Tech & Media

When Facebook Makes You Feel Like a Bad Parent

Feb 15, 2017

A lot of parents really like Facebook. It can be great to say connected through sharing posts and pics of your family’s adventures and accomplishments, from major milestones to general photogenic cuteness. But here’s the other thing about Facebook — it can make you really miserable sometimes.

Have you ever felt down after scrolling through your newsfeed? You’re not alone. Google “Facebook depression” and you get 91,300,000 hits. There has been a lot of talk about how social media can be bad for kids’ sense of self-worth, but it can also be rough on their parents. It isn’t always bad news from the real world that hurts people, either. Ironically, it can be your friends’ happy personal stories and super-fun photos that give you parenting blues.

A few years ago, a paper in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, “Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms,” explored the idea of “social comparison,” which is exactly what it sounds like. When you scroll through someone’s timeline, you’re probably seeing the best, most fun, most touching, most hilarious, most exciting photos. And then you inevitably compare this multimedia greatest-hits compilation to your own life — every bland, boring, frustrating moment you experience in real time — and you worry your life doesn’t measure up. This is when those elements of depression, envy and lowered self-esteem creep in.

Here’s the thing about the photos we post on Facebook: they’re kind of a lie.

Sure, the individual pics are real, but the overall mosaic image they create isn’t necessarily the most accurate representation of your family’s life. We post the image of our daughter cruising down the hill on skis for the first time — we don’t share the 49 minutes of arguing, crying, falling, bargaining and complaining that preceded it.

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These photos aren’t willfully deceptive; it’s natural to want to share the successes and the stuff making your kids — and let’s face it: you — look good. We don’t tend to post bad, unflattering stuff about ourselves as parents; we don’t even put up the mundane, everyday stuff. It’s a carefully curated life we share online, and it’s often one where we come out looking like amazing people with always-fantastic children.

Everyone knows this about themselves, but we often forget it when it comes to everyone else. This is why a lot of parents get infected with a particular strain of FOMO when we see our friends embarking on cool cultural excursions with their kids or bragging about mother/daughter backcountry fishing trips. We worry why we’re not doing this kind of stuff with our own kids, completely forgetting all the other cool stuff we are doing.

We don’t tend to post bad, unflattering stuff about ourselves as parents. It’s a carefully curated life we share online, and it’s often one where we come out looking like amazing people with always-fantastic children.

Always seeing everybody else’s stellar #parentlife on Facebook can turn the comparisons in your head into outright competitions. Your daughter’s second-best-friend’s dad just posted an Insta-worthy salade niçoise (with quail eggs!) on your phone while you were planning to boil some broccoli to go with the Kraft Dinner. Your cousin shares a gallery of his winter-fun-day building an elaborate snow-fort with his kids while your family spent the afternoon at home playing Uno in the kitchen. In either scenario, you never entered any contest, but you still feel like you’ve lost.

It can be worse when these faux competitions extend to our kids. You see your childhood friend’s five-year-old off-road biking or painting jaw-dropping still-lifes, and you start to worry about your own still using training wheels or not staying in the lines when he colours. In the moment, you forget the dozens of other things at which your kid reigns supreme.

So how do you keep perspective when it comes to Facebook and parenting performance? What do you do if you find yourself feeling inadequate? Some suggest logging off social media altogether, but honestly, there are so many possible benefits for parents on FB that writing it off completely might be a mistake. Even beyond immediate family and close friends, Facebook gives you the opportunity to find online communities of other likeminded parents with shared experiences; it lets you interact and seek advice from others.

Try to remember the photos you’re seeing are not the complete story, and keep in mind even seemingly perfect parents are having their own not-great moments offline. Also, remember others have totally been on your timeline and envied your amazing life! But maybe we should all do each other a favour and occasionally post a few boring or downright unflattering photos and stories once in a while...

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no hair and works in communications. He and his wife are the proud parents of a nine-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, both of whom are pretty great. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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