There’s a certain joy about watching your friends’ children grow up – when you knew one or even both parents long before those little mischief-makers were a glint in anyone’s eyes. It would be lovely if we could all live on the same street as our childhood or high school or college best friends all our lives, just for that experience, but life doesn’t work that way. (And maybe for the best…)
However. This generation is the first to raise children communally in a way our parents never did, thanks to social media. I feel like I’m sharing the experience of parenthood with all the friends who are doing it at the same time because we’re right there on each other’s newsfeeds, with updates about poop and puke, teeth and tooth fairies, photos and disasters and cries for help and offers of solidarity. Our parents didn’t have this.
My mother may have had coffee mornings with her friends when they got together and discussed their perms or their handbags or their golf handicaps, other mothers may have gossiped over the garden fence about whatever it was that was going on in the world. They may even have talked to their best friends or their sisters about how best to potty train little Dennis or why Mary Margaret wouldn’t eat her dinner. But for the most part I’m willing to bet that the concept of Pinterest Parenting – only showing your best side to the public, I mean – was more prevalent then then than it is now, whatever the Internet would have you believe.
I mean, my mother was always very concerned about what the neighbours might think. The neighbours, I’m sure, had more to be thinking about than us, but that was how she saw it. The worst thing you could do was provide other people with things to talk about. And because you never heard about anyone else’s problems, you certainly weren’t going to admit that you had any. Life had to be seen to be “Pinterest perfect” a long time before Pinterest existed. (Though crafting ambitions were definitely not so lofty back then.)
But now, between blogs and Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, the Internet has taught us that whatever our kid is up to, someone else’s is at it worse. That whatever disaster just happened in your house, somebody out there has already cleaned it up in theirs. Or even if yours is the flat-out worst thing that could possibly happen, at least you can have the tiny satisfaction of telling everyone about it so that they can marvel at your terrible luck. (And, not so tiny after all, send virtual hugs and messages of support and empathy, and maybe even some offers of real-life help.)
More than that, I know my friends’ kids – at least the ones on Facebook; sorry, everyone else! – and they know mine at a much lovelier level than I could possibly have had the opportunity to do with all but those families living closest to us in the past. People post “I love that kid!” when my status relates the latest hilarious statement from my daughter or highly logical action of my son, and I know they do, sort of, just as much as I love to watch their children grow up online, exploit by exploit.
We may not all have the same close-knit real-life communities that our parents had, but I’d argue that our new ones are better. We’ve made parenting a communal experience instead of a lonely road of self-doubt and frustration. (Okay, sometimes that should be “as well as”.) It’s something we do with our friends – because heaven knows, we’re not going out partying with them every weekend any more. And this way, we can get to know everyone’s kids as well, whether they’re on our street or on another continent. Ain’t the Internet grand?