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Are We Lying on Facebook?

First on kveller, then in Avital Norman Nathman's wonderful anthology The Good Mother Myth, and most recently in Ladies Home Journal, Sarah Tuttle Singer has been talking about how we need to quit telling lies on facebook.  In her essay, Sarah starts out by describing a Saturday where she offered up various blissful glimpses of her day for the world to "like". Then she takes us through all the things that she left out. All the things that maybe we wouldn't have liked, that maybe some people would have judged, but that maybe would have made other moms breathe a sigh of relief as they snuck a quick facebook break behind the locked door of the bathroom, escaping for a moment from their own less than perfect day with the kids. 

After describing her day, and the day she saw her friends having on facebook, Sarah concludes that something needs to change:

And instead of pretending that everything is hunky-freaking-dory, let’s be real: Parenting is ridiculously hard. And all of us do ourselves and each other a huge disservice when we pretend otherwise. Sure, there are great times that should be celebrated. Sure, when our kids do awesome things, by all means, let’s get our brag on. But let’s also not tell each other so many lies by omission.

My life on Facebook is an airbrushed and Instagrammed image of my real life. I edit the suckage because I want people to think I have my shit together. I give everything a hipstacular filter to make the drudgery look interesting. Most of the time, I think I’m a decent mom, and I think I’m giving my kids a pretty good life. But I also think I’d be a better mom if I stopped pretending, and making friends on Facebook feel like they have to pretend as well.

Sarah wants us to stop fakebooking and start sharing the real and shitty family moments. But should we?

"Parenting is hard shit sometimes"

Sarah makes a good case for putting an end to the fakebooking. To some extent I understand. While my facebook friends are perhaps not all as sunny and perfect as the ones Sarah described in her article, I have been to Pinterest and that is a whole other kettle of fish. If you're having a bad day or really struggling with parenting and everyone else is having a gloriously perfect day, it can make you feel bad or inadequate or contribute to depression, no matter which online or in person social network that happens in.

But I don't think we have an obligation to let everyone inside. I don't think we need to show our vulnerabilities, our challenges and our failings with everyone. If my facebook friends consisted only of my three closest girlfriends, I could see how that could help. Just as you might share the intimate and difficult moments of your lives with close friends over coffee or a glass of wine, texting or talking on the phone with a good friend can help you to get through a really rough day. But facebook?

Some of us have clients, in-laws, acquaitances, employees, (nosy) neighbours, kids' teachers, husband's colleagues and others as facebook friends.

  • If you send a less than perfect piece of work to a client, do you want them to wonder whether the reason it wasn't up to par was because your children kept you up all night? They may think that perhaps you're just not up to the task of juggling your family responsibilities with your work.
  • If you complain about how much it sucks that you have to change the sheets on your daughter's top bunk because she wet the bed AGAIN, is that really fair to her? Especially if you are facebook friends with some of her friend's parents and those friends may be looking over the parent's shoulder as they are using facebook?
  • If you and your husband had an argument about something, is it fair to him to publicize that to a group of both strangers and people that he knows very well?
  • If you're having a horrible parenting day and were screaming incessantly at your kids, maybe you don't want to admit that to facebook. Maybe after dealing with that mess all day, you don't want to be beaten when you're already down. Sure, maybe some people will be supportive, but others are sure to chime in with judgment or (un?)helpful suggestions on what you could have done better. 

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to "get real" and share a picture of my messy kitchen on facebook along with a comment about how Hydro Quebec was asking people to conserve power due to the extreme cold, so I couldn't possibly use hot water or run the dishwasher. Immediately, a few people commented on how seeing that picture made them feel so much better about their own kitchens. I get that, I really do. But a few minutes later I pulled the picture when I realized that my kids real names (which I don't share online) were in plain view due to the prominent Mabel's Labels all over their dirty lunch containers.

Last night, on facebook, I posted "parenting is hard shit sometimes". Period. I couldn't say why without violating my children's privacy. It is not my place to tell anyone else whether they got a bad report card, got in trouble for bullying at school, flew into a rage and broke a family heirloom, suffered a panic attack, threw their mashed potatoes at their sibling, or had their heart broken when their best friend decided they didn't want to be friends with them anymore. That isn't my story to tell. "Parenting is hard shit sometimes" -- that is my story, but the rest of it isn't.

Is facebook a support group?

Facebook, to me, was never meant to be an intimate conversation with a close friend who I might open up to. Or when it is, that happens through private messages and not on the public timeline. The things I'll share on facebook, are the things that I would share at a cocktail party attended by the wide variety of people I am friends with on facebook. While I won't hesitate to get into the touchy topics of politics and religion (despite common wisdom on what constitutes polite conversation), I don't share the nitty gritty shitty parts of my life on facebook. Each post will go through a checklist of "is it okay if an older male client, aunt, neighbour, kid's teacher, sister-in-law, high school boyfriend, strange but cool person I met at a conference, kids' friends' parents, husband's colleague, mother-in-law, best friend, etc. sees this?" If the answer is no, for any reason, then it isn't likely to go up there.

