This essay is in response to Elissa Strauss’ “Why I Don’t Post Photos of My Baby on Facebook.”
I used to get a kick out of the stereotypically prideful mother, the one who shows wallet-sized photos of her children to anyone within eyeshot. It seemed she was desperately seeking praise for perfectly coordinated outfits and candid smiles peering out from the generic background of a department store photo shoot. That will never be me, I thought. Ever.
And then I became a mom. While I have not subjected my toddler to a photography session at the local mall, I certainly fit into a more current stereotype: the Social Media Mom. Like many proud parents in this age of over-sharing, I regularly post pictures of my daughter on Facebook and Instagram. A lot of pictures. From her first messy bites of avocado as an infant to the precious tears she cried because the library was closed a few weeks ago, I post it all.
Superficially, I do this because it’s an easy way to share photos with family and friends we don’t see on a regular basis. But I also recognize that my entire Facebook network doesn’t need to bear witness to every mundane activity and milestone.
So why do it? Why post photos of my daughter eating a sandwich or swinging at the park when they only generate a handful of “likes” and a couple of comments from the same five relatives?
The Facebook fetish may be pervasive among stay-at-home moms like me, in part because it is a quick and easy way to connect with the outside world in the midst of an otherwise completely toddler-focused day.
Making the choice to quit my job meant saying goodbye to a bustling work environment that provided constant social interaction, as well as opportunities for intellectual and professional growth and validation. A job well done, a project successfully managed or a balanced budget would typically be met with some level of praise from a client or manager. Milestones were rewarded with raises, promotions and positive performance reviews. And of course there were the all too frequent (but immensely therapeutic) gripe sessions with coworkers over coffee or drinks.
As a stay-at-home mom, a trip to the zoo or library with my toddler — complete with healthy snacks, plenty of dry diapers, and lots of silly songs in the car on the way there and back — rarely receives any type of praise or accolades. My new boss — only two and a half — is as stingy with her compliments as she is with her graham crackers. It would be way easier to spend our days at home watching cartoons and playing games on the iPad. So perhaps posting a picture of our zoo outing on Facebook gives me some small level of validation for my effort, and helps me feel socially connected.
Still, it must be about more than getting recognition, for I certainly don’t mind the “effort” of being a stay-at-home mom; on the contrary, I feel lucky to have the luxury. I also tend to be fairly self-deprecating when it comes to posting status updates about my parenting stumbles and mishaps. I’m usually looking for a laugh as opposed to a pat on the back. I think the bigger issue is coming to terms, even three years later, with my decision to give up one identity and take on another.
Yesterday I posted a picture on Instagram of my daughter riding the new scooter she got for Hanukkah. I wasn’t really expecting much in the way of comments, but it was a fun shot and made me smile. I was happy to find that a few friends also enjoyed the picture and took the time to comment. Likewise, I giggled at a picture of my former colleague’s son asleep in his high chair, complete with hysterical caption. I’m glad to see she’s still putting her creative copy-writing skills to work.
I no longer work in an office full of coworkers. I don’t have a boss who gives me feedback, or a professional mentor. But there is a sisterhood that exists among all moms, and it has been an honor to join those ranks. The pictures and updates I see in my Facebook Newsfeed remind me on a daily basis that my experience parallels so many others’. It’s not a unique experience, and I actually take comfort in that fact.
So I’ll post my photos, too. The comments are a nice reminder that I’m not posting in a vacuum. Maybe I’m no different than the mom with her wallet full of photos seeking praise and validation. Or maybe I’m reaching out for social interaction and reminding the world that I still exist. Or perhaps I’m proving to myself that I still exist, as I continue to discover who I am in this new role.