How Social Media Ruined Me as a Parent

I’ve been blogging for a little over six years now, seven if you count that first year when I posted nothing but inane drivel. In that time I also gained familiarity with the various social media channels—Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, the Twitters, etc. And while blogging provided me with an outlet to work through my journey as a stay-at-home dad, social media granted access to a community of fellow parent bloggers sharing their own stories. 

Eventually this lead to substantial freelance gigs, a published book, speaking engagements, and media appearances, not to mention numerous chances to participate in campaigns with major consumer brands. My experience soon resulted in a position as a social media marketing specialist which then morphed into a content marketing strategist before I earned my current title as online marketing manager. In the blogging world such accomplishments are generally considered milestones of success, and I am exceedingly grateful for all the doors my modest blog has opened for me and my family. Despite this, though, in some respects I feel social media has ruined me as a parent.

The negative implications of social media are nothing new, but the notion of its effects on my parenting first struck me this past week while chaperoning my middle son’s overnight class camping trip. From the moment we arrived at the camp ground I was constantly checking Facebook on my phone. It seemed odd, then, that my son didn’t want to hang out with me during the day’s early activities. I mean who doesn’t want to be around a distracted, middle-aged man who’s cursing about cell reception and fretting over battery life?

Thankfully the Creator only made me a partial dumbass, endued with the capacity for recognizing my own dumbass-ed-ness, and thereafter I put the phone away, save for the occasional momentous photo. Later that night as I lay zipped up inside my sleeping bag I couldn’t escape the thought of how I nearly ruined what ended up being an unforgettable bonding experience for me and my son. The more I considered this, the more I realized, too, the other ways in which social media has specifically contributed to my list of parenting fails.

To start with, social media has heightened my sense of inadequacy as a parent. It’s bad enough feeling I’m not doing enough as a father without scrolling through Instagram to see more than a few pics of families doing magical things together. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing inherently bad about this. I do it too. It’s just that I can’t help but to believe I’m falling short.

“Hey! Look at us having an awesome time at Disneyland!”

F#ck Disneyland. This as I stew in my own guilt after telling the kids to go entertain themselves because it’s a free preview weekend on HBO and I have to binge watch every episode of True Detective before the midnight cutoff. I forget sometimes that many of those great moments in social media parenting are sponsored events put on by big brands and PR firms for bloggers, but that doesn’t make me feel any better as I yell at my bored children for bickering while I attempt to squeeze in the first season of Game of Thrones too.

What’s ironic is it wasn’t that long ago when I was once considered influential enough to warrant requests to cover advance movie screenings, offers of free merchandise, chances to interview celebrities, and invites for all-expense paid trips which, I ain’t going to lie, was a lot of fun. The only problem, though, was that it didn’t pay the bills, and at some point I needed to focus on bringing home more bacon and fewer blogger perks.

I didn’t then, nor do I now, lament this choice, but my kids, however, took note of the decline in good times enjoyed during the “roaring bloggies” prompting one of them to ask if I had lost my job as a blogger.

Perfect. Now they see me as a disengaged father and a failure

Regardless of their present day impressions, I am confident my children will come to understand my decision and the associated reasoning which extended beyond simple dollars and cents. There was also, what I call, the Kardashian Syndrome.  

You see, having your own parenting blog, in a sense, is similar to having your own reality show where, like the Kardashians, you’re essentially famous for nothing (and even the fame is relative since it’s largely self-perceived). For me, though, instead of shallow, self-absorbed, privileged bitches, the premise of my blog was: Corporate exec loses job and becomes stay-at-home dad to stepdaughters he hardly knows while also trying to reunite with his own sons. That was my show, and the stories I told through my blog were like regular episodes.

This was all fine and dandy except that at a certain point I ran into same problem that leads most reality shows to engineer situations in order to create drama or get a laugh while still trying to pass them off as “real.” I’m not saying I fabricated events like, oh, I don’t know, going into hysterics because some redneck called my son a sissy for wearing a pink headband at Wal-Mart or whatever, but as a creative writing professor at Rice once told me, “real life is too messy to write about coherently, that’s why they say based on actual events.” 

In other words I was running out of reality to feed the social media beast, which in time lead to deriving moments of paternal greatness out of otherwise meaningless events. I let my kid tag along on a trip to get gas for the lawnmower so I can post 600 pics of the entire escapade across Instagram and Facebook before then banging out a 3,000-word blog post about how the whole experience touched me as a father. It was so Meta.  

The underlying subtext to all of this of course is that, hey everyone, I’m an incredible dad.

This is where things started to become unsettling for me. Over time it got old always being the hero of my own narrative, always gaining some new fatherly insight, always responding to my children’s needs exactly the right way or learning an important lesson when I didn’t. There’s an inherent danger in being able to shape the story as only you see it, and the perception can easily become your own skewed reality.  This bothered me because, if I know nothing else, it’s how hopelessly flawed I am, especially as a parent. (Kids, keep it down! I’m trying to watch my stories!)

Somewhere along the line I had bought into the notion that I was a daddy blogger. This was my personal brand, so to speak, in the same way Kim Kardashian, Honey Boo Boo, and Phil Robinson are reality TV stars. And I played the part. Soon I had a hard time determining whether I was interacting with my children because I truly enjoyed being with them or if it was because I was a daddy blogger. In a moment of honesty I realized the answer to this was more the latter than it was the former, and in that instant I suddenly lost the desire to blog, post, tweet, share, and so on with any regularity.  

Fatherhood is not my personal brand; it’s a part of my identity, something that runs much deeper than the veneer of being branded a dad blogger. My social media exploits had, in effect, ruined the authenticity of my parenting which can easily happen when all your parenting actions are being validated publically by oodles of blog comments, Likes, and re-tweets.

It’s the proverbial slippery slope, and the next thing you know, people are referring to you as a parenting “expert.” Let me just say here that having a blog doesn’t make anyone an expert (or a good parent) any more than TV makes Kim Kardashian talented. (There’s no such thing as a parenting expert because who out there has really figured it out?)

Yes, I still blog from time to time (as you can see here), and I post the occasional pic of the family to Instagram and Facebook. I haven’t completely shrugged off participating in social media. Social media in and of itself wasn’t the real problem. The problem had to do with me. Now I’m a bit more judicious in what I put out there. I question my intent before I click any buttons. If it’s just to make myself look good as a dad then I hold off.

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