I don't think that is dishonest. It is just showing the part of my life that I'm comfortable having hanging out there for everyone on my friends list to see. If you want to see me yell at my kids or check out the mess in my living room, come over for a coffee sometime. If you haven't sat at my dining room table or hugged me while tears pour down my face, you're just not on my list of people to share personal struggles with. But that doesn't mean that my choice is necessarily right for everyone. If you feel safe sharing your deepest personal struggles and find a way to do so in a manner that is respectful to anyone else who is implicated in your story, that is completely okay with me, and I may even "like" it.  But we also need to recognize that not everyone has the spoons or the privilege to be able to let their struggles hang out on the Internet. Sharing sometimes has real life consequences and for some people, sharing only the sunny parts is the only way to feel safe and to get what they need out of their social time online.

There are a number of groups that I am a member of on facebook and there are numerous message boards out there too for parents who are struggling or who want support. Many of these have boundries and guidelines that make them a safer place to share than on our own facebook walls. I don't think there is anything wrong with showing only the sunny parts of our lives on our walls, which act like scrapbooks or photo albums for many people. If someone needs support or needs to feel less alone in their parenting struggles, the facebook timeline may not the best place for that. But there are certainly places where parents can get support online and I'd encourage anyone who needs one to seek them out.

What do you think? Are we all fakebooking or is it normal to be selective in what we share?


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Reader Comments (21)

absolutely normal to be selective. people should be MORE selective with what they share on facebook. i have not had the fakebooking experience that the woman you quote has had...but i also think that who you choose to have on your facebook decides that as well. it is a world that we shape, of course...but we do that in every area of our lives. maybe i just do not care that much but my facebook is to share real and good moments/photos/events with family and friends...not to bitch, complain or belittle. and i think that holds true for most people. i hope.

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterangela

Being a parent is hard, and so is running a household, and having a life, for that matter, but I've never really felt better about my own messes by seeing somebody else's. I've always been attracted to the sunny images to remind me that there is hope after all, and for inspiration as to how to tidy it all up. (I avoid Pinterest. I will never be that tidy.) Thinking about this in terms of blogs, I must say I've appreciated the women who've been able to write honestly about parenting but still present the spots of sunshine in their lives. I am so attracted to joy, and I know that my own life is a little sunnier for these writers' influences. It is also important to be able to see into other people's (perhaps beautiful) lives, and understand that their story isn't really a negative reflection on your own. And if you persist in thinking so, then might it be time to make some changes for the better? Anyway, thank you for this post and for making me think.

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKerry

I've thought about this a lot since last year's SoCap. I loved Danny Brown's keynote about the fallacy of transparency in social media. He made great points about how you can be authentic and truthful without being totally transparent. There's definitely a time and place for transparency if you are comfortable sharing your story. But I think we also need to respect each other's choices about how much we each share. And respect each other's decisions about who we let in to our sphere.

I share my full name and my son's full name and picture online publicly. That's something I'm personally comfortable with for various reasons. Others - like yourself - have made very different decisions. You have your reasons and your choices are right for you and your family. The decision to share the minutiae of daily life - good or bad - is no different. It should be a well thought out and informed decision, so I am thrilled when I see anyone who sets firm boundaries. The boundaries may be far reaching, or they may be close and tight, but if they exist, then I have nothing but respect for that.

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Yes, what you said exactly. I can be real. I am very extroverted and will tell passing strangers things they don't care about, but the stuff we put on facebook has consequences.

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRookieMom Heather

Couldn't agree more. I will share my own "stuff" on Facebook in the same way that I'd share my own anecdotes in a speech or in an article -- with full consciousness of the impact on others in my life and with no expectation of privacy. (Privacy settings aside, anything can be cut-and-pasted or jpeg-ed or whatever-ed at anytime. We're fooling ourselves if we think that "Friends only" means anything online.) That's why there's no difference in friending "professional me" and "private me" online. There's only one me out there -- even though I started both types of profiles. I only have one persona online -- a pretty honest version of myself, but not a reckless or totally uninhibited version of myself.

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Douglas

Yes to your post!

Given how far reaching prying eyes can be, and how we have no clue who is doing what with the information we put out in the public sphere, I definitely filter what I put out there according to what would be acceptable at a cocktail party among acquaintances. I can be truthful, polite and authentic without divulging too much information that would be TMI for strangers.

There is a time and a place for showing my less than pretty side of life, usually face to face or in an old-fashioned phone call--on a landline at that LOL!

