I’m from a huge extended family, so I spent most of my formative years changing diapers, cleaning up vomit, chasing after younger cousins and listening to my aunts discuss the highs and lows of parenting. By the time blogs and social media gave moms new platforms to discuss how much fun potty training isn’t, I’d already heard enough for a lifetime.
Babies whose diapers I had changed as a teen are now adults planning their own weddings. By now, there is no exploding diaper story that can surprise me. That's why I couldn't understand why anyone bothered sharing these tales with the world on Facebook. I couldn't care less about all the parental overshare that's frequently lampooned on sites like STFU, Parents. Nor did I care to debate over whether the children of these parents would be haunted and embarrassed by their online legacy when they hit middle school.
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Then I became a mother myself. Not to a newborn, but to a 13-year-old girl who’d spent most of her life in the foster system. With my bad back and knees, I just felt better suited to dealing with emotional meltdowns (many teens in the foster system are traumatized) than crawling around on the floor and playing with Legos. My husband and I visited with our soon-to-be daughter — we'll call her 'S' — for four months before she moved in with us, and the adoption wouldn’t be final until as much as a year later. Until she became legally ours, I would be required to protect her privacy by the State of New York. Friends and family were kept informed on a need-to know-basis. If something in S's background became relevant, we could mention it — for instance, we banned talk of dieting in her presence because she hadn’t always had easy access to food.
But online sharing was a different matter. I followed the example of other moms of kids from the foster system. I didn’t share S's name or picture on my blog or Facebook. I only wrote about the few things that could’ve happened with any kid, like the clothes shopping trips in which she insisted that any pants that weren’t skin tight on her ankles were too loose.
Then things started to get messier than a toddler with a stomach virus. Part of me wanted to vent to the world, but I kept it all to myself. I had to. The idle threats, the violent tantrums, the 911 calls — I wasn’t allowed to write about them publicly because my blog isn’t anonymous. I was able to discuss things with the few people I was able to see between all the meetings with social workers, but my dentist wasn’t really the person I needed to be talking to about all this — and neither were the Facebook friends I hadn't seen since high school.
Three months after she moved in, it became clear that staying with us was not in S’s best interest. Even the social workers who had hoped she’d settle down finally admitted the situation was unsalvageable. Two weeks after she left, I published a short post on my blog letting people know that things hadn't worked out for reasons that were personal and private. This was the first indication most of my friends had that there'd even been problems.
My family had fallen apart, and it had been a secret.
But it had all happened to me as much as it had happened to S. It was my story as much as it was hers. Unable to share such important events in my own life as much as I would have liked to, I now understood why moms are so eager to share every little detail.
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New parenthood is an isolating experience, no matter what age your bundle of joy is. Your entire life undergoes a massive shift as you adjust to the new normal. There's no time or energy for socializing whether you're being held hostage by a tiny newborn who can't sleep for more than three hours at a time, or an older child pitching a fit because you won't let her eat an entire package of pepperoni for lunch.
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