Shilling-dren: A Photo-Bomb Life Lesson

Three years ago, I splashed this message across my social media:

“FUN FACT: A child is not a commodity.”

Fast forward…well,  three years.

I’m on a Mommy/Kiddo date with my kid, Skylar, today. Buckling Skylar Astrid into the car seat, one of the first questions I ask is, “Hey, can I take a picture of the two of us heading out on our date?”

Skylar says no, I let it go, and we head out.

We go to the library because I’m the proud parent of a total pop-your-collar-level-geek-in-training. No shame. We embrace our weird, geeky personalities, and we have fun. It’s been an hour in the library already—we’re killing it, right? We’ve colored cardboard houses, run up and down the aisles pretending they are secret passageways, played music training games on the computer, practiced the alphabet, hopped into a fort-tent contraption, and piled our arms (well, my arms) high with books. True story: it’s a blast.

About the time Skylar is scrawling secret messages and spells on scratch paper from beside the computer catalogs, I bend down and ask yet again, “Can I take a picture of the two of us having fun in the library?”

Skylar says yes. Yet, by the time I pull the camera up, flip the camera into selfie-west (that’s what the “S” on the map stands for, right?), and go to click away (likely in some annoying, accidental “burst” of photos), Skylar doesn’t want to take a photo anymore. The hands go up to cover the face. Murmurs of “No…I don’t want to take a picture” escape from behind those tiny hands.

I put the camera down. I’m disappointed. I want the world to know how much fun we’re having, how much Skylar is loving this, how special the date is, etc.

In this moment, I remember my social media declaration from three years prior. I remember that I said children are not a commodity. When I said this, I know my head was in a different place than during today’s date with my kid. I was thinking about financial implications surrounding children—it seems implausible that a person could ever attempt to make money off their children given the outrageous cost of raising one, but that’s where my head was at then: people doing everything they could to “make money” off of simply having a child.

It irritated me. It irritates me still. I know I should suspend judgment, and I do try, but I admit: It irks me. It’s irksome.

Yet, if I’m going to let treating children as a commodity irk me, I should let my own behavior irk me, too. What happened on my Mommy/Kiddo date today is not quite the same, but it is quite the same.

Here I was, doing something I often do: trying to show off my kid via photographs (that always, always, always end up on social media).

Given a commodity is a product that we trade, sell, or buy…this might seem a strange parallel to make, but it’s not. With parenting, our children often become a “product.” In the case of the behavior that originally irritated me and sent me to social media to express my outrage, parents often let their children become a “product” in the sense that they use their support of the “product” to justify receiving something in return—a trade.

While my intentions were genuine on this date, the moment I began asking Skylar to take photos with me, knowing I would post them all over social media, I participated in the same type of behavior: I shifted my child from simply “child that I love” to “child/product,” and though it is far more subtle than seeking some type of financial gain, it is still altering my child into something inferior for my own gain.

What do I gain? Ah, well, that answer makes what I was doing even more foolish—a couple of “likes.” A retweet or two. A “heart” on Instagram. In the case of turning my precious Skylar Astrid into a “product” by “selling” the photos that prove how much fun we were having, how much Skylar was loving it, how special the date was, etc., the only real return is the gratification of other people’s reactions online.

Wow, I feel like such an idiot.

It’s human. In our hyper-connected society, at least. In our platform society, at least. And the truth is, I know that even though I caught myself today, I will fall into the trap again.

Parental pride is normal and acceptable. Wanting to “show off” your kid comes naturally when you’re a parent. I’m not denying that. I am not encouraging us parents to go on a photo strike or stop telling others how much we love our kids or how much our kids accomplish.

I am simply reminded not to fall into that trap as often. I am simply reminded to take photos to cement memories rather than to perform for the world around us.

And I encourage you to remember, as well. After all, your kid is worth so much more than that.

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