In recent weeks, we’ve been riveted by the parallel divorce stories of Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green, and Christina Anstead and Ant Anstead, and how all four are handling co-parenting their kids. In particular, we noticed that both dads were blissfully posting to Instagram during their time with their kids — which did not entirely please their ex-wives, who are both much more reticent about sharing their kids on their own social media accounts. In fact, critics were even trolling the moms for being “absent” from their kids’ lives based on number of social media pusts alone. Um, that’s not how it works?
All of this made us wonder: What’s motivating these famous dads to enter the “sharenting” fray? And if there’s a similar trend among non-famous dads who are just really excited to be alone with their children, isn’t that a good thing? Or could there be a darker side to all this Superdad content?
Of course, every family is different, and we shouldn’t paint all divorced dads and moms with the same broad brush. But we all do live in the same society, where women are still struggling to break free of gender norms and often wind up as primary caregivers anyway, even when they work outside of the home. Given that context, SheKnows spoke to Chicago-based family law attorney Tiffany M. Hughes and Beverly Hills-based family and relationship psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent, about parental behavior toward their kids after a divorce.
The glass is half full: Newly single parents are excited to see their kids
Increased one-on-one (or one-on-however-many-children) time is bound to happen once the parents move into separate homes and begin to split custody. This is the simplest answer to why one parent may suddenly start sharing more photos of activities with their children. And, yeah, there may be some guilt involved.
“Separations are a high stress time for everyone involved, so it is often the case that parents try to compensate for that stress by doing more fun activities with the kids when they have their solo time with them,” Hughes told SheKnows. “Of course, all the fun activities seem more suitable for social-media posting than the mundane day-to-day activities, so it tends to be the case that the sudden influx of social media posting is a product of just simply doing more fun things with the kids than what they previously would have done.”
So, maybe we see Green taking his boys to the beach, swimming in the pool, and eating birthday cake because he’s just really excited to be with them. Maybe Ant Anstead is feeling down about his split, so he posts more photos of son Hudson because it’s a bright moment in his week. Meanwhile, Megan Fox (who also tries to protect their privacy) doesn’t share photos of home-schooling and eating dinner but keeps her account full of glamorous selfies to promote her personal brand as an actor. And it could be that Christina Anstead is emotionally exhausted after focusing her attention on all three of her kids, and decides to post photos of her weekends without them. All of these scenarios would be just fine.
“Everybody needs and wants a relationship with both parents,” Walfish told us, so we love to see evidence of both parents being involved.
The problem is, what if this is all for show?
Or, good dads are sexy
OK, this is where we interject our non-expert opinion here. Newly single dads get loads of attention in the dating pool, from both single moms and childless women. Maybe this is some evolutionary remnant to perpetuate the species or something. Unfortunately, single moms do not get this kind of boost. So could Green and Anstead be taking advantage of this fact? We can’t know.
A depressing theory: Equal custody=less child support
“Most divorces, sadly, turn into a fight or a war often about money,” Walfish said. Equal custody often means less child support, so visibly showing that children spend time with you will help you in those divorce proceedings.
To which you might argue that it doesn’t matter why the parent is stepping it up. As long as they’re doing so, the kids will benefit, won’t they? Not so fast, Walfish explained.
“If the father is not genuine, the kids will know it,” she said. “The kids will know if the dad takes pictures from the ballpark field and then takes the kids home and dumps them on the nanny or the housekeeper. Kids will read this [behavior] and recognize it for what it is.”
Kids know from BS, and it could make them feel even worse than just being treated normally.
But one thing neither parent should do in this scenario is badmouth the other parent in front of their children. Being asked to take sides is a recipe for guilt, anxiety, and depression in children.
A social-media arms race
If you’re the Megan or Christina in this scenario, do not react in an escalating war of sharenting. Christina Anstead was right when she told followers who wondered why she didn’t post more about her kids, “I def do not want to post my kids every freaking day to make it a contest of who’s a better parent.”
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This year has been incredibly isolating. Activities like church, travel, dinner, movies, sports- canceled. No longer seeing my friends smiling faces on set (all covered by masks) it all feels like shit. So many changes for so many people. So despite what you see on Instagram most people are struggling. When I get told “you must be an absent mother because you are not with your kids” – smh wake up people. I hardly post anymore … and I def do not want to post my kids every freaking day to make it a contest of who’s a better parent 🤦🏼♀️ f that. This doesn’t mean I’m not with my kids – it means the opposite – I am with them- I’m present. So stop parent shaming people, stop choosing sides when there is no side to choose. My point being – when you see stuff on here take it all with a grain of salt. There is a whole lot of Filters and fake smiles. I’ve been guilty of faking it too. We are all struggling – some of us are just better at “masking” it.
This is the exact advice Hughes has for clients.
“Raising children should never be a competition between parents,” Hughes told us. “The absolute most important thing to remember is that the best interests of the children should always be the first consideration when making a decision as a parent. If a parent finds themselves parading their children around for unnecessary photo ops just to get a good post for social media and keep up with their ex-spouse, there will be problems. As with all advice involving social media, it is certainly easier said than done, but it truly is better for parents to just focus on enjoying time spent with their children — and if a good picture comes out of it, then that’s great too! When it comes down to it, kids are going to remember the special, quality time that they had with their parent, not how many photos they posted of them to social media.”
Walfish also advises divorcing parents to avoid this type of social media sharing.
“I think there should be an agreement of no posting,” she said. “Agree to mutual no posting about each other or the children.”
Even when we’re not talking about celebrities, we civilians may feel inclined to write about our relationships, breakups, and the kids’ reaction to it all to an audience of our friends and family online, but this is not the time for that. A divorce is best kept between the exes, Walfish said, in order to shield the children from the fallout.
After the dust of separation settles
In addition to love (and food and shelter), kids truly need stability, so they know they can rely on their parents to be there when they need them.
“[Kids need] the structure of a plan, a calendar schedule, a routine that’s set in and followed through upon with continuity,” Walfish said. “Warm, patient, keenly attuned responses with consistency over time are what kids need from each parent.”
If parents successfully put their children’s needs first through all of this, Hughes said that with time, steadiness will benefit children more than exciting fun times with one parent or the other.
“The stress of the situation will likely be less present and with that, so too will be the feeling that a parent has to overcompensate to keep the kids happy,” she said. “As the frequency of extra fun activities starts to fade, the frequency of social media posts is probably going to go too. It’s important for parents to remember that this is OK and normal! What’s best for the children is not being spoiled every weekend with gifts and activities. What’s best for the children is a stable, loving family that provides for their physical, emotional, and intellectual needs.”
Sure, that doesn’t make for perfect Instagram posts, but it makes for happy children.