Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Facebook, Emotions, and Parenthood

Why “How are you feeling today?” isn’t an easy question to answer

Not too long ago, Facebook started asking me how I was feeling. I thought it was a little awkward, as Facebook can’t really do anything about my feelings.

My Facebook friends, however, can do something, and I guess that's the idea. But, truly, why would I share my feelings on Facebook?

I ask that question as someone who's been blogging about technology, emotions, and mental health over the past four years, advocating for living authentically online. Lately, though, my perspective has shifted.

I became a parent two months ago. Life with a baby is filled with millions of tiny moments, some amazing and most mundane. What I share on Facebook about my life with my child doesn’t begin to capture the reality of my life, nor my feelings about it.

I can't always share the little moments in a short, witty blurb, with a photo attached (because I'm tired, not able to be witty, and forget to take the picture, or because my feelings about my child aren't easy to summarize in a short, witty blurb). Sometimes, I worry that I'm risking comparing my child with others (cardinal sin #1 of parenthood). Other times, like when I'm counting the "likes" my posts have received, I wonder if anyone cares (because I remember how I felt about kid-related posts before I became a parent and my entire life became kid-related).

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Though just about everything I've put on Facebook since my son's birth has been about him, I really haven't said very much about how it feels to be a parent. I’ve entirely left out any commentary on topics that are front-and-center in my life, like how I feed my baby, where my baby sleeps, and how having a child affects my relationships with other people.

These days, I exist very inauthentically on Facebook. The “me” you see on the social network is a tiny slice of the me you’d get in real life.

I’d venture to guess that this is the case for many others, parents and non-parents alike. Yet the power and ubiquity of Facebook as it relates to our emotions and our identities is extremely strong.

Are we who we say we are on Facebook? And why should it matter?

This past weekend, I ran into a fellow new mom at a party. As we talked, she commented on my "Facebook persona." The phrase stuck with me, as it sounded like the person she was standing next to was different than the person she saw online.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that was the case. I'd been curating on Facebook, creating a reality that wasn't, well, real.

If I didn’t professionally think and write about these issues, I’m not sure it would have bothered me as much as it did. But, because I do spend time thinking about how Facebook affects mental health, I was very bothered by what I realized I was doing. By leaving out the less-than-fun, even ugly, parts of my life - as a parent or not - I’m “Fakebooking,” using the social network to create a nicer reality than the one I truly experience.

By doing so, I don’t make it easier for people who are struggling with the difficult realities of new parenthood to find support. I don’t present myself who is someone who’s in the same struggle. And I may contribute to isolating those who are struggling as I avoid talking about how hard it is to be a new parent.

I see many parallels between living authentically online as a new parent and being open and honest about other life struggles. Are there inspirational or model ways you’ve seen people align their “Facebook personas” and their real lives? How do you think “Fakebooking” affects emotional health?

Copyright 2013, Elana Premack Sandler. All rights reserved. 

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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