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I have never understood why people bad when someone posts something nice or uplifting or pretty. I value my friend sharing how she found joy despite a hard parenting moment or someone else loving their work or a beautiful picture of somewhere I've never been and likely never will go...these positive shares help me remember to find joy in hard things (when I can), enjoy a simple moment (when they happen), etc. They don't in anyway make me believe that their lives are perfect or that mine is more messed up. I just don't get it.

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKelli

agree with you completely. there was a movement (maybe there still is) among bloggers some time back about showing the “real” stuff — and criticizing people for only showing the “nice” stuff. but that’s just social behavior. in my mother’s day, she wouldn’t invite everyone on the block or everyone at PTA to see the messy kitchen or the pile of laundry. why would we?

to assume that if you don’t *show* me the unpleasant things, i will imagine you have a perfect life is, frankly, a little ridiculous. i already know that everyone has struggles and dirty corners. i already know they’re tidying up for me. doesn’t everyone know that?

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLori

I'm selective for my children's sake but I also don't pretend my life is blissful. I read a thread once that explained it so well, "I'll take a picture for FB but move a mess aside, same courtesy as I"d extend for someone coming into my house." That's what I do. Before I take a picture, I'll move dirty dishes or coats draped over kitchen chairs. It's a distraction from the picture I want to show. But I won't set up something to say "My home is always perfect and neat."

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteralexandra

I;m not on facebook much, so I don't share either negative or positive. But I think it is ok for each of us to choose what we want to share, And when. And if we want to share at all.

February 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTat

I love this Annie! I agree with it in so many ways. I know I don't share a lot of negative things but I have made a lot of conscious decisions about my content and what I want to share with the world.
I have a couple of very small closed groups on Facebook where I feel comfortable ranting or venting or crying out the difficulties of life.

February 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLara

This is always an interesting conversation because there is no right and wrong. And the topic always starts veering off in that direction, with the oversharers criticizing the private ones for being fake, and those with propriety shaking their heads at those blabbing too much. Can't we just start with personal style and accept that what is good for one is not good for the other. Someone mentioned that Facebook is like a cocktail party. Good analogy. The party would be boring without the drink oversharers and too raucous if everyone started stripping and jumping in the pool. Rather than trying to change the others, we should embrace it.

February 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNeil

Every time I go to Facebook I find I want to post something about how I'm feeling, which lately isn't all that great due to some personal shit going on right now. I get there and realize that I shouldn't post what I want to say because it would be inappropriate to share with a lot of my "friends." Then I feel worse because I'm bottling it up when it would help to get it out, so sometimes I manage a vague post about feeling crappy, but often I just slam my lap top shut and feel even shittier. About once a week I feel like quitting facebook but don't because I like to see what people are up to, mainly my friends who've moved who I don't see or talk to much anymore. I wish I could do the shiny, happy posts all the time, but it's so fake to me and I see myself as a lot more real and truthful and just plain unable to do that. Not that I think the happy posts I read are fake but when I am straining to find something cool/nice/positive to write I would much rather have the freedom to post what I want. I have a friend who is posting about her journey with cancer and her posts are the most real ones on my timeline, and I so appreciate her for her candidness. The rawness of her pain and fears kind of inspires me to be able to do the same but like Annie's post points out some of us have colleagues, clients, etc on here and I know I just can't. You know what I think? I think we need to go back (I need to go back) to writing in a paper journal. That way no one has access to it but me and I can write whatever the heck I want.

February 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

@Melodie: I 100% feel the same way. Thanks for putting this out there, and in better words than I could have.

I think Facebook only works for incredibly positive people (like pretty much everyone who has stopped by to comment so far). If one is feeling less than up to the task, viewing page after page of parents hitting it out of the park twice a day can be depressing and isolating. Either their portrayal of their experience is really really biased, or I am the worst parent on Earth. So, I just end up staying off Facebook because it feels so fake and yet still manages to make me feel awful. Just like Cosmo! And, like with Cosmo, I have realized that that crap is bad for me, personally, and my life is much better without it.

What I don't understand is how when your kid scores a point at softball that is something for the whole world to see, but when he gets grounded for breaking a rule that's private and not to be shared with strangers. I honestly don't understand why one is public and the other is private, since both positive and negative experiences and behaviors are perfectly natural. Why is one type of story considered a violation of a child's privacy but the other isn't? To be honest, I think the question about your child's privacy is just a way to say you don't put up negative experiences because they make YOU uncomfortable. Not your kid. I suspect it's 100% about how you want to be seen as a parent, and not one bit about your child's privacy.

