Future apologies from the first generation of parents with a digital paper trail

January 29 2018 | Guest post by Mary Coen
parenting and social media: Future apologies from the first generation of parents with a digital paper trail
We're probably the last generation to remember that hashtags were once pound signs
Hashtag Mom Life Shirt from Chicago Factory Thread

Dear Sons,

How are you? The weather is terrible here. Which you undoubtedly know because you're currently trashing my living room because we can't escape. Darling fruit of my loins (I plan to call you this exclusively in your adulthood), it has occurred to me that I am the first generation of those who will leave a digital paper trail. This means that every withering status I've posted about parenthood, every unflattering baby photo of a catastrophic nappy explosion, every snigger posted online about a missing tooth, or eating your Halloween sweets after you'd gone to bed (major dick move, genuinely sorry), or self-deprecating comment about it all just being too damn much will be available to you some day. Your IT skills already intuitively surpass my own. So in advance, I am sorry.

Social media is new to us and thus we're clumsy with it and the thoughts of long-term effects are only occurring to us now. Apologies miles in advance for future employers being able to simply Google your embarrassing baby photos, we really didn't think that through.

You're going to have access to honesty previously only exclusively understood from parental generation to parental generation which meant there was context. Your grandmother could chuckle about wanting to throw her infant out the window to your mother as a new parent as a means of providing reassurance and the ever important idea that "this is not what you thought it was going to be, but it's worth it."

You are probably going to gain access to this information long before there is any context involved. Probably long before the all important realisation that your parents are just humans who are flawed and clueless. You are going to realise we had no idea what we were doing and how we occasionally drowned under the pressure.

First, you need to know, that none of that was because of you personally. You were wonderful, you were adored, you were my best friends and I have never wanted to be perfect for anyone before I met you and that's where I crumbled to bits.

These are not new feelings for any new parent, not by a long shot, but now the written sentiment exists somewhere in the ether permanently, ready to be reread with a little digging.

Worse, being the first generation of online parents, we were bombarded with information. The female on female misogynist war zone that is any parenting forum will undoubtedly play an enormous role in any new mother's early decisions. We were overwhelmed with wonder weeks, baby whisperers, breast vs. bottle, and every parenting fad in between without ever once taking into consideration that making parents feel helpless and clueless is a multi-million dollar industry. When the latest "fool-proof, guaranteed" method to get a full night's sleep doesn't work, where do we turn? Social media, hopelessly reaching out with exhausted digital hands to other new parents, "Please tell me you're feeling as bad as me. Please make me laugh. Please tell me this was you last week and then it all suddenly got better."

These are not new feelings for any new parent, not by a long shot, but now the written sentiment exists somewhere in the ether permanently, ready to be reread with a little digging.

Dear sweet baby boys, please know that if someday we end up Facebook friends (highly likely, I'm not like other moms, I'm a cool mom) and you manage to trawl back through how many years worth of your documented childhood and the trials and tribulations of parenthood, just know, it wasn't you, it was me.

The role of Mother is an archetype that does not take into consideration the human being attached to it. There is an idea, perpetuated by a lot of mothers online, in my experience, that once you become a mother you take on a role that nullifies your personality. It is a role that for a period I adopted, and ended up on antidepressants as a result. The fact of the matter is that long before I became a mother I was a person with flaws (many, many flaws), habits, and quirks that didn't just disappear because I had you. In fact, I found that once I started employing my "old self" into my parental role so much more fell into place.

As a "good" mother, I am found wanting, I'm a terrible housekeeper and even worse at maintaining a household and regimented schedule. Keeping track of after school activities is my personal hell. So, sorry in advance for the lack of extra curricular strengths you're going to have. Just know that I tried my best. I tried because you're so lovely and I wanted you to have everything, but we all have constraints.

The upshot of that combined with social media is that some day you will have access to where I voiced my concerns about my shortcomings via pithy remarks or discussions online.

Keeping up with the persona of mother while healthily maintaining your old self… well, holy crap, it's a hard one. You feel that there's a generic set of ideals you should be applying to your child but your personality can't help but rear its opinionated little head. Whether you continue through life upholding these ideals or not, just remember, we all tried our best. Like my mother before me, I may possibly be raising you with ideals that you may later come to vehemently deny (e.g. she was a devout Catholic, I'm raising you with no religion). I once heard you raise your children 50% better than how you were raised. I will inevitably fall short, but I can assure you, I tried my best.

The upshot of that combined with social media is that some day you will have access to where I voiced my concerns about my shortcomings via pithy remarks or discussions online. In that instance, I can guarantee you, my frustrations were not about you (they may be worded as such but… as a preteen or teen you'll appreciate what nightmare fuel it is to have someone tamper with your sleep), but while these remarks may be worded in a way that implies you, please be nothing short of aware that they were about me and my own inadequacies. No, I never really held it against you for the lack of sleep, or the teething, or the multiple public meltdowns (that started as exclusively yours but evolved into both of ours). It was frustration at myself and targeting it an online audience that could offer solace and even, at times, advice.

You were wonderful, you always were, and if I had the chance to go back and do it all again I would in a heartbeat, even that freak out you had in a restaurant where a waitress had to assist detaching you from my hair. But I reached out online as a result.

As a society we are becoming more and more isolated, substituting real life interaction with the internet. I certainly have raised you more with the support of online communities that upheld my ideals rather than those in my immediate contact. I have sought that support in real life and found it! Which has been fantastic. The upshot of this has been that I have left a permanent mark about the hardest parts available for you to find some day. Personally, I feel this was a worthy price because I can explain myself.

Baby boys, it has been a hard, rocky, turbulent road. Not just for me but for all mothers. However, there is no one that I would rather take it with than you.

Love always and forever and embarrassingly publicly,
Your lost soul of a mother who sold you out in a bid to keep doing what I felt was best for you xxx

  1. As a new mom, the feelings you wrote about totally resonate! I have found myself worried about doing the right thing or being "perfect" or worrying if my baby is doing the right stuff that sometimes I forgot to just enjoy him. And then I remind myself to be present and just enjoy the wonderful creature he is. As far as the digital paper trail goes, my husband and I made a conscious decision not to post anything on social media – no pictures, no status updates, no posts. I wanted my son to get to choose what he puts out there. This doesn't work for everyone, but seems to work for us so far.

    5 agree
    • My sisters chose a modified version of your family’s social media plan. They don’t post images, but will occasionally share proud moments or funny stories. I discussed with them regarding my wedding photos, and they were ok with posting those photos with kids as long as they weren’t embarrassing (aka no posting pictures of a blowout diaper, or a temper tantrum).

      I’m not a parent yet, so I haven’t had to make the decision. I find it very interesting to see how other parents in my life navigate this road. I also wonder what society will be like in regards to over sharing by parents in the future. Will it be so commonplace that it will have minimal effect on the kids as they grow up, and especially into employment? Will it be considered weird to have no online presence from before you were 15? Will only posting positive things warp their sense of self? Will they be mortified or amused looking back on embarrassing photos online, since they can see all of their classmates’ too?

      Speculating about the future fascinates me!

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