Parenting has plenty changed in 33 years. Parenting in the age of social media is two things. Undoubtedly easier and ever-so-more complicated. One of my favorite things to do is ask my Mom questions about what she did for safety, information, advice, etc. when she was a new Mom. The answer is usually: nothing. All she had was what was in her own Mommy arsenal. She was bereft of Dr. Spock, What to Expect or Happiest Baby on the Block. And we survived. Well, I did paint my eyes shut with clear nail polish. But in the end, I survived.
My Mom was not a helicopter parent or an uninvolved parent, she was right on the line between, "I trust you" and "If you do that again, I'll kick your ass." I doubt she ever consulted one magazine, one Dear Abby column, one self help book to help her with parenting. (Well, she did see a counselor at one point as I referenced in this post, but that was for something else entirely).
Helicopter-ing has its roots in the information we have been able to gather as parents. And, unfortunately, more information is not always better. In many cases, it can mean more opportunities for feeling like you're falling short. But, I'll get to that later.
First, just for fun, let's just run down a few of my favorite things about parenting in the early 80's.
- Formula was said to be best. My Mom still breastfed. She was bad ass even then.
- She used cloth diapers. Okay, so I might have secretly hated my Mom if I knew her in 1980. She was so au naturel.
- There was no baby gate because she just kept me in the high chair, playpen, walker or crib. That's where babies hung out.
- She held me on her lap on the way home from the hospital.
- She slept me on my belly right away.
- Jane Fonda didn't do aerobics with a stroller. It was just her and a leotard. And some weights. And feathered bangs.
- My Mom didn't have a monitor, she just heard me. Did she sleep through me crying? Maybe.
- There was no hand sanitizer. We used soap. The bar kind. Liquid soap was only found in school bathrooms.
- There was no Internet. (Gasp!)
- There were no sophisticated sippy cups that kids lugged everywhere. Kids just drank out of cups. Glasses, actually with Tom and Jerry on them that were old jelly jars.
- My Mom never "wore" me in a sling or a Bjorn-- nor did she worry about a high-powered super-stroller-- she just carried me.
- Information about parenting was just a few articles in Good Housekeeping or First magazine--- not the whole magazine.
- There weren't safety locks on things like the cupboards, doors, toilet bowl lids or even windows. BUT we did have an awesome label on my bedroom in the case of a fire to tell the firemen where I was sleeping. Weird.
- The extent of shopping for "baby goods" was buying a crib, a carriage, some bottles, silver spoons and a layette. There was no way to warm your wipes (were there even wipes?) and no way to swing me unless you wound up the swing.
My sister had her first child in 1994--- it was then that my Mom got a good taste of contemporary Momming--car seats, Baby Einstein, music class, organic food and fabric, "play dates" and all that good stuff. By 2009, when I had Parker, Mom information (Mom-formation?) was a full-fledged industry- Mommy blogs, email alerts on month by month growth, Facebook groups, La Leche League, Mom groups, Boppys, Bumbos, Pee pee tee pees and an Exersaucer in a pear tree.
She watched in awe as I would "show off" my Momming strategies in front of her. And listen intently as I quote, "Well, they say..." thinking that I am wise in the new ways of parenthood and navigating Mommy information. And, I am. Sort of.
Times they are a changin'. According to this article, blogs and social media are having a profound impact on our family lives. Is that a good impact or bad impact? Wonders the girl writing a blog that frequently has pieces on parenting. I mean, I have said to myself that I just think it's good that we are talking about it. It means that we are giving more thought and time to our parenting than our parents ever did.
But, three years plus into this parenthood (four years if you account for the assault of information you read through when you get pregnant), I am thinking my Mom had it pretty good. I mean, don't they say ignorance is bliss?
Between Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, BabyCenter and the many blogs there are to read out there, there's a plethora of information available on How to Raise Your Kids Right. While I know that overall the information probably just makes me a more informed and possibly less freakish Mom-- I also can see how some Moms might feel--- well, like underachievers.
If you're not pinning cute crafts, snapping adorable photos or Thinking About Their Future (choosing a preschool), then you have surely missed the Mommy information train to Super Parent-ville.
Like I said in my post about Facebook, parenting in the Age of Social Media should not be a contest. Sometimes it might feel that way because of the cute crafternoon someone had (yes, I know, the word makes me vomit too) or the ahh-mazing Disney vacation album you just spent 15 minutes viewing online.
You see, it's not just that we have more choices of what to buy for our kids and do for our kids, it's that we are receiving more messages than ever of how to parent. And, quite possibly, the helicopter parent herself was born from this information overload. Plagued with the notion that You Can Never Do Enough: Even if You Try.
But, if that's what we take away from the social media barrage of parenting information, then we have missed the point. The information is available to us because somewhere along the way, information became parenting commerce. The more you have, the better you will become. But, I only need to spend about 45 minutes with my two stir crazy toddlers to realize that it's kids who teach parents, not parents who teach parents. There are no true secrets. There's trial and error, good luck and lots of love. That's really all we can work with. Maybe reading a blog about the terrible two's can help you to survive them, but you will never read something that makes you a better Mom. You can try all the S's from Happiest Baby on the Block but we all know, the baby decides when he sleeps, you don't.
Parenting in the age of social media might seem easier. All the tools we need are right there-- searchable, in black and white on our computer screens. But what is harder is that with all those expectations, all those Facebook statuses, all those blog posts, all those Pinterest pinboards, we have started to look at parenting as more of a science and less of an art. An art that we have all been capable of ever since we made the decision to become parents (or nature decided for us ;).
So, as artists, I challenge you to navigate this well of information with aplomb. You are not a parent who makes decisions based on what some Baby Center message board tells you. You are a real, live, breathing, parent. Your medium is not Pinterest or Babble or Motherlode. Your canvas is in your 18 month old's repetition of "Hi Baybee, hi baybee," as you take a road trip. Your paintbrush is in the exclamation from your toddler, "I did it all by myself!" It's in the hushed words you exchange about how to handle the latest tantrums with your husband. It's in the private look you share when one of them says something particularly adorable and baby-genius like. It's in the parenting part of parenting. That's the art.
And, I'm sorry, no books, or blogs or pinboards or will tell you that.
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