If we all posted on our personal social media pages the same as we interacted one-on-one with our friends, I think the stress about our lives falling short because they don’t seem to match the standard of others’ lives would diminish.
That’s exactly the thought I had when I wanted to share some really exciting news about my daughter’s recent scholarship offer, but I refrained from putting it on Facebook.
I have one social media account that is personal only — for my family and friends — and that one is on Facebook. It was the first social media account I created, and I wanted to post personal pictures and comments that I wasn’t interested in sharing with the world. The rest of my accounts I created to promote my brand or my career, and they are all public.
Because my Facebook account is personal, I don’t post on it that often. I post when something significant is happening in my life that I want to share, the same as I would if I called or texted or emailed a friend to celebrate a big win or get advice about a big problem. I post a few times a month. It’s usually a fun family adventure, like skiing, or something that my kids did that fills me with pride, like performing in a talent show, or a fun night with friends I haven’t seen in a while, like a birthday celebration.
I recently hosted an annual party and forgot to take any pictures, so I didn’t even post about that. My friends didn’t take any pictures either. We enjoyed the night and didn’t need to tell anyone about our good time to validate it. Posting on social media is an afterthought to my life, not the other way around. That’s how I believe it should be.
I am cautious not to post either successes or struggles too often on my personal page, because I think that’s how people get a misconception of their circle of friends and the world. If you post complaints a lot — a company ripped me off, my rebellious teens are out of control, my car broke down again — people can start to see the world as more of a negative place. If you post tons of amazing accomplishments a lot — my kid got top honor roll again for the 10th time in a row, I just closed my biggest real estate deal ever, my child just aced the ACT with a 34 score despite not prepping at all — it seems like bragging and can actually make other people feel bad about their life not stacking up instead of happy for you. So I post a mix of positive and negative, and certainly not all of the ups and downs in life.
I actually started making a conscious effort to post more a couple years ago after I read an article saying that after a loved one died, people were scrolling through their loved one’s social media posts to remember them and get a glimpse into what was important to them. I decided that I should post about the things most important to me — my family, my friends, my career — both the positive and negative to reflect the truth of my life for now and maybe even for some day when I’m gone.
So I think about something before I automatically post it. Is this a truth in my life, or am I exaggerating it? Is it really something that would be worthy of a phone call to a friend to share? Would my friend be happy for my accomplishments or offer good suggestions for my dilemma, or would I just be boasting or whining? Would my friend feel bad about a struggle in their life that is accentuated by my success?
And that’s what I thought about before I shared the news about a letter my daughter just received from a private university offering her an annual scholarship to cover her tuition and fees and books every year for four years, in addition to an invitation to pay for her transportation, lodging and meals to attend a two-day event in spring for the prestigious winners of this particular scholarship. Wow! I was so excited and proud, and to be honest, relieved. I had expected for years she would earn such an award but got nervous that none had been offered two months after she had applied for colleges. It made me question decisions I had made when she was just a baby.
While the vast majority of her success is due to her natural talents and dedication and hard work, I made a conscious choice when she was younger to dial down my career and work part-time to spend focused attention on my kids five days a week. I spent that time getting them excited about learning and exploring and teaching them things and taking them places and always being available to answer questions, help with projects, sign them up for lessons, get them to activities, cheer them on at every competition, and advocate for them when I thought they would benefit from my interference. One example is when I pushed for my daughter to skip first grade because she was reading fourth grade chapter books and completing addition and subtraction workbooks in kindergarten, after I taught her reading and math at home when she was 4 years old.
I did not know what the future would hold, but I knew the potential my children had and wanted to do everything possible to help them reach that potential. I knew I had always been a good at school and taking tests and earned a 31 on my ACT, which was a big part of me getting an offer from a university to cover my full tuition. It allowed me to go to college at a time when my father’s business was heading towards bankruptcy, and only incur loans for room and board, which I finally paid off 12 years after graduating college.
I chose my career path based on love and not money, and I formed a long-term relationship with my soul mate and father of my children for the same reason. So both of us pursued creative endeavors — writing and music — that never paid well and never provided consistent income. We branched out into real estate to try to earn more money after our kids came along, but the Great Recession decimated that business endeavor. So we were acutely aware that we would probably not be able to pay for our children to go to college, and I fully expected them to do what I did — earn scholarships and grants to cover tuition and get loans to cover room and board.
My son got an offer like this and is flourishing in a college that covers his full tuition. My daughter has an even higher GPA and higher test scores but has had her own unique set of struggles in high school that made me nervous about her chance to get one of these prestigious and elusive awards. So after seeing the letter, my biggest emotion was relief in knowing that she got this offer, because I feel my decision to invest time in my children rather than in making more money has been validated. I recognize that such decisions may have had nothing to do with her achievements, but I would have somehow felt guilty and questioned my path if she had not earned this offer that for many years (until recently) I just expected would happen.
So this is a big event I would normally post about on my personal Facebook account, but I didn’t, because I have seen many posts recently from friends lamenting the fact that they are struggling terribly with paying for their children’s college. These parents say they feel squeezed because their kids are not in the upper echelon of academics or sports in order to earn a full ride; the parents do not make enough money to cover their family’s expenses and shell out $25,000 or more a year for college; the parents make too much money to qualify for need-based aid; and they don’t want their child to graduate with $100,000 or more in debt. I feel sad for my friends struggling with this, and I don’t want to remind them how others have resources that they don’t.
But I wanted to shout my daughter’s big win from the top of a mountain, and I certainly wanted to thank those people who helped me during the tough years of parenting. So I sent an email to a few close family members only, sharing the letter with them and thanking them for their love and support, which I know helped contribute to where my daughter is now. I am writing about it in my blog, because I realize how it exemplifies the issue of carefully choosing what we post on social media. But I only share my blog on my brand’s social media, not on my personal page, so most of my friends won’t see it.
I’m not saying this is the right way to approach social media; I’m just saying this is my way. I’ve also been saying for nearly a year on my brand Working Mom Warrior that mothers would feel better about their own lives if the rest of us posted about our fails as often as our successes. That’s what I try to do in my blog.
Social media is mostly a highlight reel, which is not real life, and even if we know this intellectually it still causes us distress emotionally. For example, I often feel like I should make more money to take my family on more vacations because I see so many people traveling to stunning locations with their kids. Of course I do! I have about 400 friends on Facebook, so naturally there is always someone who is on vacation. For all I know, it’s the first time in years they took a trip when I see that gorgeous picture. But my feed gives me the impression that other families travel far more often, and go to more exotic places, than we do — because I’m seeing a conglomerate of vacation pictures from 400 people.
So just take a pause the next time you are going to post, or when you are living life and would normally not post. Take a picture of your backyard that you haven’t cleaned up in years, and let everyone know you want to get to it but never have the time or energy. They will feel better about something in their life that is stressing them out too. And resist the urge to post another picture of your son’s baseball team as they win their third tournament. The first two were enough to share your enthusiasm for his skills and commitment.
Think about how you would approach the same thoughts in person. You might complain about your husband never cleaning up the yard while commiserating with your friend who is frustrated with her spouse, so share it on social media. But you wouldn’t whip out a third picture of your son’s baseball team at a lunch with your cousin who has been having trouble getting pregnant, so don’t do it online.
And for Pete’s sake, stop posting about politics! You are not going to change anyone’s mind, and you may be sharing something that is factually wrong. Let’s use social media in our personal life the way it was originally intended — to connect with family and friends the same as we would face to face.