharing was a different matter. I followed the example of other moms of kids from the foster system. I didn’t share S’s name or picture on my blog or Facebook. I only wrote about the few things that could’ve happened with any kid, like the clothes shopping trips in which she insisted that any pants that weren’t skin tight on her ankles were too loose.
Then things started to get messier than a toddler with a stomach virus. Part of me wanted to vent to the world, but I kept it all to myself. I had to.
The idle threats, the violent tantrums, the 911 calls — I wasn’t allowed to write about them publicly because my blog isn’t anonymous. I was able to discuss things with the few people I was able to see between all the meetings with social workers, but my dentist wasn’t really the person I needed to be talking to about all this — and neither were the Facebook friends I hadn’t seen since high school.
Three months after she moved in, it became clear that staying with us was not in S’s best interest.
Even the social workers who had hoped she’d settle down finally admitted the situation was unsalvageable. Two weeks after she left, I published a short post on my blog letting people know that things hadn’t worked out for reasons that were personal and private. This was the first indication most of my friends had that there’d even been problems.
My family had fallen apart, and it had been a secret.
But it had all happened to me as much as it had happened to S. It was my story as much as it was hers. Unable to share such important events in my own life as much as I would have liked to, I now understood why moms are so eager to share every little detail.
New parenthood is an isolating experience, no matter what age your bundle of joy is.
Your entire life undergoes a massive shift as you adjust to the new normal. There’s no time or energy for socializing whether you’re being held hostage by a tiny newborn who can’t sleep for more than three hours at a time, or an older child pitching a fit because you won’t let her eat an entire package of pepperoni for lunch.
Having a child means that your life will be co-opted by a creature of chaos. That’s just how kids are as they’re learning to grapple with emotions, make sense of their world, and, well, become ‘people’. As a parent, your morning workout includes trying to get them to stop faffing around and put their shoes on.
You lose the entire month of January to that bug that’s going around school. You read Goodnight, Moon so many times that you hide it so your kids will have to pick a different bedtime story just this once. Then, just when you think you have the hang of being a parent, your kid discovers the word, “no,” or fart jokes, or the joys of teenage rebellion. And you have to learn how to manage a completely different child.
It’s unfair for us to expect moms to carry on through all this in silence. I used to coordinate software-testing efforts that involved dozens of people, and suddenly I found myself unable to get one teen to go to the grocery store with me. How can anyone wrap their mind around that alone? Of course, we’re going to turn to social media for venting and bonding, just like we do with relationship issues, work drama, and pop culture discussions.
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These days, I eagerly respond to other moms’ blog posts and Tweets, assuring them that their children’s lying is a normal stage of development, and commiserating over how kids never reach for throw pillows when they’re looking for something to hurl at a sibling. And when a mom posts photos of her kid’s newest karate belt or shares something adorable they said, I know it’s because she’s just thrilled that Junior hasn’t broken anything in the past hour.
And as for kids’ future embarrassment over their potty training stories being shared with the world? Every human being who has ever lived has been toilet trained, from Julius Caesar to Napoleon to Queen Elizabeth, so there’s really no point in pretending that it didn’t happen to you, or that it wasn’t messy.
That said, when it comes to photographic evidence of the placentas, the exploded diapers, and Junior’s first poop in the potty, I’d be happier if we all kept those in our private collections. I know I’m not the only one who checks Facebook during breakfast.
I’ve met many of my younger cousins’ friends, and not one of them has taken the opportunity to ask me for embarrassing stories about my cousins. In ten years, are tweens really going to tease each other over bedwetting incidents that their moms are blogging about now? I really don’t think so. They’ll be much more concerned about today’s zits than yesterday’s pacifiers.
Jen Anderson is a writer who focuses on love, relationships, and dating advice.