Parenting in the age of social media is a minefield and with each social medium being so different, it’s hard to know which one is worse.
Shall I start my day by being told I shouldn’t have had children on Twitter? Or, perhaps I should head over to Facebook to hear about why I’m creating a rod for my own back from great aunt Trudy? If I’m feeling really devoid of soul I could head over to Instagram and look at a filtered version of the best moments of parenting from every single person I’ve ever met? I’ll get started on TikTok later because I have a lot to say about that.
If I’m being honest, social media as a parent rarely bothers me. I can subjectively see that people aren’t going to put a photo of their toddler having a tantrum on Instagram (although this is a growing trend I’ll discuss below). I understand that people who have chosen to focus on their careers on Twitter aren’t going to be blithering on about how great they think having children might be.
But, what makes it a minefield – and a dangerous one at that – is that not everyone can look past it. Not everyone is in the headspace to see it as a snapshot of somebody’s life.
Let’s start on TikTok
For those of you who haven’t entered the world of TikTok yet, it is a short-form video focussed social media app, which is known for dances, pranks, jokes and, increasingly in the parenting arena, shaming parents for every single decision they ever make.
The TikTok algorithm is particularly accurate and somehow manages to drill into your thoughts to create a scrolling algorithm so in-tune to your inner workings you can’t help but wonder if it has a fast-track to your actual amygdala.
In one scrolling session, I was told by a ‘parenting expert’ that I shouldn’t ever say the word ‘no’ to Isaac. If he’s mountaineering his way up the side of a table leg, I must gently utter ‘Do you think this is a safe idea?’ to my incoherent 16-month-old. To which he replies ‘yeah’ because that’s what he says in response to everything I don’t want him to do.
I would argue that it is my job as a parent to determine what is and isn’t a good idea for him, because he doesn’t quite have the brain capacity to figure that out. If I had let him, he would’ve scaled the side of the table, clambered his way onto the shelves and swiftly fallen off and probably broken a limb or two. But parents, toddlers will only learn if we let them fall.
Please note my satirical tone, here.
Gentle parenting is all the rage
I’m not against the idea of gentle parenting in the form in which it was intended, but, as with everything in life, it has become radicalised.
I never shout at Isaac, so I suppose that could be seen as ‘gentle parenting’. I don’t shout at him because he doesn’t get it. He hit me the other day and my first reaction was to shout ‘no’, which he misconstrued as me shouting because I thought it was hilarious and fun.
Every toddler is different, but Isaac learns from role modelling. The next time he hit me I took his hand and stroked my face, teaching him what he should do instead. He hasn’t done it since, but regularly strokes my face now, which is very cute.
I’ve figured out what works for Isaac and I’m in no way suggesting that works for everyone. But, there are a lot of people on TikTok who are suggesting their way of parenting is the only way, just because they’ve stumbled upon something that works for their child.
Sarah Hockwell-Smith, a parenting expert, describes gentle parenting in its intended form here. She says it can be summed up in three words; understanding, empathy and respect. I probably only agree with half of her gentle parenting examples on the graph. For example; gentle parents don’t agree with over-praising, Caroline Allen unashamedly praises Isaac for every. single. thing. the. perfect. little. human. being. does.
I don’t care if you’re rolling your eyes, he’s our child, we get to choose if we want to clap him for closing the freezer when he is asked to in the same fervour as one might clap a person who has just solved world hunger.
Make your own rules, people.
Gentle parenting on steroids
Somewhere along the line, gentle parenting and its good intentioned way of raising children became radicalised.
If you followed the ‘rules’ set forth by some parenting ‘experts’ on TikTok, you’d lose control of your toddler completely. Again, this is all my opinion, but if I were to follow some of the things I’ve seen, Isaac would have no boundaries and have no real idea of what’s right and wrong, which would massively confuse and frustrate him.
Toddlers will test you and if you’re struggling on a particular part of parenting, TikTok can be the chasm of information you really don’t need. It can lead you to trying a whole range of things and struggling to find your own identity as a parent.