Further, I feel that this warped perception that we have of other people's kids (ie, that they are perfect, or at least much less flawed than ours) might turn around and affect how we parent our own children. If it's only safe to talk about the lovely moments, how do we understand the hard ones? Is it shameful to have to discipline your child? Is it shameful to have a child who misbehaves or breaks the rules? Is it socially unacceptable to have a kid who refuses to do his homework or does poorly on his math test? How can we consider having a child who is pushing against the boundaries set by the family (again, let me stress that this is perfectly normal behavior) to be the social equivalent of having piles of dirty laundry in your living room when guests come over? What does that say about us and what we value about parenting? Do we really only value a mother for her ability to create photographical moments?

Personally, I think it's perverse and unhealthy, and it creeps me out.

Guys, even the Brady Bunch kids had problems. They fought, or had issues, and they cried and got into trouble. We are currently marketing our kids as more perfect then the Brady Bunch! Who benefits from this? It completely baffles me; I mean, I can't even wrap my head around it. Everyone on my FB feed has the authenticity of a Stepford Wife, and they make June Cleaver look gritty and real. Why is this what people want? It feels like a huge step back toward the Ideal Housewife of the 1950s. Didn't the women of our parents' generation already fight against the oppressive nature of these roles? Why would anyone want to go back there?

And it's not even for anything! At the end of the day, who cares if you have the most beautiful Facebook feed? It's not like you get a prize, unless you think the envy of all your friends is something with working toward. Is that why you do it? God, when our kids hit their teenage years they are going to be so disgusted by all of this. And they are gonna be so right.

February 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermistakesweremade


I can definitely empathize with that. There have been times when I'm going through something really rough and it is hard to see everyone else being happy and going about their lives with what feels like no regard to my feelings. If I was in a room with those people and they could see how upset I was, I'm sure they wouldn't be going on and on about how amazing their lives are. But because they can't see my hurt on facebook (either because I haven't posted about it or because of the stupid facebook algorithm that pushes things that have been "liked" a lot up to the top), I can't really blame them for posting their happy things.

February 24, 2014 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting


You asked: "What I don't understand is how when your kid scores a point at softball that is something for the whole world to see, but when he gets grounded for breaking a rule that's private and not to be shared with strangers."

For me, there is a simple answer to that. I ask my children before I post something about them. I get their permission. To be fair, I don't often ask if I can post something embarrassing because I'm using some judgment about what they may or may not want posted based on common sense and also past experience about what they've said yes or no to. But even things I think are nice, they don't always want posted and I respect that.

There was one time when my son got in trouble at school and I did ask his permission to post about it because I thought it would make an interesting discussion piece. He said it was fine. You can see that post here on my blog: http://www.phdinparenting.com/blog/2011/3/28/learning-to-control-your-mouth-starts-in-grade-1.html

February 24, 2014 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

Super interesting topic! I have been thinking about this as I have found myself in the interesting position of defending Facebook a few times lately. Basically, my view on Facebook is that everyone should use it as they want to, and no one has an obligation to use it in any particular way (short of anything actually harmful in any way). This means that everyone should post whatever they feel like! If it's sunny and happy and airbrushed, go for it. If it's complaints and a plea for commiseration, that's fine too.

Along with this, I think it's ridiculous to complain about other people posting happy things. If you aren't in the mental state to read that stuff, don't go on Facebook. That sounds harsh, and I know that it's more complicated than that, but that's pretty much my bottom line.

Of course, if you're single and rich and traveling the world and posting shots of yourself eating sushi in a hammock somewhere tropical (my personal fantasy) don't be surprised if your child-full friends checking Facebook at home after picking Cheerios off the computer and tossing them under the couch (what?) make some snide comments. Of course you won't even hear it over the crashing waves.

February 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertwoseven

Love this post, My friend also recently blogged about 'are you suffering from social media depression' http://leadersinheels.com/lifestyle/suffering-social-media-depression/ Most people gloss over their lives on Facebook and only put the good stuff up (I know I can be guilty of this). But like Sarah says there "I edit the suckage because I want people to think I have my shit together". ha ha. However I do also find myself getting annoyed with those who find it appropriate to air their dirty laundry on Facebook and those who tell the world that their two year old went pee pee on the toilet or even worse had an accident while potty training! Do they really think that child will thank them for that when they grow up?
There is such a thing as over sharing and many people don't know when to hit the stop button. I tend to think those that feel the need to post every detail of their day online with pretty pictures to make their lives look so awesome to the outside world are the ones fakebooking and are missing out on the real world.

March 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnna Johnson

And this is one more reason I closed down my fb 7 years ago!

April 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJpp

I share on Facebook the sort of things I would like to read on Facebook and I don't really like reading people complaining about the minor annoyances in their life so I don't share mine.

September 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean

Sorry but facebook is a complete waste of time. People mostly portraying a fake life. Never really found use for it and never will. I don't live on the net except to do work and things like that. I have better things to do thanks. I still don't understand why people waste so much time on this garbage. Live your life and stay off this social media crap.

April 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercprodsinc

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