By Malia Jacobson
On a recent family trip, I impulsively deleted my phone’s Facebook app to free up space for photos. I planned to reinstall later. But after a day or two, I realized that I was enjoying the break from the constant pull of handheld social media. I felt fully present and engaged with my kids, who seemed to like having mom’s undivided gaze, too. I decided to keep the app off my phone for a while longer.
When we got home, I fired up Facebook on my laptop to share a quick post about the trip. There, reality caught to with me as I stared down an avalanche of unread notifications from my kids’ school, my parenting group, and my kids’ after-school clubs. My Messenger inbox swelled with queries about this week’s carpool schedule, a group Halloween costume, a school sweatshirt order and sleepover plans for my tween.
As it turns out, my “break” from social media was just a postponement of the parenting work that takes place there, all waiting for me (not so patiently, I might add). Because Facebook is now a portal for the emotional labor of parenthood, and opting out is not an option.
I’m not especially new to Facebook or to parenthood: I hopped on the social media platform back when you needed an .edu email address to join, and my oldest child is nearing middle school. In the past five years, though, I’ve noticed a shift: As Facebook beefs up its event management and group discussion capabilities, more and more parenting work is taking place there. For me, it’s crowding out everything else.
My kids’ school runs two Facebook pages and, helpfully, posts all events and announcements there. Each child’s class also has its own Facebook page, and every after-school activity, from 4-H to ballet, regularly posts events and updates.
Step out of the constant information stream, and you’ll be THAT parent, the one who didn’t know that all second-graders were supposed to wear orange today or that the annual school barbecue is cash only. Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s mayhem.
Of course, I do get the appeal of social media for schools and clubs. it’s easiest to communicate with parents on a website they already use. And I genuinely appreciate Facebook’s immense power to connect people and share ideas. Social media helps me share moments from my kids’ lives with far-flung friends and family and lets me see their kids grow up, too.
But since most of my time there is now spent on kid-logistics, social media is now much less about socializing or keeping up with my own friends and interests. These days, it’s all business and a lot less pleasure. It used to be a fun break from work. Now, it is work.
I can’t help but notice, too, that Facebook’s parenting workload seems to fall disproportionately to moms. My parenting circle includes dads who put in plenty of face time at school and playdates. But I can’t remember the last time one of them posted a parenting question, event or announcement on Facebook. My parenting partner is free to dip in and out of Facebook as he pleases, following news organizations and keeping up with friends. Meanwhile, my social media time is spent trying to keep my head above water.
Try as I might, I don’t see a way around this. Now Facebook is back on my phone, and I’m trying to marry my role as the family’s Chief Information Officer with my kids’ legitimate need for attention and my own need for inner calm. I haven’t got it figured out yet, but I’m trying.
So, dear Facebook friends, please forgive me if I don’t “like” your photos, ignore your event invite or give you a blank stare when you mention your latest work promotion. I do want to see your baby photos and engagement announcements—really!—but my social media time is spent sorting out science fair questions, ballet buns and school pickups. After that, I’m spent.
If it seems like I’ve deserted social media, I haven’t. I’m just stuck in its parallel parenting universe. I miss you over on the other side. But if you’re a parent, chances are I’ll see you here soon enough. Please—bring wine.