A few years ago, my husband bought a t-shirt that read, “May your life someday be as awesome as you pretend it is on Facebook!” We laughed and laughed.
Just about anyone with an active social media account can relate to that phrase, because we all have one or two friends whose posts seem out of touch with their actual lives. I still see the humor in the statement on that shirt, but lately, the truth behind those words really resonates with me.
Since joining the special needs community, my social network has grown exponentially. In an effort to find education and support following my daughter’s autism diagnosis, I have become an active member of several virtual communities. Where, before, I primarily used Facebook as a means to exchange casual updates with family and friends, now I find I utilize most of my time online engaging with other parents of children with special needs. These exchanges via social networking were what inspired me to share my journey through my blog.
I have committed myself to being candid about the experiences I share. I’m open in sharing about the challenges my family has faced. However, there is underlying positivity in nearly everything I write. I use my voice to show others how each challenge has been an opportunity to learn more about myself, and a chance to find strengths I never realized I possessed. While my experiences are unique, my point of view is not. Most of the other parents I’ve connected with in special needs communities utilize social networking the same way — to encourage one another and build each other up.
Sometimes, though, I believe we build each other up to a fault. When members of our communities express self-doubt, we rally together to remind them of the countless ways they are stronger than they realize (or believe). While such vehement support is needed at times, it can cause us to embrace a sort of “superhero” identity. When 50 people regularly remind us “we’ve got this,” we tend to believe them.
The problem is, we’re not superheroes. We’re parents, and all parents, whether they have children with special needs or not, are human. Sometimes we don’t “have this.” Sometimes it’s all any parent can do to clean up and get their children to bed before we break down and cry. We spend so much time reminding each other of our strength that we start to forget that it’s perfectly acceptable to break down.
The other day, scrolling through my regular newsfeed on Facebook, I broke down. I dropped the façade of the superhero mother who is completely at peace with her child’s autism, and realized I was human.
All it took to bring me back to reality was a simple post, another mom describing in detail how articulate her child (who is the same age as mine) is. I became angry and judgmental — the very things I have consciously tried to overcome. I unfollowed her and texted a mutual friend, who commiserated with me. It’s what I needed at that moment. I needed to realize that even though my daughter is amazing and I accept that she has delays, sometimes it’s going to hurt to see that some other children her age function on a different level.
Once the moment had passed, I reflected about the raw emotion that post brought out in me. The mom who shared it isn’t one of my closest friends, and I don’t see her regularly. It was easy for me to use her as a scapegoat. Was it fair of me to do so? Absolutely not. I recognized that, while the majority of her posts are centered around her child’s accomplishments, her intention was not to brag. She was proud, just like I am of my daughter’s achievements, which I frequently share. It’s all about perception.
What I gained from this experience was simple insight. Facebook is merely a highlight reel of one’s actual life and should be viewed as such. In failing to remember this, we are approaching it defensively and inviting others to offend us. A person is no more at fault for sharing her child’s accomplishments than I am for blogging about my challenges.
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