On Family & Facebook

Posted On: 09.20.12

I posted the following words over at the Huffington Post yesterday:

I have decided something. I will spring for a professional family shoot twice a year – once during the warm months, once during the cold. Admittedly, these sessions are always a bit torturous; the girls know they must perform and aren’t thrilled about it and I don’t blame them, but I am always thrilled with the results. Even though I’ve been known to snap dozens of photos a day with my iPhone, it is hard to capture all the girls together and happy, and impossible obviously to get a winner of all five of us when I am the one behind that little lens.

Our most recent shoot was in the middle of August and we went to nearby Central Park. I came armed and ready with outfit changes and candy bribes. While the kids were fresh, we plunked down for some family photos. There was some wrangling and tickling involved, but they came out great. One in particular was my favorite – a black-and-white shot of the five of us. I ordered this one immediately to send along to Middle Girl’s preschool teacher and class mom. And then I posted it to my Facebook page, too. I included a caption, short and sweet: “All of us. In Central Park.”

As soon as I posted the picture and the words, likes and comments started to roll in. More than I usually get when I post things.  I was in Santa Barbara when I did this, visiting my sister and her family, and I was supposed to still be unplugged, but no. I was plugged in, online. And I found myself checking my page every few hours to see if more friends had liked my photo, my family. This is something I’m not proud to admit.

All of this has me wondering about the connection between family and Facebook. I am certainly not the only one who delights in sharing pictures of my creatures with those whom I’ve deemed my “friends.” I am certainly not the only one who likes being liked. But I wonder what this is all about. Is it innocuous to want to show off our lives and our loved ones? Or is there something troubling here, that we are so hungry for approval, for affirmation?

A friend of mine and beautiful writer, Claire Bidwell Smith, wrote a gorgeous piece on photo-taking in her postpartum life. In this piece (also published here on the Huffington Post), Claire explores the telling disconnect between her happy photos and the often less shiny reality of life at home with small children. Her words are well worth a read and have me pondering as I write these, my own words, whether our instinct to plaster our pages with precious family photos is part of an urge to prove something to others and to ourselves? That we are healthy and happy and doing just fine?

All worth thinking about. But for now, I have upwards of fifty photos to sift through. How to decide?

After I posted these words, I wondered if I was too honest. Sure, I post photos of my family on my personal Facebook page because it is a nice and easy way to share them with the people in my life, to transcend geographical and existential distances. And I love seeing pictures of my friend’s kids. This is one of my very favorite aspects of Facebook; that I am able to glimpse the worlds and wee ones of my “friends.” But I think there is more going on here than simple sharing. I think, on some level, all of us (or most of us) are asking to be seen, noticed, applauded, affirmed. I think we are eager to curry approval for our choices – to commit to a certain partner or leave that partner, to enter a certain profession or leave that profession, to have a certain family or not have it. I think we are craving a thumbs up for the lives we have crafted for ourselves, the lives we have cultivated, chosen. I don’t think this is necessarily a terrible thing either. Just that we should be aware of what we are doing.

I’ve noticed something about myself. It is often in moments when I am a bit lost, scattered, or unsure, that I think to post a picture of my kids, or my family. It could be that these are the times when I am literally free to post, not physically immersed in the doing of a specific task – writing words, ferrying kids, eating a meal – and therefore I have the time and freedom to post the picture. But I think it is more than this. I think that when we feel uncertain or shaky, we are more apt to conjure and cling to the things we know are good and wonderful in our days, and to show these things off. When I am feeling gray, it helps me to look at pictures of my beautiful little girls because this snaps me from myself and I am reminded, and swiftly too, of my incredible bounty. Posting these pictures with witty words is the next step; it is an announcement of sorts – I am good! I am okay! Look at these little people I created!

This is not just about kids, and family. No this is about the things in our lives of which we are most certain, and most proud. This is about reaching for these things, treasured, triumphant, when we feel slightly out of step or overwhelmed or exhausted or any of the other countless things it is totally par for the course to feel day in, day out. This is about sending a message. To our “friends.” To ourselves.

So. Yes, it is about cute and funny and exquisite pictures. And, yes, it is about sharing and celebrating and glimpsing. But my feeling is that it is also about so much more.

What do you guys think? Do you think we all have different reasons for posting our pictures, for sharing our stories in such a public way? Is there such thing as being too honest about these things? Have you ever splurged on a professional photo shoot of you or your family? Were the pictures worth it in the end?

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Oh, and...

