One of my favorite books, The Four Agreements lays out four guidelines for personal power: be impeccable with your word, always do your best, don’t make assumptions, and don’t take things personally. As this generation of parents crosses into the previously uncharted territory of parenting in the age of social media, the agreement to not make assumptions stands out to me.
Facebook and Instagram have become the new family photo albums. My first child has a baby book that has been written in a bit, my second has a baby book that is still in the shrink wrap, and my youngest child doesn’t even have a baby book. Now that capturing and sharing memories is as simple as pulling a small device out of your pocket, baby books seem clunky and time consuming.
As we navigate the world of social media, it’s normal to compare our lives to our friends and family members who are at the same stage of life. Seeing smiling faces, fun vacations, and sweet family moments can cause our brains to go into overdrive trying to figure out if we measure up compared to our friends, and assuming that what is portrayed on Facebook is the whole story about their lives. When we see other moms trying out new Pintrest projects or dressing their whole family in matching outfits for family photos, it may lead to self-doubt or lashing out.
Sometimes I hear parents say that Facebook is “fake.” I respectfully disagree with that notion, at least generally speaking. Do you remember picking up the family photo albums and thumbing through them as a child? What I used to see in our family’s albums were photos of my parents’ wedding, my kindergarten graduation, family camping trips, holidays, and sporting events. It was the very best of our experiences as a family, and we still enjoy looking through the family photo albums together.
Noticeably absent were photos of skinned knees, time outs, car accidents, the deaths of out pets, and family arguments. It’s not because we’re faking it in our photo albums, it’s because family life is a struggle. When people come together under one roof to do the hard work of raising children or of being the children who are growing up, conflicts, frustration, and difficult lessons are an inseparable part of the package.
When we see photos of our smiling faces on a mountain in the Adirondacks, we remember that we can work together to do hard things. When we see photos of me standing on a podium at a figure skating competition, we remember that when you fall down nine times and get up ten, you can achieve amazing things. When we see photos of my dad and me playing the drums together at a summer band concert, we remember that despite our disagreements we connect in deeply meaningful ways and share many joys. These memories are the sweet reward for all the struggles we endured together as we all grew.
I like to think of Facebook as the new family photo album, and I’m grateful that I can share my family’s life with loved ones locally, back in my home town in New York, and with the awesome friends I’ve made around the world. Our electronic family photo album shows only a small part of our lives, mostly the good parts that we love remembering and sharing. It’s not the whole story. It’s not meant to be.
Next time you feel shame or judgment begin to creep up as you peek in on someone’s life online, I encourage you to remember that you’re looking at the very sweetest moments, not the whole picture. It’s the tip of the iceberg, the mass and depth of which we really can’t understand. I ask that you don’t make assumptions about your friends’ lives and how they stack up next to yours. Each of our families is really just doing our best to get through days filled with challenges and learning and maybe, just maybe, capture and share some of the moments of beauty along the way.
Nikki Shaheed is a certified doula and Birthing from Within mentor. She teaches childbirth classes in San Antonio, TX where she lives with her husband and three children. Nikki’s passion is helping parents develop self-compassion for the amazing and difficult journey of pregnancy, birth, and parenting.