I have reached the age where half my Facebook feed is pictures of other people’s children: babies smearing their faces with mashed banana, toddlers taking their first steps, kids in their school uniforms proudly holding trophies and certificates. I’m used to it. At times I really enjoy it; a chance to see the children of loved ones I don’t get to see as much as I’d like. (FYI: The other half of my FB is childless friends posting pics of themselves in bars, at gigs or cheerfully toasting a cocktail on a far away beach. Me? Jealous? Never!)
Last week, more kiddy pictures than usual seemed to appear as friends joined in the Facebook Motherhood Challenge. Women basically post photos which make them ‘proud to be a mother’ then nominate some other ‘amazing mums’ to do the same.
Reactions to this social media phenomenon have been mixed. Many have loved it, eagerly joining in. Some have inevitably hated it, griping and moaning that they have to see yet more pictures of other people’s children. Others have, quite rightly, questioned the name. A challenge? Posting some pictures? Not exactly climbing Everest.
In this article, The Guardian suggests that it is an exercise in smugness, thoughtlessly ignoring those women who don’t have children and offending people by creating a smug clique. I’m not sure what has made the writer quite so angry, but perhaps there are some valid points. It must be hard to see these images if you are trying to have children, or have lost children, and perhaps we should think about that a little more. But to imply that people joining in this largely harmless activity are cruel and offensive seems a little over the top.
The Pool wrote a similar but less aggressive article, suggesting that seeing these images of happy smiling mums and their children divides us, making many others feel bad about themselves because they, at that moment, are not particularly happy and smiling.
At first, I tended to agree with these articles. I’d enjoyed seeing pictures of my friends’ children, but wasn’t this a bit much?
Then, on my way home from nursery this morning, I began to think differently. Trundling along in the drizzle, exhausted, snotty, straining from a bad back and with a snoring baby strapped to my chest, I missed the green man. I sighed and, faced with all of two minutes before I could cross, I reached for my phone. As I pressed the on button, it dawned on me how this has become my go to action in moments of inaction. What was I hoping to achieve? I had no messages, no one to contact and would only faff around for 30 seconds on Facebook before putting it away again and crossing. And I do this all the time! Why?
Because, at the moment, I’m a stay at home mum. There are times I can go for hours, even whole days, without having a conversation with an actual adult. I adore my sons, but when 90% of your day’s conversation revolves around someone else’s food choices, toileting needs and identifying different types of tiny plastic dinosaurs, sometimes you need a way to reach out to someone else. And isn’t that what social media was made for? If you looked at my Facebook activity, it would most certainly spike when I’m on maternity leave, and especially on days when my husband works late.
Maybe these women aren’t smug. Maybe they’re lonely. Maybe they’re a bit bored. Maybe they’ve spent the morning cleaning urine off the floor, tackling a mound of washing which towers over their head, trying to get work done while Peppa Pig blares in the background, all while perpetually yawning because they were up 5 times in the night.
If spending 5 minutes scrolling through photos which remind you of why you love being a mum (or dad – surely there should be a fatherhood challenge out there somewhere?) cheers you up when a baby has just thrown up all over you, and getting comments allows you to have a brief virtual chat with friends, where’s the harm?
If we don’t like it, we don’t have to look. Maybe we should just get off Facebook for a while and get some perspective. That’s what I’m going to do. Right after I post a link to this blog post…