Time for confession— I take far too much pride in my son. It is sinful.
I am a realist and know the day will come when he is a preteen and will get a little sulky or awkward. He’ll hit a growth spurt and seem to be a little out of balance and proportion as his body develops and sheds the baby fat and his pure “cuteness” fades. The day will come when I know the pain of rejection as he differentiates into an independent person and rebels in adolescence. I even know that I will be disappointed one day by the brokenness of his humanity as he makes mistakes and wanders into sin of his own.
But for right now, I gaze at him constantly and hear, seemingly on repeat, the chorus to the 1980s hit “Every Breath You Take” by Sting’s band, The Police. In case this ear-worm doesn’t immediately come to mind, let me paraphrase, “Every breath you take, every move you make… every step you take, I’ll be watching you.”
It’s not just watching, though; it’s welling up with pride and admiration for him, for my wife who birthed him, for me who contributed my DNA and time forming him into the little boy he has become. I delight in every small milestone and step. My son is adorable, precocious, and just the love of my life. His teacher says he is “the easiest kid in class,” and then with a fretful glance warns, “you won’t get this lucky again.” Every time she says it, I don’t fret the thought of another child, I delight in the near perfect one I have.
The truth is, pride in our kids is both good and natural. This is not the sinful nature I’m confessing. We made them. We are actively forming them to be great humans. And along the way, we get to see accomplishments big and small and know we are on the right path. I would venture to say most pride grows from the strong and normal parent-child bonds that develop from the moment of birth and continue to develop throughout each stage of their lives. Without the pride and joy of parenthood, would we willingly do the hard work parenting often requires?
Our pride is healthy for our kids, too. We want our children to be proud of themselves and develop healthy self-esteem and positive self-images. Expressing our pride is how those traits develop and get maintained, especially in young children. The wider culture will chip away at their self-esteem and self image, and we want our kids to be resilient enough to survive the bullying, rejection, or failure that are common experiences of growing up. Expressing our pride a way of armoring our children against the brokenness and temptations of the world and preparing them for the journey to adulthood.
Recently though, the expression of my affection and pride in my son is downright sinful! That’s right, SINFUL!
I am envious (another sin) of those who did not parent in the era of social media. I believe it must have made avoiding the sinful nature of pride easier to avoid. The sin of my pride is that I along with many parents today are curating an image of our children’s lives and accomplishments that is largely false. In doing that we are harming each other and, most importantly, our kids. A quick scan of my Facebook and Instagram accounts proves that I have posted over 200 images of my son in various states of blonde-haired, blue-eyed adorableness, as well as a handful of videos of his precociousness, as he was speaking in whole sentences before 18 months, and is surprisingly talented at remembering lyrics to every song he has every sung.
Not once though, have I posted a video of his sometimes violent screaming temper tantrums. Neither have I posted a picture of the incredible messes he makes on a daily basis, or the fact that he can get filthy without leaving the front door. I am quick to share a funny quote he makes in the carpool line, but never the atrocious language he picked up from hearing me have a little road rage on the way to daycare one morning (oops!). The same can be said for almost every parent I know. We are arranging and curating the lives of our children, and beaming with pride as we strip the humanity and balance from the story of their young lives as seen by others.
The consequences of this selective disclosure are real, and we are setting up even more severe consequences for our children down the road. We increasingly live in a parenting world of incessant competition, diminished empathy, and creeping ableism. The cycle begins with a few posts in our newsfeed from fellow parents, and we feel compelled to join in the community, with carefully selected artifacts of our own children’s lives. It is an offering of refined adorableness. After a while we begin to think kids should constantly be adorable, happy, and witty, for that is all we see of the kids around us.
The hard work of parenting feels all the harsher in contrast to these carefully selected moments. We look at our own little ones and ask: Why is she crying so much? Why can’t he stay clean like other kids?Is she normal when she isn’t counting by two and sight-reading by three? What is normal? The chasm between perception and reality grows, and so we work harder to keep up appearances. Resentment soon follows. Maybe even anxiety and worry. We soon close ourselves off from understanding the uniqueness of the little people in our care, or worse push them to conform or perform for the sake of appearances— “cheer up”, “smile”, “say cheese.” Kids should be bright and adorable all the time, we think. Why isn’t mine?
To the parents coping with disability or significant behavioral or developmental challenges, the gap widens further. Before we know it, we planted the seeds of ableism. My kid will never meet the standards or norms of others and so they are not as good. Those seeds planted by our sin will be harvested in the generation to come. Unrelenting and unrealistic standards will lead to discrimination in the age to come when kids begin to expect the exceptional and adorable to be the norm. The sinfulness of pride is when we get trapped in this cycle, or some variant of it.
Social media tools are so helpful in connecting families and friends across geography and time. My parents live a couple of states away, and, up until now, have largely known their grandson through video calls and social media stories, with only a couple in-person visits a year. We give thanks for the technology of connectedness that allows them unprecedented access to their family, and the experience of seeing their grandson mature. But there has to be a better way, a holier way, to use the tool for good, and end the cycle which damages our sense of normalcy.
One strategy to address the problem I’ve recently begun to utilize is to ask why I am posting. Is this post to connect me or to compete with someone or something else? Is this post bragging in any way? Is this an accurate expression of our family’s life? Do we think he’ll be okay with others seeing this picture or video on the internet when he is in high school?
The practice of asking about intent or consequences is something Jesus did repeatedly throughout his ministry, as a way of teaching his followers to examine their own hearts. (Matt. 20:21, Matt. 22:18, Mark 10:51, John 1:38, John 5:6). As disciples in the social media age, building on Jesus’ own example in the Gospels and learning to mindfully ask some version of “what do I want?” or “why?” before posting or sharing content, especially related to our children, I believe to be a sign of Christian maturity.