Did Social Media Create the Sanctimommy — or Were People Always Terrible?
Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let's discuss the origins of sanctimommies.
I'm 34 and childless by choice, and I've been DROWNING in sanctimommies now for over a year. It has gotten to the point that I had to deactivate my Facebook page. The entire medium has been commandeered by self-righteous parents and not-as-cute-as-you-think baby/toddler photos.
I really don't mind kids. Kids are great. I just can't stand the entitlement (self-righteousness/arrogance/condescension/etc) that new parents seem to be basking in these days.
I've been wondering if parents were always like this (and yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but it seems like a majority of them fall into the "my baby gives me license to be an asshole" category), and I just didn't see it because my peers and I were the kids... or if social media has given birth to this monstrosity? I really don't remember my mother treating me like I was some sort of golden snowflake, but maybe they all do it, and Facebook and Instagram just put the whole smelly mess up close and personal in my face. What do you think? Is it just a matter of perspective, or is this a new thing?
It probably won't surprise you, A., to learn that I've gotten this question a lot, from graduate students writing theses about how parents use social media to national newspaper reporters to my own friends and acquaintances. Everyone wants to know which came first, the social media or the sanctimommy, and I approach the answer much like the classic chicken and egg analogy. Sometimes the question is less about social media and more along the lines of, "Were pretentious parents always this way, or did they get that way after having kids?" which is a similar thought process. Regardless of how it's phrased, people seem to be asking essentially the same things: Is everyone doomed to become an entitled jerk after having kids, or were people already jerks to begin with? And does social media encourage and enhance this behavior, or simply project who a person really is (both online and offline) by giving parents platforms on which to showcase their supposed superiority?
My short and subjective answer to this question is that social media has definitely aided annoying parents by overexposing their awfulness. It's created a way for opportunistic people to become slightly more "famous" within their social circles by morphing into caricatures or exaggerated personas that outwardly reflect who they want to be. It's hard to say whether the parents who appear to be trying very hard to get attention on Facebook act the same ways in their real lives as they do in their virtual lives, but I tend to think of their roles on social media as performative. They're putting on a show for their friends, relatives, coworkers and former classmates, and they have no plans of stopping.
Facebook and Instagram ensure that as long as people keep churning out content, they'll find new ways for them to present it, whether it's by introducing a gallery option (now parents can upload a series of images in a single update), making it easier to upload videos or just creating new emoji responses that encourage users to click more. Researchers say that for every social media fave or like, users are hit with a short blast of dopamine, which feels good and can be somewhat addictive. So as much as it runs contrary for us to click fave or like on content that we don't actually like — for instance, another daily update tracking potty training progress — we do it anyway, as we actively participate in social media's "like currency." This results in convincing parents that their friends want to hear every detail or see every new development related to their kids and parenting. It's a cycle that may never slow down.
So with that in mind, I'd bet on more people abandoning Facebook before parents (or any group of oversharers) pull the plug on overexposed content. Facebook and Instagram are currently encouraging more storytelling, and they want users to consistently update and share their stories. For parents who get a kick out of telling the world what amazing thing their kid said, did or sharted that day, this is an alluring invitation. For everyone else, it's just another reason to make use of the hide feature or spend more time offline. It's smarter to assume that sanctimonious parents who post nonstop on social media have found a space in which they're comfortable than to pretend that social media will ever be a place where people don't overshare or put themselves (or their kids) on a pedestal.
The real issue that you're describing, A., is the influence that social media has had on parents' personalities. And I think the entitlement some parents display does have to do with feeling buoyed by their friends and parenting communities online. There's strength in numbers, and that applies to parents' self-righteousness as much as anything else. The more parents see their peers complaining, bragging, oversharing pictures of their water birth, etc., the more justified they feel in doing it too. Social media also allows us to publish our thoughts on anything at any time, which doesn't help when you're a condescending asshole who thinks her rude opinions are valid.
Do parents think of their kids more as special snowflakes now than they did 20, 30 or 40 years ago? If I had to take a guess, I'd say, "Hell yes." There's more competitiveness in parenting than there used to be, and social media fuels self-important attitudes. I think of social media's popularity as being concurrent with the rise of double-wide strollers. Sure, strollers always took up space on sidewalks, but now they take up more space. Our voices and opinions were always heard, but now with social media, our voices and opinions are seen and heard by far more people (and in real time!). Advertisers too can make parents feel special, offering them products and solutions and high-tech devices that reassure them that they're a cut above the rest and so are their kids.
This combination of child-worship and social media validation is why it feels like "the whole smelly mess [is] up close and personal in your face," A., and you're just one of many people who's had quite enough of the toxic aroma. My advice is to keep doing what you're doing and steer clear of stinky bombs of parental entitlement online because you're still going to come across those double-wide stroller wielders in real life. And if you're anything like me, you'll steer clear of those too.
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