It was just a joke. Christian and I were sitting at a restaurant Saturday night–around 8p.m., very, very late for us to be out at dinner–and the check was a long time in coming. Across the room sat a family with an eighteen-month-old baby. I thought, “Who brings a baby out to dinner at eight p.m.?” In another part of the room, a seven- or eight-year-old girl dropped a glass, which shattered spectacularly. The look on the dad’s face made me nod. Been there. Done that.
I looked over at Christian and said wickedly, “We should bring our whole family here for dinner at 8p.m.”
Christian grinned. “Right before bedtime.”
“We should do it on Valentine’s Day!”
We both laughed, and Christian made an offhand comment about Facebook. Feeling tremendously witty, I went home and shared the little joke.
About an hour later I got to thinking: That wasn’t funny. That was tasteless. What sort of message am I sending? That my children are a bother, such a strain on my resources, that I crack jokes about inflicting them on other people, to help me cope?
Social media allows you to feel a sense of kinship with a million people when you honestly thought, from your husband’s reaction, that you were the only person in human history who was ever lousy and lazy enough to let your toddlers run around without pants on.
It allows you to cheer each other on and laugh until you cry at someone else’s struggles with parenting. It doesn’t substitute for sharing those stories in real, face to face communities, but it runs a close second.
But then I think of the people out there who are desperate to be parents. I think how much these stories, which are often told with an equal dose of humor and exasperation, can be like a knife in the gut. I used to feel physically ill when people talked about their children as if they were a bother. Facebook, at that time of my life, would have been a near occasion to sin. All those stories we like to tell about family life? They’re funny, but they also sound dangerously close to complaints.
It’s so easy to get so wrapped up in my own life, the sweet-and-salty mix of sharing family stories, that I come across as a jerk, complaining about the best thing that has ever happened to me. I remember a couple years ago, someone posted a status update that suggested kids must be a real pain in the ***, judging by how parents talk about them. I wrote an impassioned response (and so did a lot of other people). Only much later did I learn something that made me think that status update was born of pain of loss rather than an anti-child attitude.
And lest we pretend this problem exists only on Facebook, let’s be honest: we do this in real life, too. This is how parents talk about their families: with love and pride, sometimes, yes–but more often with humor and exasperation. How do we balance the need to laugh about real life with the potential to be a real jerk to those who would give anything–anything–to be plagued with exactly what we’re complaining about?