A few weeks ago, I questioned whether I am a good parent. My answer was no.
Both before and since I posted that piece, I’ve been told I’m a good dad, by family members, by online acquaintances, by total strangers who read my blog and follow my Facebook page.
But I don’t believe the hype.
Because they have no idea.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you can’t trust social media.
Comport yourself well on Facebook or Instagram and watch the accolades accumulate (I didn’t mention Twitter because no one comports themselves well on Twitter). Post a picture of you doing your daughter’s hair or dressing as a superhero alongside your son, share a video of you goofily dancing with your little boy or helping your little girl ride a bike, and it’s nothing but oohs and aahs and likes and follows and shares and “what a great dad!” (There’s also the occasional person who tells me I am a horrible parent and I make them sick.)
They’re both right, and they’re both wrong. But mostly? They don’t matter.
The kind of instant judgment that is based on a snapshot or a carefully selected moment or even an (apocryphal or not) instance of child-hating weakness – is as superficial and meaningless as those moments are contrived and pre-meditated. By now, most of us understand social media enough to know how easy it is to curate your life for display as a greatest hits package or as a comedy reel, and how misleading that can be, purposefully or not.
It’s the same when you’re out in public. Someone probably thinks I’m a good father merely by virtue of not seeing me be a bad one. The bar is pretty low these days (especially for dads, who still somehow get points – and compliments!– merely for being around); jumping over it is meaningless. Most people have it together enough to act reasonably well when under the gaze of other shoppers or in the spotlight of the internet (it’s not unlike what’s become of “reality” TV; once the camera is on, it’s no longer reasonable to expect anything real). If they don’t, we probably assume they’re unhinged.
Or maybe they’re just having a bad day? Without context, it’s impossible to know what’s the norm and what’s an aberration, and that’s what makes all the sniping so pointless. We’re all parenting out of context.
With the exception of people who work at the Olympics, mean girls (and boys), and everyone on Tinder (and also probably actual legal judges), no one passes judgment on other people more than parents. We all realize this. Which is both why you shouldn’t trust social media parenting or concern yourself with how someone acts in public. It’s all for show.
It’s not how you act in public or online that matters; it’s how you act at home, free from the judgmental glare of the hoi polloi, offline, out from under the persona you put forth on social media, that really counts. And no one really knows about that but you, your kids, and your spouse.
Odds are, the behavior we witness is neither as good or as bad as it appears. We almost never have the full story, but we’re always in a hurry to praise or, more often, condemn, based on a small sample size. Nowhere is that rush to judgment more evident than on social media, but it’s beginning to bleed into real life.
No one can really know, and while making parenting into a police state may have some small benefits, all the patrolling and condescension and self-righteousness really does is make you look like an asshole. And your kid is always watching you.
Is that good parenting?