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Parental Advisory: Why do parents ‘mommyjack’ current events on social media?

Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let’s talk about ‘tragedyjacking’ on Facebook. Tragedyjacking is a category of mommyjacking, which is when parents hijack their friends’ status updates to talk about their kids. Tragedyjacking is when parents hijack a national tragedy, environmental disaster or historical anniversary and find a way make it about themselves.

Q: For years, I’ve seen you post about mommyjacking of tragedies, but never saw one for myself until today. To naturally come across one in the wild is as upsetting as finding a unicorn having a seizure. Why do so many parents feel the need to hijack natural disasters, national events, mass shootings, etc. on Facebook? Do they not realize it makes them look incredibly insensitive? Can you provide some tips or advice for parents so they know NOT to do this? Thanks!

A: Sometimes it feels like there isn’t a holiday or major event that goes by without someone finding a way to hijack it. On STFU, Parents, I’ve written about parents hijacking everything from the anniversary of D-Day, to the tsunami in Japan, Sandy Hook massacre, death of Osama bin Laden and even the Joe Paterno scandal, and there isn’t a year that goes by that parents don’t mommyjack the anniversary of 9/11. Year after year, parents take these events and insert themselves, oddly and awkwardly, thinking they’re making good jokes, exhibiting patriotism or reverence or just killing two birds with one stone by mentioning the significance of the day in the same breath that they mention their child’s potty training progress. A couple of weeks ago, I received this submission as news outlets were reporting the potential for significant destruction due to Hurricane Matthew, and state governors were urging people to evacuate their homes.

Hurricane Matthew
Image: STFU Parents

Ughhhhh. The dichotomy between posts like this and posts that focus wholly on friends’ safety can be pretty mind-blowing. Why is it that some parents know not to make tasteless jokes or reference their children in “silly” ways (especially during a hurricane), while others look at their calendars or turn on the news and think, “How can I make this day a little more about me and my kids?” Here are just a few examples sitting in my current events submissions folder right now that make me SMH.

A post during Hurricane Isaac:

Hurricane Isaac
Image: STFU Parents

A post when Pope Francis was chosen:

Poops for Pope
Image: STFU Parents

A post that was mommyjacked after the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal:

Gay marriage
Image: STFU Parents

Another post on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks:

Image: STFU Parents

And a post on watching President Obama’s eulogy for the pastor who was murdered in Charleston: 

Image: STFU Parents

Whether online or in real life, it’s never a good idea to brush aside national events or place yourself or your kids in the center of a larger conversation. Some events are bigger than we are as individuals, and they don’t need to be punctuated with cheesy jokes, unnecessary anecdotes or in the case of the waiting room example above, children’s nursery rhymes. Showing respect is easy if you’re willing to acknowledge your place in the universe and imagine (or brief yourself on) how others might be feeling. Sure, it’s natural for humans to focus on ourselves and ask ourselves how an event, historical date or catastrophe might personally affect us, but sometimes it’s better for certain people to keep their mouths shut. And when it comes to the types of people who are most likely to eschew these unspoken “rules,” parents tend to top the list.

You can post a status update about how an event makes you feel without cracking wise about a toddler’s tantrum. Just because a hurricane isn’t hitting your city doesn’t mean it’s OK to joke around about kids being “little hurricanes.” And it’s always OK to write separate status updates if you want your friends on your timeline to know your thoughts and feelings on a particular subject, but you also want to relay exciting news about your kids. There’s no need to say, “What happened in the attacks in Paris is horrific, so let’s take a moment to reflect on my son’s great report card.” There’s no need to write, “Sept. 11 is a somber day of reflection, but it’s also the day my baby girl tried bananas for the first time! She loved them!” Try breaking up those two updates out of consideration for who might be reading. As long as you’re not tragedyjacking by lumping incongruent topics into the same status update, you won’t come across as a selfish jerk or as someone who only half cares about the seriousness of an event. It’s important to remember that just because social media allows us to exploit ourselves and our kids doesn’t mean it’s always a good time to do so.

Some days, we should all slow down and take stock of our world without injecting our own spin or personal tales of woe (or joy). Being a good Facebook user can be as symbolic a gesture as being a good friend. Don’t let your own obsessions or eagerness to be funny get in the way of being a solid person. That’s why people are friends with you in the first place. It’s OK to mention that your baby took his first steps a day or two after the nation reels from a tragic occurrence. It’s OK not to mention it at all! Just imagine if social media had existed before the mid-aughts, and parents had hijacked the national events we all grew up with. JFK’s assassination could’ve been met with a Facebook response like, “RIP JFK. So sad what happened to him. On a positive note, today Nevaeh lost her first tooth!” The Challenger space shuttle tragedy might’ve inspired a status update like, “As we mourn the seven crew members we’ve lost, my son plays with his rocket ship toys in the bath, unaware of the tragedy. The future is still bright.” Or maybe the Oklahoma City bombing would’ve caused one mother to compare the horror and devastation to her daughter’s recent diaper explosion, just as the Boston bombings did. Doesn’t that hypothetical sound kind of depressing? It’s really not that hard to avoid making these faux pas.

That being said, if you’re going to mommyjack an event that’s in the national discourse, there are still tactful and/or funny ways to go about it. You just have to go after the events that carry less emotional weight. Hurricane Matthew might not be the best bet, but the incident with the Oregon Militiamen who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge? Open season.

Image: STFU Parents

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