If I were a kid today, I’d probably be the subject of my mother’s Facebook posts. In the spring, during the very hours birds build nests and pollen clogs the sinuses, schools everywhere frantically pack in every event, concert, graduation and award ceremony possible before the end of the school year.
It’s a family’s most exhausting time of the year. It may just be Facebook’s busiest time of year, too. If I were a kid today, my own face would appear on Facebook dozens of times this month.
And I’d be horrified. But not for the reason you think.
Sure, there’d be some “oh MOM!” embarrassment, and maybe more than the usual amount of worry that my friends would see me in unflattering photos, my grin appearing above the NHS certificate or below the mortar board of my eighth grade graduation costume.
Deep down, the source of my horror would be the fear that my next action–more likely abandoning my cereal bowl on the counter than finding a cure for cancer–would be unworthy of a brag post on Facebook. With my adolescent (or younger) level of development, I may even wonder if my parents love me for the person I am, rather than the things I achieve.
I mean, I can’t ALWAYS be achieving. Right?
American culture embraces achievement. We are the sum of what we DO in life, not who we ARE as human beings. It’s not a huge boost of self esteem when mom, the very stronghold of no-matter-what love and pride, falls victim to keeping up with the Joneses in the offspring-achievement stakes.
So what impact does our culture of achievement have on my emotional wellbeing? Far from the desired effect of helping me set and reach goals, it can make me one stressed out person, indeed.
Christine Carter, Ph.D, a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, refers to a scientific study from Columbia University when she commented on her site, “kids whose parents over-emphasize their achievements are more likely to have high levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse compared to other kids. It’s easy to do. Look at what you hang up in your house. Listen to what you tell your parents about your children.”
And I’ll add this: pay attention to what you post on Facebook, because I’m watching that, too.
While the internalized response may not be quite the same, all of this applies to adults, as well. I met with a close friend yesterday who, in her forties, recently transitioned to a well-paying position at one of America’s largest companies. After 15 years at home with her kids, during which time she was busier than ever managing her home, meeting the needs of several leadership-level volunteer positions and working part time for the family-friendly flexibility (read: low pay) it offered, she’s returning to a career that will make more tangible use of her STEM degree.
HER mom’s comment on Facebook? “We’re so proud of you.” To my friend, this translates into “Finally! You’re doing something we can brag about to our friends.”
With knowledge that the situation is complex, my friend wonders where was her mother’s pride when she made the conscious choice to devote her attention to raising her children? Was it any less an achievement than managing consumer goods production schedules for close to six figures? Was it “too ordinary” to be worthy of pride?
As much as we love high achievement, we crave drama. It’s not so interesting to gush about how wonderful our kids are when they do the little stuff, like listen undistracted to a story from our everyday lives, or save a worm from center-of-the-sidewalk dehydration by moving it to the safety of the grassy earth, or even grapple with the decision of which series to binge-watch next. Yet it’s the everyday things that make us who we are, not the “Best Of” awards.
Mom, if I were a kid today, I’d want your pride and your love everyday, achievements or not. In other words, be proud of who I AM, not what I DO.