Care and Feeding

Can I Parent Without Facebook?

I hate the social media company, but how will I stay in touch with parents in my community without it?

A woman looks concerned.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have been disturbed by the recent steady stream of news headlines about Facebook’s apparent flagrant disregard for privacy. I believe that the only way to get Facebook to adopt higher privacy standards is for people to leave the platform. I was ready to do just that a couple of weeks ago. I downloaded all of my data and informed my friends that I was signing off. But in the process, I realized that I would be cut off from valuable parenting resources and connections. I can do without the friend updates in my news feed, but it’s harder to be cut off of the parent group for my daughter’s preschool, my new moms group, our town parents group, and of course, the Slate parenting group. My husband and I are still trying to make friends in our suburb, so I’m concerned that we won’t get notified of play dates, parties, and get-togethers.

What’s a mom to do? Do I value my parenting support and connections over privacy and ethical concerns?

—Digitally Divided

Dear DD,

Every decision we make can be considered as a matter of value versus cost. And if a decision is hard to make it is because the value and the cost appear almost exactly equal. You value privacy and good ethics, but fear the cost of losing connection with other parents. I cannot tell you which is more important, nor which should be more important. But what I can do is add some more information that may help you recalculate the value and cost as you currently see them.

You say that the cost of logging off of Facebook is that you’d miss out on parenting communities. But what if that were not necessarily so? Could you encourage the launch of listservs, Yahoo Groups, Google groups, or other communication methods within your parenting and preschool communities? If you feel strongly that Facebook is behaving in immoral and destructive ways (an argument I have no problem with), isn’t it possible that others feel that way? If they did, then wouldn’t the cost of leaving Facebook go way down for you?

You may even be the one that administers such a list. Admittedly this would substitute another cost in its place, the cost of labor. But my guess is that time is a cost you’re more willing to absorb than what you perceive as social access. Similarly, spending time the old-fashioned way can help you keep up with social events, birthday parties, gatherings, etc. Get people’s numbers and communicate with them regularly. Go to coffee and playground play dates with other parents and families. Call people, text them, hang out with them. Chances are you’ll probably learn about every community event you need to learn about if you do this.

There is, of course, the chance of complete failure. Maybe no one will want to join your stupid Google group and everyone will think you’re being ridiculous with your absurd fears about Facebook. At that point you return to your primary question. Is that cost worth the value you place on your morals? You know that you can survive without being on Facebook. You’re not going to die or lose your capacity to be a normal human being, even if you miss out on a few discussions. The question is are you willing to?

You can always try it out and see. Facebook allows you to disable an account without deleting it. Give it 90 days and see how it feels. And if, after all that, you find that you simply cannot live without Facebook, make a burner account just for parenting groups, and never download the app on your phone.

More Care and Feeding:

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband is a great parent who does dishes, cooks dinner, gives baths, reads stories in silly voices, and has a great time playing with our son. In general, he is a very smart, kind, and loving man. But he often has unrealistic expectations for our toddler and gets extremely frustrated when they aren’t met. For example, he gets upset when our toddler won’t eat dinner, wakes up at night, throws a temper tantrum, etc. He seems to have much less empathy for our son, who isn’t old enough to clearly articulate what is wrong, than he would have for anyone else in similar situations. Sometimes I think they are in a temper tantrum echo chamber, escalating and feeding off each other’s frustrations. Do you have any advice for healthy ways to deal with this? Before children, my husband was the calm voice of reason in our relationship, so I am baffled by this behavior.

—The Newly Calm One

Dear NCO,

Parenting unearths and dusts off our own long-buried insecurities, triggers, and bad behavior. It sounds as though your husband was never the calm one—it’s just that you’ve never seen his calm-guy act sufficiently tested. Toddlers are horrific, on this we can all agree. They are frustrating and nonsensical and incredibly inconvenient. However, anyone who is consistently meeting toddler behavior with anger probably has his own things he could and should be working out.

