Dear Ann Cannon • I love following dogs on Instagram, but since I got a puppy a year ago, the pet-stagram that used to make me so happy now makes me feel bad about my failures as a dog mom. I know social media presents a skewed perspective on everyone’s life, but how can I enjoy looking at other people’s adorable puppers without feeling bad about how my relationship with my pet isn’t as insta-worthy?
— Down in the Dumps
Dear Down • Your question reminds me of an experience our family had when the kids were growing up, so I hope you’ll excuse me for a minute while I take a little detour.
We acquired a dog in the hopes that she would teach our boys some responsibility. But what happened, of course, is that the mom (i.e. “me”) ended up learning some responsibility. I was the one who mostly fed the dog, walked the dog, picked up after dog and told the dog to get off the couch — or at least to get off the couch when we walked into the living room.
In other words, I was her selfless caretaker. But did she appreciate me? Did she even like me? Um, no. I was low human on that dog’s totem pole. She liked the mailman better than she liked me. I was wounded, frankly. Dogs — even dogs I don’t know — usually give me high fives. I’d never had the experience of a dog telling me to get out of its business, yo. The only reason I bring this up is to say that I feel your pain. Also, I’m guessing your dog likes you way better than my dog liked me. So take some comfort from that.
Which brings me to the REAL point I want to make. As you yourself have pointed out, it’s a mistake to compare your situation to the things you see on social media. Images — even the ones that purport to be “real life” — are always curated. Aggressively remind yourself of that fact every time you scroll through your Instagram feed. And if you still feel bad, delete your account.
Dear Ann Cannon • Our family has been going for many years on this multi-family camping trip in the summer. We were not part of the original group, but we were thrilled to be included a few years after the tradition started. Every family does not make it every year and the group goes from six families to 10 or 12, depending on the year. Our kids have all grown up together. As a group we have supported and celebrated each other through the turns of life, including graduations, car accidents, cancer, med school, aging parents, and deaths, and I believe we are all looking forward to weddings, grandkids and all the other accomplishments that life brings. It’s a pleasure to be part of this group.
But it is hurtful, really makes me feel bad, when some group members post things on social media, calling out just a few of the families as the important or best or the only ones that count. It makes me feel even worse when my adult kids see the same posts and ask me about them. It feels like no matter what our family does to contribute, we aren’t really part of the group. I know that I am not the only one that feels this way. I am tempted to say something, but to be honest I wonder if it is worth is.
Dear Hurt • Your question reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a young man. His widowed father married a woman who regularly expresses gratitude online for the fact that she and her new husband have at last (!) found their “soulmates.” While this young man wants his father to be happy, he frankly feels wounded by the implication that his deceased mother was somehow his father’s starter wife. The truth is that words — either spoken or written — can and do hurt.
Should you say something? I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t in your situation, although I’m not sure why I wouldn’t. Saying something may be preferable to letting things fester. If you do decide to say something, however, don’t do it online where things tend to blow up. Speak to individuals privately.