By Lisa Sadikman
The two separate emails bearing good news landed in my inbox within hours of each other: my fifth grader had placed third in a national foreign language poetry contest while my eighth grader snagged an honorable mention in a city-wide creative writing contest. In the overload of work, news, advertising and school-related messages, these messages were a welcome break. My girls are loyal friends, strong students, engaged in their community, play sports and instruments, but it’s not every day they’re recognized for their efforts beyond our household.
A big grin spread across my face, a bursting with pride kind of grin. I didn’t even know they’d entered their respective contests. Growing up, I’d always been too shy and nervous to enter competitions outside of the classroom. Not only was I proud of my girls for placing, but also for having the confidence to compete.
Working at home, I had no one in real life to share the news with. I immediately texted my husband, who responded with “awesome!”, a thumbs up emoji and “in a meeting,” which meant our joint kvelling would have to wait until he got home. Still bursting, I went to the next best thing: Facebook.
I swiped through my photos looking for a recent shot of the girls. These days, my tween and teen daughters immediately approve or ban photos on the spot, assuming that between social media and my blog, their faces will show up online somewhere at some point. I wrote a lovely status update that started out with “So proud of these two!” and went on to list their awards, tagged the organizations that sponsored them and ended with a few witty hashtags. Just as I was about to share the post with my 800-plus Facebook friends, I hesitated: was this the work of a proud mama or a boastful parent?
There’s a fine line between being proud of our kids and bragging about them. Pride keeps the accomplishment firmly in their own hands, where we can honor it from a distance. It also feels more private. Bragging, on the other hand, is a more public endeavor. When a parent brags, are they attempting to somehow transfer a little of their child’s shine onto themselves, to, in a way, take credit? I wondered if by posting my daughters’ achievements on my Facebook page I was in fact co-opting their accomplishments. Even worse, would my pride devolve into a kind of virtual bragging, a common status update to be measured in likes and comments?
Perhaps I hesitated because I rarely share my kids’ accomplishments on social media. As a relatively sensitive person, I worry about being perceived as a braggart, plus who beyond immediate family and close friends really wants to hear about my kids’ kudos? Instead, game winning goals are cheered on the sidelines. Recitals end with applause, big hugs and a video sent to the grandparents. I’m incredibly proud of my kids in these moments and I share that pride with them as it happens and relatively privately. In that setting, my girls happily receive the praise. I’m not so sure how they’d feel about the news going public, even though it’s positive.
I realize many people regularly share their kids’ accomplishments on Facebook and other social media. Everything from “Look who tied her shoes herself this morning!” to “Look who ate Brussels sprouts for the first time!” to “Look who got accepted to MIT!” show up in my daily feed. While I love catching up on how my friends’ kids are doing, we can all sense a difference between sharing and boasting.
Posting about the developmental milestones of younger children feels like a natural chronicling of everyday life—a function social media serves well—and less like bragging. Depending on how skilled the poster is with their words, sharing the achievements of older kids, like getting into college or being awarded a prize can also feel warm and fuzzy rather than self-congratulatory. It’s when people post about a child’s particular genius or prowess, or are constantly posting about their child’s achievements, that it begins to feel like it’s crossed the line.
For younger children, having their faces and activities pasted across the Internet mostly happens without their consent. I certainly didn’t ask permission from my then two-year-old whenever I posted a photo of her. It’s different now that my two older daughters are 11 and almost 14. They both have Instagram, the teen has a Facebook page and we all follow each other. It’s unlikely that a post I make involving them will go unnoticed. As they travel through adolescence, I want to make sure I use technology to stay connected to my girls, not alienate myself from them. Posting about their triumphs might be seen as embarrassing rather than cause for celebration.
Or, maybe publicly announcing my children’s achievements online is just another way to let them know how proud I am of them—even if it’s “just” third place or an honorable mention. In a culture where it seems either coming in first is all that counts or everybody earns a trophy, I want my daughters to realize that their effort and commitment are important, no matter where they place. I want them to know that I notice their hard work and value the pluck it takes for them to put themselves in the running. If sharing their accomplishments online reinforces that, then I’m all for it. In the end, I waited until my girls came home from school to ask them what they thought about me making the post. After reapproving the photo and reading through the text, they both agreed it could go live. My older one even let me tag her.
“Thanks for posting that mom,” she said the next day. “It got like 120 likes. You must be pretty proud.”
Lisa Sadikman is a writer living in Northern California with her husband and three girls. You can read more about her adventures parenting a teen, a tween and a preschooler, managing marriage and living a grown-up life on her blog, Flingo.