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Facebook and the rise of competitive parenting

First Published      Last Updated Oct 30 2013 09:48 am

Recently, one of my Facebook acquaintances posted a photo of her driveway, where her not-quite-3-year-old daughter had just written her name in sidewalk chalk (in the caption she'd mentioned that she had set a goal that her daughter would learn to write her name before she turned 3).

A few days later she posted a picture of her daughter in a beautiful homemade Halloween costume – complete with handmade tutu and ladybug wings.

And then there are the regular pictures of the five-course meals she whips up – featuring things like crab-stuffed Portobello mushrooms, shrimp ceviche and mojito cupcakes.

With each update I find myself feeling both impressed and deflated.

Lily, who turned 3 last month, gets distracted and frustrated any time I try to get her to create recognizable letters, shapes or pictures. And her name is just four letters long! And most of the letters are just straight lines! (My friend's daughter's name is considerably longer, with more complicated letters).

Between the two girls, housework, cooking, freelancing and my lack of sewing skills, there will be no hand-crafted Halloween costumes. Lily will wear a store-bought princess outfit, and she's decided 18-month-old Jovie will be a bunny (note to self, shop for bunny costume).

And while I'm not a complete failure in the kitchen, the typical meals I make would be better suited for an Old Country Buffet than a five-star restaurant.

With this always-open window into the lives of others, Facebook often leaves me feeling like a domestic dud.

And I'm not alone.

A study released in August examined how Facebook affected how users felt moment-to-moment, and how it affected their overall satisfaction with life. Researchers found that the more participants used Facebook, the worse they felt about their lives.

Another study conducted by two German universities found similar results.

"We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry," researcher Hanna Krasnova from the Institute of Information Systems at Berlin's Humboldt University told Reuters in January.

And headlines about the ubiquitous social network are often bleak:

"Is Facebook making us lonely" The Atlantic asked in May 2012. And in January of this year, Time wrote, "Why Facebook makes you feel bad about yourself."

I didn't need to read that last one. I know why Facebook makes me feel bad about myself: I'm not eating gelato in Rome like my single "friends" or sharing tales of my kids' amazing feats like my mom "friends" or posting updates about my latest career successes like my working "friends."

My Facebook wall is a collage of domestic unrest and dishevelment. Lily throwing a tantrum on the garage floor. A story about my dog wolfing down two sticks of butter from the kitchen counter and then vomiting all over our living room carpet. Jovie's face covered in frosting from a chocolate doughnut.

Logically, I know that my life isn't all outbursts and puke. While they probably won't be vying for admission to an Ivy League university at age 12, the girls are smart, sweet and silly. Martha Stewart would not be impressed by culinary prowess, but my husband and kids seem to like it just fine.

When I close my laptop and leave my smartphone behind, I think I'm more satisfied with my life. It's when I start that obsessive scrolling that my anxiety levels rise.

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