As a single parent and first time mum to my four month old daughter, she really is my world. And she is also the most beautiful baby to ever exist (obviously). However, this doesn't mean that I expect my family, friends and the checkout operator at Waitrose to find my daughter equally enchanting. Admittedly, I like to post a picture of her on Facebook from time to time but only when the photo is particularly cute or funny, and never more often than once or twice a month. This isn't just because I want to avoid the inevitable eye rolls from friends who don't have children, it's because I want to avoid putting pressure on my daughter before she's even got any concept of what pressure is.
We share things about ourselves on social media in order to get some sort of recognition. There's nothing wrong with that, after all we're social creatures. There's also nothing wrong with feeling like a proud parent once in a while when the photo of your baby trying a carrot stick for the first time gets over 50 likes. However, this sort of recognition can become addictive and whilst this is okay if it involves only you, it might be worth trying to cut back if it involves your child.
Anxiety in children and teenagers is on the rise. It's fuelled by a culture dominated by social media that demands perfection at all times through the merging of the public and private spheres. A casually posted selfie is anything but: it probably required at least ten takes and a filter to achieve. No parent wants their child to worry about the way they look or to feel inadequate in anyway, but by placing social media so high on our own agenda we might be unwittingly laying the foundations for our children to grow up plagued by these anxieties.
My daughter stops smiling when I try to take a photograph of her with my smartphone. It's not because she doesn't like having her photograph taken; at four months old she doesn't understand what I'm doing yet. She stops smiling because her favourite thing to look at (my face) is suddenly obscured and my attention diverted elsewhere. If I was to persevere in order to get the 'perfect' social media ready photo then it could take me five minutes. That's five minutes of time that I've lost. Five minutes that I could have spent looking and smiling back at my beautiful daughter. Five minutes doesn't seem like a long time but all those five minutes add up, especially if you're documenting your baby's day on Instagram.
Being a parent is hard. It is important to take some time for you every now and then, and I know that a lot of people find relief in social media and enjoy feeling justifiably proud when people comment about how beautiful/handsome/clever/advanced their baby is. These sorts of comments can be a saving grace when you're stuck in the house having the day from hell. However, getting hooked on basking in our children's reflected glory to the extent that we deliberately seek it out is not going to be helpful as our children get older.
As our children grow up they will be monitored, tested and evaluated relentlessly within the education system. They will be judged by their peers and they will inevitably judge themselves. And as much as we might try to shield them, it is hard to stop them from reading, watching or hearing about new reports of stabbings, shootings and terror attacks each day. Childhood is anything but carefree and it is no wonder that children's mental health is a growing concern.
As parents we need to help our children by not inadvertently adding to this pressure. This starts from the moment they are born. If you are striving to take the perfect baby photo and endlessly posting developmental updates on social media then ask yourself 'Why?' If the number of 'likes' your baby gets at this age is important to you then perhaps it's time to reflect on your own insecurities before you pass them on. Because our children soak up every last drop of what we do and how we feel. So try not to get hooked on other people telling you that your baby is beautiful. You alone know they are. That is, and always will be, enough.