Life : Maternal Controls : Helen Razer’s Status Anxiety
Throughout the spin of any given news cycle, you’re bound to bump into a headline about parents and their concerns for kids use of social media. Of course, this fear is healthy and makes seven kinds of sense and I recommend covering children in hand-sanitiser and chaperoning them on Facebook until they’re thirty-seven. (NB: Before you phone the Welfare people, I am childless. This is probably for the best because GET YOUR GRUBBY HANDS OFF MY PRECIOUS SON YOU DIRTY GIRL.)
We hear so much about how to control our offspring on social media yet so little advice for that other errant terror: parents. As I recently learned, parents can get into all sorts of peril the minute they discover the ‘like’ button.
A few days ago, I saw that Francis Bean Cobain had made the news. Now, as one who executed a (very ungainly) dive from a stage on which Nirvana was playing back in 1992, I’m always very keen to hear about Kurt’s daughter. Sadly, the news wasn’t good. Poor Ms Cobain had real troubles thanks to her mother’s use of social media. Courtney Love, to whom Cobain Jr. refers as ‘my biological mother’, has long been known for her, um, spirited use of social media. Even back in the dim days of AOL, Love was an eager participant in a then emerging media and was lauded for her, um, feisty offerings in ‘chat’. Of course, an unfiltered medium with a near-limitless audience like Twitter was always going to appeal to this, um, energetic soul and Courtney took to it like a duck to vodka.
Many have earned Love’s scorn but few, I imagine, have been hurt by it so keenly as her daughter. When the Love imagination determined that Dave Grohl, former Nirvana member and a person against whom she has made financial claims, had ‘hit on’ her daughter, the Love iPhone lost no time in committing this to Twitter. ‘I hear from Frannies roommate that @davegrohl hit on Frances, and that she was curious, I’m not mad at her, him I am about to shoot, dead’ she offered. Nice. Grohl denied the claim unconditionally as did Cobain whose suggestion that her mother should be ‘banned from Twitter‘. Frances, I feel ya. The MINUTE my mother joined Facebook, it was trouble.
Like many folks over 60, my mum has no great erudition when it comes to social media. And this is fine; she’s very good at real social interaction and a good many other things. That she had managed to actually open a Facebook account, albeit one that featured the back of her sofa as a profile pic, at all was astounding. That she has all her privacy settings switched off was not surprising, but it was something that needed to be fixed. So I set about telling her how to fix these things by phone. That was my first mistake.
‘I don’t know how you find the time to learn about all these websites,’ she said. ‘It seems to me you’d have more important things to do.’ Anybody fluent in the language of Mother will know that this translates to “You are a great professional disappointment. Also, where are my grandchildren?”
I have a difficult relationship with my mother and I have learned through the years to just let this stuff slide. I accept that she needs to criticise me and I also acknowledge that even the slightest hint of criticism from me, such as “we need to fix your privacy settings so you’re not telling the entire eastern seaboard about Aunty Cath’s prolapse”, will be met with great defensiveness. Anyhow. Once I’d explained that I knew Facebook so well because, yes, I was a total failure and changed Mum’s profile pic to a flattering photo rather than the back of the rumpus room couch, it was all okay.
Until she discovered Facebook Chat.
‘It’s your mother.’
‘I know you’re there.”
That I was not, in fact, there but inconveniently off for a moment earning a living was something that she chose to take personally. ’Well, you always seem to be on Facebook,’ she said when I called later, ‘But apparently you’ve found something more important to do.’ Anybody fluent in the language of Mother will know that this translates to ‘You really don’t care about anyone but yourself. Also, where are my grandchildren?’
There were other problems. I’d post links and mum would take them personally. I’d appear in the ticker and she’d remind me that “Your Father is Very Ill”. Like any user of reasonable experience, I put Maternal Controls in place and customised my mother out of anything I thought might upset her; a precaution I recommend to everyone. Anyhow. We managed to stay Facebook friends.
Then one day last Spring, my partner, who had also befriended my mother, announced our household decision to quit shopping at Coles and Woolworths and all their sister companies for a year. This ended up becoming an epic thread with lots of our friends suggesting ways to survive outside the duopoly; we even planned a vege-swapping scheme. It was really helpful and one of those online experiences that remind you just how awesome FB can be.
112 Comments in, my mother pipes up and says, ‘So, I take it you no longer want me to send the gift card from Bunnings that you requested for Christmas.’ Which was quite funny. Both my partner and I said ‘NO WE WANT IT WE”RE HYPOCRITES’ and the conversation continued with other FB friends about ethical, small business shopping and then my mother, the thread killer, offers ‘Hope none of these major corporations ever offer you work & then discover your distaste for them’ and brings it on home with a little bit of ‘I don’t know how you find the time to discuss your socialism on Facebook’ which, as anybody fluent in the language of Mother will know, translates to ‘I despise you. Also, where are my grandchildren?’
I tried to call her to try to forestall a possible flame war and, baby, I find myself in an inferno. Now, I won’t give you the entire Frances Bean ordeal but let it suffice to say that my partner of thirteen years turned purple and began to shriek ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’, I received an email with the subject heading ‘You are MAD’ and my mother and I, while still nominally Facebook Friends, have not spoken in several months.
Learn from my example. And if not from mine, then learn from Frances Bean’s. Mums and social media are, at best, an unstable mix and, at worst, a blast of toxic bile.
Twitter, Facebook. Lord knows, probably even Foursquare; they can all be catalysts for the great maternal explosion. I’m yet to hear of a mother-daughter Pinterest fight. But it’s only a matter of time.
Helen Razer is an occasional broadcaster, frequent writer and incessant yabber-pants. Follow her on twitter at @HelenRazer or read her blog Bad Hostess.
Is your mother on Facebook? How’s it working out for you?