We’re living in the age of augmentation, when lips, teeth, and breasts are only the tip of the ‘fake it til you make it’ iceberg.
These days reality is augmented in every Instagram picture; perfection is entirely achievable with enough patience to capture the right moment, plus the right filters.
And it’s turning us all into neurotics who spend our days comparing everything from our cushions to our children with the people we follow online.
A survey released this week by the brand Water Wipes has revealed that more than half of Irish parents feel like they are failing in the first year of parenthood. Naturally, mothers feel worse than fathers do, because that is the way of the world.
What’s more worrying still is that over half of us feel we can’t share these feelings honestly and openly, and that there is a cult of perfection around parenting that means admitting we’re struggling leaves us branded.
While social media isn’t the only cause (TV and advertising also take some of the blame), it’s a major contributory factor.
Social media is, after all, where we are “influenced” by people masquerading as normal members of our peer group, but who often have hidden, or opaque commercial agendas. The yummy mummy who’s back in hot pants a week after giving birth; the one who’s producing handmade vegan energy balls for her enormous brood while doing handstands on the beach; and the ones who are busily flogging the kinds of products and services only desperately sleep deprived people who’ve lost all sense would think are a good idea.
And even those of us who aren’t making money out of it seem to spend an inordinate amount of time posing our small children, so much so that I often scan my Instagram feed wondering how on earth people have kept the baby clean for long enough to take that perfectly arranged, colour coordinated picture.
New parenthood is a funny phase in life because it really is when sense deserts us. We may have escaped the wedding phase unscathed by overpriced chair covers and paying extortionate sums of money for bands we’d normally leave pubs to avoid, but having managed that much we then walk headlong into the most vulnerable, uncertain time of our lives.
It’s the only time we will ever hand over wild sums of money because we read on a Facebook group at 3.30am that this will definitely make them sleep, poo or whatever it is that needs fixing.
It’s also the only time in life that most of us will suspend all critical thought and believe the advice of complete strangers because we are just so worn out and unsure of our own abilities.
And commercial interests know that. All the advertising, the marketing, the influencing and the promotions are designed to prey on the insecurities every parent has but many never admit.
Philip Larkin might have said it first but he was looking at it from the other point of view. Your mum and dad might f*** you up, but we are desperately trying not to (I’d love to know what his mother made of that particular verse).
The most striking part of the findings was the fact that so many people feel they can’t admit they are struggling. The culture around parenting is so perfectionist that we can’t admit that, yes, toddlers are pretty annoying sometimes, no, babies aren’t always very good conversationalists and yes, teenagers can be exceedingly irritating. Even the ones we love.
And those are minor complaints. What about admitting that you haven’t really bonded with the baby you desperately wanted? Or that you don’t feel especially fulfilled by parenthood and maybe it was a dreadful mistake, actually, to just go along with your partner’s plan? Or that you had more than the usual hard time in pregnancy or labour and your body and mind may not recover from them?
These are all things that people feel. And in a culture that seems to value oversharing as much as perfect pictures of winsome tots, it’s a pity they are one of the last taboos.
Of course, if just over half of parents don’t feel they can admit their difficulties, it means almost half are either having no problems (unlikely), or do have someone to share with. And that’s crucial.
Nobody is saying you have to put your confusion or pain all over your Facebook page or go on the TV to discuss it. It won’t do you any good and it probably won’t do much for your long term relationship with your child. But we all need at least one friend or family member we can admit these things to without fear of judgment.
And maybe that’s the real problem. Many of us don’t have the kind of long term, stable relationships our mothers and grandmothers had with the women in their circles – a cup of tea at the kitchen table when the kids were gone to bed, or a chat over the fence while hanging out the washing – where the linen was literally right there in front of you and there was no curating anything.
As a member of quite a few parenting groups on social media, I’ve seen both sides of it. I have found some solace in seeing other people, even strangers online, going through the same issues I’ve experienced. And sometimes online can be your only option, for reasons of geography, timing or something else.
But, whether it’s a parent and toddler group, your own family, an online support group or old friends who remember you when you still had time to get your hair done and time to invest in them, remember that people you love and respect are the only ones worth comparing yourself to. Unless it’s cushions you’re comparing; then, by all means, turn to Instagram for consultation.