Not Without My Daughters – A Social Media Adventure
As she approached her thirteenth birthday, my daughter, P, expressed interest in getting on Facebook. She had an email account, all she needed was my permission. Consumed with the details of managing my new life as a single parent, I pondered over her innocuous request.
Until then, I had been the strict parent, enforcing rules about meals, bedtimes and homework. Now I was the only one. I did not prescreen the books she read nor did I insist that she share her email password. We spent all our free time together. I agreed to let her get on the little known social network.
It would be a decade before I would understand the impact of this decision.
P’s devotion to Facebook rose in tandem with Facebook’s popularity. Despite attempts from well-meaning friends, colleagues and acquaintances to get me to sign-up, I preferred to watch the social media madness from a distance.
From learning the ropes of renting a home as a single mom to buying a car, there was enough ‘real world’ stuff going on in my life. Scrolling through pictures of romantic dinners, expensive shopping trips, and holidays to exotic destinations were of no value or relevance to my life. My to-do list was long. Time was short. Plus, P thought I was ‘cool’ for not spying on her like other mothers. Cool is equal to knighthood when voluntarily conferred by your teenage offspring.
Choosing to live in incognito mode meant losing out on connections with old neighbors, school friends, and people who had moved away to other countries. Social media algorithms were smart. My friends swore by its ability to dive into its vast archives to bring forth genuine pearls of connection to treasure. Reluctant to admit my marital status, reveal the state of my finances (or lack thereof) or the true state of my mind, I preferred to keep a low profile, rather no profile. If someone was looking for me, they would have to find me the old-fashioned way. In person.
I arrived early at terminal 1 of Mumbai airport one evening, having completed my work ahead of schedule. As I walked around the surprisingly empty corridors, I heard someone calling my name. Fifteen years after our last meeting, two decades after we left our high school, I ran into a dear friend. We hadn’t needed the internet or a social network to collide in real time. As we excitedly caught up on the intervening years, I missed my flight. But I reclaimed a friend.
As P grew out of her teens, she spent less time with me and more on virtual worlds, away from my direct scrutiny. Occasionally a friend of mine would find her online and enquire about me. She didn’t mind conveying infrequent messages, content in the knowledge that I would never be curious enough to get on social media.
After our move to Singapore, P spent a semester in the Netherlands as an exchange student, exchanging the local sultry weather for a snowy landscape, or more accurately, exchanging my money for a good time. The physical distance between us didn’t bother me. We had been a mother-daughter duo in India during her early teens. After I married a widower with a young daughter, we had moved to Singapore while she was in her late teens. She had adjusted pretty well to the changes to our family life over the years, I figured she would do well on her own with remote supervision.
“I know what P is doing in Amsterdam, you won’t like it,” N, my younger daughter teased me one day.
N had shown no interest in joining Facebook when she turned thirteen. She chose Instagram instead. A reminder that in these fast-changing times, a five years age difference translates to a real generation gap.
Considering P’s first choice for a solo sojourn abroad was a country with very few, if any, restrictions, a part of me was tempted. But I had ignored suggestions from other moms who had recently advised me to get on Instagram at least, to track P’s movements (and missteps) on another continent.
“No,” I replied.
My trust had to transcend this easy sneak peek. If P chose to dabble in behaviors I did not endorse, it was her choice. My getting on social media could have the opposite effect of making her devious. Unknowingly, by ceding parental control early on, I had delegated the entire responsibility of managing her reputation to her.
The sisters kept tabs on each other despite the distance and difference in time zones.
“Do you know there is a boy in N’s room?” I got a bemused message from P one afternoon while I was on an overseas holiday with my girlfriends. Hubby was in charge of the home, and one daughter. He knew. Or so I thought.
My cheeky daughters used Instagram to rile me by sharing snippets of tantalising information about each other. I preferred to let the girls figure out how much of a trail they wanted to leave in the digital space.
I still held fast to my no social media policy. Until a year ago.
All children think their parents are behind the times. But I had the worst timing. My interest in Facebook coincided with Mark Zuckerberg’s fall from grace. As long-time loyalists plotted a mass exodus from the evil network, I asked P if she would help me get Facebook.
My request was not triggered by a midlife crisis, but a long standing dream to become a writer. If I was serious about it, I was told that talent, while necessary, was overrated. What I lacked was what mattered the most. A platform.
Since my target reading audience hangs out on Facebook, I needed to be there. If I wanted to gauge interest and gain loyal followers, I would have to take a leap into the murky waters of social media using Facebook as my springboard.
P was kind enough to not laugh at my request. She helped me set up an account, assisted with uploading posts, and setting up events. She has also warned me about creeps and the dangers of accepting random friend requests. The initial hand-holding process has lasted one year. I know this because Facebook sent me an anniversary reminder last week.
In twentieth century India, my parents claimed that one needed to have children to take care of you in your old age. In the twenty-first, I can safely say that I need my children in midlife itself, to navigate the challenges of the digital world.
My foray into the rapidly changing social media scene has just begun. I have figured out Facebook, or so I think. In the interest of growing my author platform, I am told it’s time to get on Instagram now. I think I can do it. But not without my daughters.
N has agreed to help, on the condition that I promise not to get on TikTok!
Photo credit Ranjani’s archives