Parents are constantly shamed for their choices. From how we feed our children to how we educate them, everyone has an opinion. The result? Moms and dads feel endlessly judged for the choices they make — even if they have no other options. This week, families around the country are sharing their inspiring, funny, honest, and heartbreaking stories with Yahoo Parenting in an effort to spark conversations, a little compassion, and change in the way we think about parenting forever. Share your story with us — #NoShameParenting.
I stood on the side of the pool one day this summer with my mother-in-law as my three children — 7-year-old Olivia, 6-year-old Max, and Charlie, 4 — splashed at our feet. That’s when a woman, who appeared to be whispering to two other women, caught my eye. She made a beeline right for me and was walking with such gusto that I just knew she was coming to critique me on something: Something I did in an episode of Jersey Belle, perhaps? Or something I said in my most recent #cawfeetawk digital series?
But when she got to me, she took a deep breath and I saw tears fill her eyes.
“I just want you to know that my father is dying — he’s dying in hospice right now,” she said. “And your videos of Charlie are the only thing that make my mother smile.” Then she threw her arms around me and sobbed into my shoulder as she thanked me. The whole incident lasted a minute, maybe two, before she collected herself and walked back to her friends.
It was an incredible moment between two strangers. But when I turned to my mother-in-law, she was unfazed — and, instead, shot me a disapproving look. The videos the woman had referred to are nightly conversations I film with Charlie, my youngest, and post on my Facebook page. And like other people close to me, my mother-in-law is concerned that I’m guilty of “oversharenting,” or sharing too much about my kids on social media — especially since my posts are seen by so many: Perhaps 100,000 people watch my children’s videos on any given night, and the comments of appreciation are in the hundreds. Strangers who feel like friends have stopped my children in supermarkets and on playgrounds, supporting them through various milestones and triumph-over-trial experiences.
I never meant for it to happen this way.
As #cawfeetawk grew in both viewership and popularity, so did the number of videos with Charlie and, on the rare occasion that they feel up to it, my older two. In fact, the issue most people had was that it appeared I “favored” Charlie — when, in actuality, I just listened, as my older two no longer found as much enjoyment in the nightly ritual as Charlie did. People responded to Charlie’s silly sense of humor and godly approach to kindness. I started to see the joy she brought to others, and it felt good to share that.
The author and her family. (Photo: Jaime Primak Sullivan)
I understand that making the decision to share my children on social media is not one that everyone agrees with, or would make for their own family. I’m careful in what I share — leaning toward things that other parents can relate to or find moving — and I take caution about not posting anything that might embarrass or subject them to ridicule. And I never post if they ask me not too.
People often ask me, “Aren’t you afraid of what could happen?” But the truth is, I’m not a hundred percent sure what I should be afraid of. Most fears about sharing my children on social media — such as the risk of cyberthreats (they’re too young to have social media accounts) or their physical safety — are unfounded. Research shows that there is virtually no risk of pedophiles coming to “get” kids that they’ve seen online.
The other concern people seem to have is for our future relationship. They ask, “Aren’t you concerned they’re going to look back and feel violated that you shared so much?” My answer: “Maybe?”
I am not denying that, to some degree, there are risks associated with both of these fears. It’s just that I don’t find them especially alarming — not any more alarming than, say, allowing my son to play football or go trick-or-treating at night, or allowing the girls to have sleepovers or ride their bikes in the street. Most things our children do come with potential risks: We can either put our fear and the potential risks to center stage and allow our lives to be controlled by them, or we can focus on the joys those activities also bring and hope for the best.
You can line a hallway with parents and be hard pressed to find two who make the same exact choices for their children — about diet, sleep habits, technology use, religion, or anything. These are our given rights as parents, as is my choice to write about and share my children on social media. I enjoy connecting with other parents and staying connected with family and friends far and wide. In sharing our parenting experiences, and our children, by extension, we learn what works and what doesn’t — and we make new connections and find support in places we never could have before.
I spent years focused on the bad in the world, protecting myself from potential threats lurking behind every corner. But that is not where I am anymore, and not how I want my children to be. Instead I teach them to look for the good, seek out the beauty, and focus our energy on being the change we want to see in the world. I am proud of my children and all their accomplishments. I feel blessed that a giggle from my little ones can lift the hurting hearts of so many — and that when Charlie looks at the camera and reminds them that God loves them, and that she does too, she means it. —Jaime Primak Sullivan
(Top photo montage: YouTube)