It’s been a summer of op-eds, columns and features denouncing people who share their child’s life online. I’d never post pictures of my kids, says the co-founder of Mumsnet. Fifty-six per cent of parents wouldn’t post pictures of their children, claims an Ofcom report. Parents’ social-media habits are teaching children the wrong lessons, rails a Washington Post headline. I upload another photo of my son grinning into his blackberries on to Instagram and click “share”.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with parents who don’t do what I do. I do have a problem with the idea that anyone including their kids in their interactions online is an irresponsible, immature, self-absorbed fool. A lot of the stories this summer drip with this ripe whiff of judgement, this shrill kind of sanctimony.
To illustrate why this gets my goat, let’s go back to 2014. My son is born a fortnight late and we’re on intravenous antibiotics stuck in a hospital for a week. In the moments when my husband is on a run for supplies, social media keeps me going. I post pictures of my baby and people commenting on them makes me feel more alive. I start messaging other mums who’ve had similar experiences and concerns after childbirth. I adore seeing that the world is carrying on, chattily, brightly. New Mum Me is still part of this. I don’t want to forget this, or let my new life keep me out of this.
Being pressured not to include kids in your online life is to be asked to edit your real life severely
Jump forward to 2017. I am a full-time features writer, reviewer, documentary-maker, lecturer, breadwinner and, of course, a mum. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who does the bulk of the childcare, but my professional life, like those of many other women today, is a complicated brew of early-morning wake-ups, late-night deadline runs and weapons-grade diary-planning, arranging and juggling. Social media is my escape. It’s where I can have conversations with friends I barely see (hello, Facebook), post moments from my life in a pictorial diary that I can return to (God, I love Instagram), make new contacts and work connections as I steer my career in different directions (you’re still good for that, Twitter), but while never pretending to be someone I’m not. And here lies the rub.
I also post pictures of my three-year-old publicly on Instagram because a working mum is what I am and I genuinely think that this kind of life is important for people to see. I've had younger journalists telling me how lovely it is to see me talking about working on a Radio Times cover interview, then going to paddle in the river with my son, and this makes me happy – I want them to feel they can do this, too. After all, being pressured not to include kids in your online life is to be asked to edit your real life severely, to crop out one of its major facets. And I genuinely think some women feel like they have to pretend they’re not mothers when they’re being professionals online. We are. We work hard. So why should we hide?
Of course, social media makes it easy to hide things, to frame and filter our experiences to gloss over life’s cracks – but this is effectively what the anti-social-media brigade wants us to do. We shouldn’t have to. But I also don’t mind social media’s function to make parents feel better, just for a moment. In a break from a potty-training marathon, or a session of infuriating toddler tantrum-management, it’s nice to hear from an adult, even if that’s just from a finger-click online. Plus, most of us know that a virtual “like” isn’t the same as a real conversation or a fully formed friendship. We’re grown-ups after all.
Most of us are grown-ups in other ways, too, and understand that when our kids get older, they might be less into the idea of us sharing particular moments online. We have to exert common sense or seek consent and act like responsible human beings – but that shouldn’t be hard. What I share now are simple moments of pleasure and enjoyment that I hope my son would like like to see in future years, too, in a space shared with his family and friends – including moments that don’t include him. Here is your mother, every part of her, including you. Let’s allow our online lives to be as real as we are.