The pitfalls of pinterest parenting
Remember libraries? When you needed to know about something, you went to the library and found a book on said something. Then, you read the book, got what was likely professional advice, and moved on with your life.
Now, we have social media, where people offer advice, showcase their wonderfully manicured lives, and try looping you into their latest multi-level marketing scheme. People also lie on social media… a lot.
Other than that person that posts angsty, vague messages complaining about their life, most people online share the greatest hits. And even those greatest hits have a few filters applied. Except me. I’m a saint. (Okay, I use filters.) This kind of behavior is exactly why I started The Thrifty Dad (and now Daddhism) in the first place—real, relatable parenting tips and stories are nearly impossible to find. Hell, this isn’t even the first time I’ve touched on this topic. But, it warrants further exploration.
Now I’m guessing you’ve likely looked for parenting advice online. That’s totally fine! If you didn’t, I wouldn’t have an audience. But, the problem with a lot of advice is this: it’s unrealistic, and worse, damaging.
Think about the last children’s birthday party you went to. It was likely fun, loud, cute, and contained some flaws: the pizza was cold, or the banner wouldn’t stay up, or some kid spilled fruit punch all over the tablecloth, or some unfortunate kid farted too hard and had to go home.
Now, go to Pinterest and look up “Children’s birthday party ideas.” Do you see affordable, realistic, messy party scenes? No. You see this:
I won’t argue that any of the above images aren’t adorable. They’re perfect. And that’s the point. Shit doesn’t float on platforms like Pinterest or Instagram—carefully crafted gold does. These images represent the ideal party that everyone wants, which is exactly why they’re hearted, shared, and commented on. And it’s why they trend straight to the top.
But why exactly is this damaging? Isn’t it just harmless inspiration? No.
why social media hurts parents
Social media gets a bad rap, and a lot of it’s deserved. But, like all open platforms, it’s all in how it’s used. Plenty of people share wonderful stories, helpful advice, and humorous ways to start your day. But—and it’s a big but—many people don’t.
I believe social media is toxic for most people, for a number of reasons. I also believe there are a few reasons social media is particularly bad for parents. All of these reasons I lump into what I call, Pinterest Parenting. Let’s get started.
you compare yourself to the unattainable
Social media’s become rather antisocial. In fact, it’s largely become a place of branding and marketing. That influencer you follow—the one who takes perfect pictures of their perfect home—is lying to you. That self-starter flying first class in a luxury jet? They’re probably in one of these things:
When you look for advice on Pinterest or Instagram or some glamorous parenting site, you’re likely faced with one of two possibilities: the content is largely faked, or you’re seeing a picture that captures what appears to be a perfect moment in time. You’re not going to Pinterest to find “Party disasters,” you’re going there for “Fun party ideas” or “Cute dinosaur parties for kids” and so on. And that’s what you’re going to get: cute ideas that were organized by a professional or someone with a lot of time. Neither of those describes your typical parent.
The end result is that you end up trying to replicate something created by a professional or something entirely fake, only you’re on a limited budget or running on fumes after a day of parenting or working (or both). It’s unattainable and unsustainable. It’s also unrealistic. You can’t compete with a picture of perfection, and you shouldn’t have to.
It’s also worth pointing out that this isn’t strictly pertaining to party planning and what not. Anytime you look up parenting advice online you run the risk of finding something unrealistic. Bedtime routines that stretch into the dozens of steps, or meal plans that cost $1,200 a month and require a personal chef, or breast feeding articles that fail to mention the merits and necessity of formula for many women.
Anyone online can claim to be an expert or a professional, and anyone can present themselves that way. It’s dangerous, damaging, and unfair to you, a real parent with real struggles. The only one you should compare yourself to, is the person you were yesterday and the person you want to be for your child tomorrow.
you run the risk of exhaustion
Life often imitates art, but not intentionally. Trying to imitate those perfect party pictures from above? That’s exhausting.
I can personally attest to chasing the advice offered on many parenting sites, as well as the allure of social media posts. After comparing yourself to the kinds of garbage mentioned earlier, it’s easy to feel pressured to do something more extravagant for a party or more gourmet for a meal. The problem of course, is that a lot of those articles or pictures are (again) showing you something that may not apply to your life. If you’re not a party planning professional with time on your hands, you’re going to have a rough time putting together the picture perfect themed party you found on Suzie’s Chic Shit blog. (Suzie, if you’re reading this and that’s your blog name, I am so sorry.)
You know your life better than anyone else. If you try and shoehorn in a bunch of influencer-approved meal plans and parties and unofficial medical advice, you risk derailing your own well-being and running yourself ragged. Parenting is exhausting, and the last thing you need is unnecessary, additional exhaustion. (Source: tried Blue Apron after seeing it promoted everywhere. Realized 30-60 minutes for dinner prep each night was not ideal for someone with a baby.)
you find yourself manicuring your own life
As bad as comparisons and exhaustion are, perhaps worst of all is that social media inevitably drives people to start manicuring their own life.
This might sound extreme, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s easy to feel compelled to try following advice you find online, and it’s easy to feel compelled to make sure your own online portrayal is as glamorous as what’s already out there.
No parent wants to feel lackluster by comparison, on top of being tired and worrying about doing a great job for their children. So, they post pictures of their sleeping baby, or their smiling child, or their family peacefully roasting marshmallows over the campfire. They don’t share the colic cries, or the tantrum in the mall, or the kids crying in the woods because a bee existed somewhere.
When everyone else is sharing the best of the best, suddenly you too feel the need to share the best. After all, anything less would look, well, less than best. And social media makes it so easy to do, too. There are filters, editing tools, and face smoothing baked into a lot of cameras. Making the “perfect” moment has never been so easy.
But that’s not who you are. Just like your cute, messy party we talked about earlier, your life is sweet and messy. There are smiling children and sleeping babies and memories around the campfire. But there are also late nights crying, sibling battle royales, and moments of pure confusion. And that’s the best part of parenting. Those moments of chaos make the calm that much more beautiful.
There’s no easy solution to this problem, other than to take the risk and put your real self out there. By doing so, you’re setting a real, great example for other parents. You’re also signaling to your own family (kids included), that your life needs no doctoring. Its great just the way it is.
A better way forward for parents
You might be thinking social media’s terrible and everyone online is a fraud. That’s not the case, though. There are plenty of great social media accounts that help drive parents in the right direction, and there are wonderful websites that offer realistic advice.
Still, this doesn’t mean everything you come across should be embraced and integrated into your life. There are phony influencers, poorly-researched websites, and the ever-enticing maw of the Pinterest Parenting trap. It’s up to you to discern what is and isn’t right for your family.
Do what your kid enjoys, do what you know you’re capable of, and most importantly: love every moment of it. There is no joy in chasing something that doesn’t exist. There is joy in spending quality time with your family, celebrating in a way that actually reflects your life, and knowing you’re putting your family’s best interests first.