I’m assuming you’ve talked to your husband about this, and if you haven’t then you should. I wonder if he recognizes that this is a problem, or if he feels he’s being perfectly reasonable. That is a key difference. If he doesn’t recognize yet that this behavior is a problem, then that would be where you need to start. He needs to recognize that he’s having anger issues and he needs to do something about it. He must see that his frustration is a personal issue rather than a toddler issue; otherwise, there is nothing to keep him from feeling that acting out of this frustration is justified, and that’s where it all goes wrong. After that it’s pretty close to mandatory that he look into therapy or counseling. Not because he’s broken in some way, but because he’s having an issue with emotions and he needs a place dedicated to working out such issues. That is literally what therapy is for. You have an issue with your transmission, you go to a mechanic; you have an issue with your emotions, you go to a therapist.

Our impact on our children begins at the very same moment they do, and our behavior around them creates consequences far greater than most of us think possible. Kindness and consistency are non-negotiable rules of engagement. Of course, we all struggle with them, and, of course, children are terrible, but we must all return to those rules over and over. Good luck.

Dear Care and Feeding, 

I am struggling to know the right way to discipline my toddler. He’s nearly 2 and just recently has begun absolutely raging when he does not get his way. Today, when it was time to come in from riding bikes to have lunch, he raged so hard he threw the couch cushions off the couch and actually broke a dining room chair after slamming it on the ground. 

He is normally a gregarious, happy boy. He has always, in my opinion, “felt” deeply, and he has always been an excellent “communicator.” We’ve never wondered if he’s happy or sad about something! 

We don’t yell in our family, and while expression of feelings is definitely encouraged, we don’t allow our kids to scream, yell, or hit in their anger. 

We also have a 4-year-old daughter and did not have this issue with her. Any advice on how to show him love, while disciplining the destructive behavior? I feel as though I cannot allow him to “win” those destructive moments, but I’m struggling to find the balance.

—Mom in Minnesota

Extra Care and Feeding

“I struggled with anorexia and bulimia as a teenager and young adult, and continue to struggle with body image now. So I’m hyperaware of how we interact with my daughter around meals and snacks. My partner has no trouble telling her she doesn’t need a snack 30 minutes after she’s eaten a full meal while handing over a yogurt tube to our son because his dinner portion was much smaller. I’m constantly afraid she will interpret this as ‘my parents think I eat too much’ or ‘my parents prefer my brother,’ and we will all wind up in family therapy for a raging eating disorder.”

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Dear MiM,

First of all, I want to assure you that even though it doesn’t seem like it, your toddler’s rage a) is perfectly normal and b) has nothing to do with your parenting. One of the things that makes being 2 years old so hard is that you feel everything, but you’re not in charge of anything. And to make matters worse, you have no idea how to communicate your feelings to any effect.
So yeah, it’s perfectly normal and appropriate for a person having such an experience to freak out now and again.

Your kid has discovered the tool of anger. And it has the dual effect of making him feel better and more powerful. This is wonderful! I’m happy for him! It’s just that he doesn’t quite know how to operate this new power safely. This is nothing to fault him for, just as you wouldn’t fault him for falling down when he was learning to walk. What you would instead do is gently, patiently, and consistently guide him until he did it right. That’s not a perfect analogy, of course, because watching our kids toddle doesn’t invoke the kind of shame or fight-or-flight response we feel when our cutie pie is tossing folding chairs like a WWE heel. But in every other way the analogy is apt. It just means that you have to manage your own emotions before you can effectively manage his behavior.

But once you do that, the first key is communication. Tell him what he’s feeling: “You are very angry because you wanted juice and I didn’t give it to you.” This helps give him words for his experience that he can use next time. And the second key is consistency. “We don’t hit/yell/throw things when we are angry. It hurts other people and makes us all unhappy.” Then you can remove him from the situation via timeout or some other means until he’s had a chance to come down off of the anger high. You do this every time, until he starts to do it himself.

It may feel frustrating and fruitless (and silly) to be speaking so calmly while furniture is flying. But the intent of this approach isn’t to instantly fix your son—it’s to facilitate and maybe even speed up the growth your son needs to move past such behavior altogether. This is a longer-term task but still, within the scheme of things, not that long. If you find that after six months of this consistent approach, you’re seeing no change at all, then maybe it’s indicative of a larger problem in your son’s emotional growth, which would be something to talk with a pediatrician about. But that’s rare and highly unlikely. At this point, what you have on your hands can safely be considered normal toddler behavior.