My advice, swerve parenting TikTok altogether by liking everything but parenting content until the algorithm gets the message that you don’t need some woman from Georgia telling you why you shouldn’t vaccinate your child.
Instagram and Montessori parenting
The Montessori method of parenting was created by physician Maria Montessori. Her idea was that children learn better independently and are given the opportunity to try out things rather than be stuck in a rigid and traditional educational structure.
Enter, toy rotation.
Toy rotation is actually a great idea and something that we do. We do it because Isaac has a lot of toys and I found that the ones at the bottom of his toy box were never getting touched.
Instagram mums do it because toy rotation looks aesthetically pleasing and #toyrotation now has 30,000 posts under its heading, most of which are perfectly designed wooden shelves with a scattering of pretty wooden toys Isaac wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.
Honestly, scrolling through this hashtag gives me mum guilt on another level.
I suppose what I’m saying here (despite my mum guilt) is that if you and your child enjoy doing this sort of thing, then do it. But, if, like me, you could spend hours creating an Easter-inspired toy rotation only for Isaac to walk over to the drawer where the pans live, whip one out and play with it for a solid hour, then please don’t stress yourself.
Between TikTok telling you what to do and Instagram showing you what you could be doing, parents can be left feeling like they’re not doing enough.
Homemade world book day outfits, homemade cookies for the cake sale, Instagram-worthy lunchboxes, no sugar, no salt, no plastic, more time outside, no TV, toy rotation, sleep schedules, the right bottle, the right dummy – or preferably no dummy at all. I could go on and on.
There’s a right way for every single parent in the world, and I can say with certainty that my parenting won’t be the exact same as anybody else’s.
Parenting can be hard enough without being shamed for letting your child watch TV. Equally, if you choose not to let your child watch TV, that’s totally fine too.
We need less of the raised eyebrows – and I must admit, I’m guilty of it sometimes, too. We’re only human, but we really need to try to do a better job of rallying together on this crazy old parenting journey.
A rise in the ‘real’ side to parenting
I once went to a journalism workshop and the editor of Cosmopolitan at the time said ‘it’s ok to sell your soul once, but don’t become the person who sells their soul’. She was referring to how we, as freelance journalists, tend to pitch articles that are deeply personal; about loss, anxiety, depression etc.
This has happened in the world of celebrity parenting, too.
It’s both excellent on one hand, but guilt-inducing on another. Celebrities and people in positions of power have done so much to raise awareness. Chrissy Teigen highlighted baby loss, Louise Thompson showed us how it felt to have a traumatic birth. They told people they weren’t alone and they opened up the conversation.
This has caused a slight ripple affect in everyday life. People feel a need to share the bad bits of their days so as not to be seen as too smug.
Parenting is all encompassing and yet we still have to pause before posting something incase it triggers any other parents. I don’t think we should be held accountable for other people’s parental guilt.
I don’t post about struggles because I just don’t. Otherwise I’d just moan about the fact I’ve been up all night. What should I say? ‘Isaac has had a feral day where all he wants to do is sit on top of a chest of drawers with a plastic phone and a pot of dummies while dancing to Greatest Showman’. I can’t be bothered and on those days I’d rather spend my precious minutes with a coffee.
Social media for good
It’s not all bad. I follow a lot of good accounts on social media. I love cooking, and following accounts like Charlotte Stirling-Reed and Rebecca Wilson. Parents might look at how much effort I put into Isaac’s meals and feel guilty they don’t do the same. But, what I gain in cooking I lack in any level of craftiness. I am terrible at arts and crafts. I hate them, I hate paint, I hate crayons.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I think we should use social media to play to our strengths. Isaac might not grow up painting all the time (I do begrudgingly get it out sometimes). He will grow up playing with and making food, though. I hope he’ll get that sensory experience in a slightly different way.
I’ve decided to spend more time thinking about what I love as a parent and where my strengths are. It’s pointless looking at other people’s strengths and trying to unnaturally include them in my daily life.
We can’t be everything all of the time. Even if we had no time for ourselves, I don’t think it’s humanly possible, so let’s normalise normal parents, please and thank you.