  • Photo Op Rocks! The above photo (apologies for the blurring; trying to keep the Husband and kiddos anonymous) was the fruit of our August photo shoot with a lovely photographer named Vanessa at Photo Op here on the Upper West Side. This was our second shoot with them and we will go back again and again because the pictures are that good. Thanks, Vanessa!
  • Drinking Diaries. Last night, after posting my 8 Things @ 8 Months update on my Year Without Wine, I found my way to a wonderful blog called Drinking Diaries through an interview on Gretchen Rubin's site. Check it out if you are interested in hearing others' drinking stories or sharing your own.



19 Comments for: "On Family & Facebook"
  1. I think this is something where you can’t necessarily make blanket statements because it varies wildly from person to person.

    One of the things that I’ve noticed is that those of us who are bloggers have a tendency to be a little more aware of what we post. When we’re on our own blogs, we’re trying to draw a response and build a readership from an audience of strangers. We learn to curate and present our lives in a way that’s pleasing for people to read and engaging so that they hopefully respond to us, or at very least continue reading.

    I know I personally approach Facebook (and Twitter and Google+ for that matter) in much the same way… I tailor my content for each piece of social media based on what I know my readership in each space will find interesting. I sometimes utilize privacy settings to shelter certain people from certain posts because I’d rather not deal with my Uncle Don who resides on the very opposite side of the political spectrum as me who has had a proven track record of not being able to keep it respectful. I see myself in a role as being a Curator of Interesting Content so I may influence others opinions of me in a positive manner and of the world around them. I’m acutely aware that I’m doing it. Whether or not that’s necessarily a healthy thing, the jury is still out…

    I’ve also noticed in talking to friends who are less Internet-ly involved that most of them don’t approach Facebook in the same manner. Many of them really are just showing cute pictures of their kids and reposting funny pictures that George Takei posted on his wall and songs that they like without overthinking it or seeking approval… They really do just use it as a platform for sharing with their friends.

    However, I don’t think your making this post on Facebook is too honest or irrelevant. I think it’s a good thing for anybody who’s using any sort of social media to at least be aware of and think about from time to time.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you for reminding me that we bloggers do think about these things, and approach them, a bit differently. This makes sense to me. And I like the idea that we are eternal Curators of Content. So true, right? But I am not sure that anyone is posting just to share. If we really just want our friends and family to see our kids, wouldn’t we send them a Shutterfly album? There is something about wanting to be seen in a broader sense. Or maybe I am reading too much into this and people are posting to FB bc it has just become so easy to do, certainly far easier than compiling a long list of emails, etc… Who knows. Yes, I do think it is important for all of to think about our social media usage, what our motivations are, how such sharing interfaces with identity, privacy, family, etc. Thanks so much for the very thoughtful comment!

  2. I loved this post, especially the line, “”I am good! I am okay! Look at these little people I created!”

  3. When I was preparing for my wedding, my mom told me to take a journal and write down all the good memories from that time. She said that in later years, all the stress and bad moments would still be with me, but the good moments would have faded. I honestly thought she was kind of crazy, but I did it. Eight years later, I remember every single frustration and stress from that time, and I have to go to that journal for the good memories.

    And for me, that’s why I post pictures and positive status updates – because my mind holds onto the bad stuff, but I need to capture the good with outside sources in order to remember. And I will go through old FB photo albums from back when my kids were babies and I was so exhausted and overwhelmed, and seeing the happy moments and re-reading the encouraging comments serves as a reminder to me that it wasn’t all bad.

    So it isn’t so much seeking validation from others as trying to hold on to the good moments when the bad (or even mundane) seems overwhelming.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I totally buy this. That we post albums and other things to be able to capture the moments that otherwise flee from us. I know that this is what motivates me so much of the time. But I guess my lingering curiosity is about the social aspects of FB and related media. We are not just memorializing these moments for ourselves, or tucking away memories we want to keep for our own future glimpses, but doing this for so many others, people we know well and those we honestly don’t know very well at all. There does seem to be some desire to advertise more widely moments of our lives. And this is not necessarily bad – I think it connects to a very human desire to be seen and appreciated – but I think it’s all worth considering…

      Thanks so much for your words today, Louise!

  4. Up until this post, I can’t say I put quite that much thought into WHY I post photos of my family. Sure, I post proud moments. But, I don’t shy away from the funny or embarrassing or even downright unhappy moments, too. When my son was born 9 weeks premature, I posted to Facebook and my blog as a way to tell friends and family that everything is going to be ok; I also posted out of sheer amazement that this kid who was robbed of 25% of his womb-time was doing it – he had plans that just could not wait! And, I kind of take that attitude with me to this day: “look at this kid, here he is doing it again when we least expect it – oh and he’s pretty cute, too, eh?”

