The One Thing Moms Can't Curate To Look Perfect Is Their Relationship
"Why don't you post more couple photos on Instagram?" a friend recently asked over coffee and muffins. "You guys are such a cute family." Although I had never actively thought about it before, something often keeps me from sharing pictures of or captions about my husband online. And it's not just me. By and large, our Instagram feeds are full of smiling babies, and the odd selfie of mom + baby, but rarely photos of the partnership behind that child. There have been a lot of conversation about the way moms curate their online lives to look perfect, but I suspect part of the reason we don't see partners in those feeds very often is because we can't, and don't want to, lie about our relationships.
Marriages and partnerships are, yes, put under a lot of stress by the arrival of a baby. Researchers have found that the drop in relationship satisfaction for couples with children is double that of child-free couples, according to Fortune. But most of us recognize that there will be ups and downs during the adjustment to a new family structure. I'm certainly not scared of talking about my relationship, but when it comes to social media, the urge to over-share (be it positive or negative anecdotes about my relationship) has never been as all-consuming as the urge to tell people about my outfit, the excellent meal I ate, or my thoughts on the latest Jane The Virgin episode. And I find myself wondering whether this is because I have strong feelings regarding lying about my relationship on social media.
All of it feels like a surefire way to potentially trigger not only my followers online, but my own kids if ever they come across those posts later in their lives.
At this point, you're probably asking yourself the obvious, "Well, why would you need to lie?" I wouldn't necessarily intend to. On a good day, I'd probably just want to share a picture of my partner and our daughter and bore my followers with a speech on what an amazing dad he is. I'd talk about how much joy he brings our kid, and how much support he offers me. I'd tell you he's my best friend, because he is. On a bad one, I might complain about how infrequently he dusts our home, or his inability to get to the point of a story in less than 20 minutes, or his perpetual tardiness.
None of this would be an overt lie, but it would feel like a half-truth nonetheless. It almost always feels like I'm leaving out the whole picture. Like focusing on the good is an unfair, rose-tinted-glasses-esque depiction of my relationship, and focusing on the bad is a disservice to how much I actually appreciate that relationship. As for focusing on both, that might feel like a lie to whatever feelings I'm having in the moment. And all of it feels like a surefire way to potentially trigger not only my followers online, but my own kids if ever they come across those posts later in their lives.
In terms of the former, the truth is that social media can be both a haven and a hell. For every moment of community and validation often comes another of comparison and self-doubt. For some of us, it doesn't take much to begin to feel like we're doing something wrong, be it dressing wrong, or interpreting a movie wrong, or even going about this whole motherhood thing wrong.
Relationships can be difficult to navigate at the best of times, no matter what they look like — but the last thing I'd want to be responsible for is making any fellow mom feel like her relationship (or lack thereof) is flawed because it doesn't look like mine. Offering half-truths and incomplete pictures about my own always makes me feel like I'm poisoning the well. Like I'm saying "this is what a good partner looks like" or "this is what a bad partner looks like," and swaying people to interpret their own relationships in the same ways.
There's already so much cultural conditioning out there that tries to do this. Be it messages that suggest mothers shouldn't date at all, or those that claim mamas shouldn't participate in any relationship that is not strictly monogamous and heteronormative, there are already plenty of toxic ideologies following us around constantly; making us believe that we are failing our children by prioritizing our own needs or making time for a romantic life in the first place. Unless I can be sure that what I'm posting won't be construed as a prototype for relationships, I'd usually rather just opt out.
Then I have my own kids to think about — kids who I may hope to politically or morally guide along the way, but who I would really rather not wholly influence or brainwash. I'll obviously try my best to ensure that my daughters know what a wonderful father they have, but I want them to come to their own conclusions about us as they grow up. Lying overtly about my relationship on social media feels like a betrayal not only to my partner, but to their developing perceptions of their dad. Lying subtly, or posing half-truths, honestly doesn't feel much different.
I'd never want to frame my relationship as something aspirational or condemnable.
I don't want to have to tell my kids to praise him for playing with them for hours on end. I don't want to have to tell them that he's doing a good thing when he cooks for the family, or a bad thing when he leaves dirty socks on the bedroom floor. I don't want to ever make them feel like I only loved him on some days, and only hated him on others. I don't want to make them feel like relationships are ever that black and white, romantic or otherwise.
I guess what it comes down to is understanding that my interpretation of a good relationship will never be the same as anyone else's. There will be common threads, of course: Obvious red flags most people would be quick to chastise in a significant other, and perhaps equally obvious things we'd be quick to celebrate. I'd never want to frame my relationship as something aspirational or condemnable, though. I'd rather feel how I feel about it, and hold onto it as something private, precious, and ours.
Lying about it, or using social media to frame it as just one thing for the purpose of a curated, likable post, feels like a surefire way not only to affect fellow mothers' perceptions of relationships, but my own children's perceptions of their dad.
At the end of the day, our romantic relationships are our own to figure out, to cultivate, or to leave behind. They don't have to be public domain. And they don't have to be utilized to judge others or, perhaps worse, to force those others into harshly judging themselves.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.