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, Nilsa. For this comment. For reminding me that there is a very positive angle to all of this… How wonderful to be able to spread information quickly and efficiently to those that matter to us. How wonderful to be able to shout out and celebrate when good things happen in our lives. I guess I am finding myself more and more curious about the possible darker side to all of this, the motivations some of us might have for attaching ourselves so greatly to this medium. I am finding myself very interested in these questions about social media, how it eats up our time, how it affects the way we live, even our identity as people and parents. More posts for sure!

      • All very good and relevant questions to ask, Aidan. Definitely. Actually, your post stuck with me in the days after I read it. I wasn’t asking myself so much why I post certain photos or updates. But, I was asking myself why I’m “friends” with so many people on Facebook (454, to be exact). I spent a number of hours purging friends who aren’t relevant to my current life. It was such a freeing exercise. By the end, I still had 247 friends, but that’s over 200 fewer than where I started. Now, as I continue to post in a similar fashion, I know my audience is current and relevant to my life … there is purpose behind my audience. So, thank you for getting me to think about these things (I will be blogging about it later this week).

  5. Peggy

    Although I’m not on FB (I know, I know) I do love to share pics of my family with family and friends – and I love to hear their reactions as well. I love doing our Christmas card every year for that reason… and it’s exactly what you said – I am so proud of this little family we created – I want to share it with everyone I know!
    And yes, we get prof pics taken every year or two (just got some taken last weekend actually)… the kids are growing so fast and change so much… it’s nice to have each phase captured!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I would be so curious to know why you are not on Facebook? Is your decision to abstain a principled one, or have you just not gone there yet? I am encountering fewer and fewer FB holdouts and I am just wondering why you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon?? But yes, I think there is a natural (and wonderful) desire to share our families (and other good things) with those we care about. Thanks, Peggy!

  6. A commenter above mentioned blogging and posting pictures so she can remember the little moments later on in life. That’s exactly why I post pictures and blog. I want to remember these events later. Life happens so fast since having my third (have you felt this way too?) that taking pictures and posting them on FB or my blog helps it to slow down, in a small way.

    There is also something helpful about capturing hard days, funny quotes, or whatever in keeping the overwhelming feelings of mothering away. And it’s nice to know that other people appreciate your perspective or enjoy your kids’ hilarious quips about life. 🙂

    I also think every person approaches blogging and social networking in different ways.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Hey you! Yes, I think we all come at these things from distinctly different angles. And I very much believe that many of us blog and update in an effort to slow time and remember. Again, though, I am interested in why we do this in such a social and public way. If it’s truly just about getting things down to remember or look back upon, we could keep our photos on our computer and write our words in private word documents, right? So interesting to think about!! Hope you are well! xox

  7. I think social media has provided an extraordinary benefit to most involved and that is the ability to connect and maintain those connections to others for whatever reason we want. Some want the validation, some want the support and sympathy (I fall into this category), some want to simply brag about their beautiful children (I do this too). I feel so blessed that I have these outlets. I am physically so far away from any family and my friends are all busy raising their own families most of the time we connect is virtually. If it wasn’t for those connections I would be so isolated.

  8. Kristen

    Just playing catch-up on blog posts and this is an interesting one. I don’t have a FB account any longer so I’m not tempted to post any photos anywhere (10 months FB free and counting!). When I had an account I posted pictures for the wonderful and funny moments in my life that I wanted to share. However, I don’t think this is the case for everyone. I think it would be interesting to truly understand the real force behind people posting and sharing. I’ve often wondered if its more linked to the feeling of acceptance we receive via comments and likes than anything else.

    On a different note – I noticed your reference to Santa Barbara. My hubby is from SB so we are there quite often. (We were also married there, which makes the town extra special for us.) I love that town and we hope to live there one day.

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  11. About 10 years after my father died I found a few boxes of photos that he had taken over a 30 or 40 year period. Some of them showed my uncles and my dad’s childhood friends. He must have gotten his hands on his first camera when he was about 10. By the time he met my mom his shots were quite sophisticated. The pictures he took before they got married look like a fashion portfolio. Some of my favorite pictures are the family portraits that he took of my cousins and neighbors. He really knew how to capture the personalities of his subjects. These pictures bring back wonderful memories. But since he was always behind the camera, I don’t have any good shots of my dad and I.

    Hiring a professional photographer to catpure your family is a wise investment in memories. Future generations will learn their family history from these photos.

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