Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Expat Talk: Why I Signed My Parents Up To Social Media

Saturday. 6 a.m. I blinked awake. An email from my mother whooshed into my inbox and I opened it.

Subject: Instagram

Message: "When you were home and you signed me up for Instagram, you only had 322 followers. Now you have 332. Where did all these new followers come from? Are they strangers? Do you know them? Does this mean they can see all your pictures? I thought you said it was for private viewing only."

I groaned and rolled over on my side, covering my head with the duvet and dropping my phone on the floor in the process.

Let me back up a bit.

Technology has connected us in ways we never thought possible. And as an expat, it's been a lifesaver. I can now talk to my dad on Sundays "across the dinner table" ... except, he's eating breakfast and I'm cooking dinner. I can email a photo of a dress I'm not sure of to my mom in the confines of a dressing room cubicle and then call her (for free) to ask for her opinion.

Then there was that time last summer when I sat sobbing in a restaurant as a lump in my throat prevented me from eating my "final" farewell dim sum lunch with my parents before they took me to the airport.

"I-I-I ... miss youuuuu," I hiccuped. My dad looked at me with a mixture of pity and disgust (he doesn't do well with crying). "Stop crying," he ordered. "Jeez. You kids have it easy. In my time, when your mom and I came to this country for college? Calls were so expensive! I called Yeh Yeh [my grandpa] once a month! Heck, now you have FaceTime, Skype, all this stuff."

He paused to wrinkle his brow at me. "Now stop crying. Your face looks like a mess." I laugh-cried even harder.

When I started writing this blog, I intended to use it to help me decide whether I wanted to live in the US or UK. I highlighted all the cultural differences I could think of, while sprinkling in my two cents on a show I'd been to or a restaurant I'd tried.

Unintentionally, it's also become a way for my mother parents to keep up with what's going on in my life. So, why not go one step further and let them glimpse into my life via social media? I have nothing to hide (unlike my brother, who hesitated just long enough for me to turn down the idea when I brightly suggested that mom "follow" him on Instagram). Besides, it's so exhausting to recount all the activities I've done by email or send individual photos of my trips (or which shoes I'm wearing, which often interests my mother).

"You'll regret that," came a tweet from another Twitter user.

"Be careful what you wish for," advised another.

But a few days after Christmas, I took control of my parents' respective iPads and opened Instagram accounts for each of them.

"Look!" I said to my dad, who was peering curiously over my shoulder. "Now you can see all the pictures of my food, where I've been, and what I'm doing."

"Yuck!" he said, pointing to a black and white selfie. "Who's that?"

"Me, Dad."

"What's wrong with your chin there? That dark mark? Is that a zit? I don't want to see that."

I sighed and slammed the cover of his iPad shut. "Just check it regularly," I instructed. "I update it often."

Apparently, I'm not the only one whose parents now use social media to keep up with their expat children. Runawaykiwi's mother follows her on Pinterest and Facebook (rumour has it, she even reads Angloyankophile - HI REBECCA'S MOM! YOUR DAUGHTER IS AWESOME!).

"I had to have a steak at Mrs. Turner's [a local restaurant] last night because I saw your steak on Instagram," my mom wrote in her email this morning. "It was mouth-watering. See what you did to me by signing me up on Instagram?"

Of course, it hasn't always been smooth sailing: after I initially set my mom up on Instagram, I went to take a shower, only to come out of the bathroom to see that she'd left a garbled, unintelligible comment (comp@@lte with @typ@s) under a photo I'd taken of the shoes she'd bought me, claiming that my photo had not done them justice. She then accosted me FOUR different times that evening (and the next day) to protest the photo, insisting I take another. "I'm so mad at you," she'd huff. "Take a better photo!"

Or, there was her insistence that another Instagram user was "copying me" with her food shots.

"No one's copying me, mom," I sighed. "Everyone takes their photos like that."

"Hmph," she said in the corner, poking away at the screen. "Yours are better. Your pictures are so ... so ... enticing. They really make me want to eat the dish." (We won't get into the email exchange we had where she compared a blogger/journalist's writing to mine as "the difference between cheap and expensive cashmere". Oh, moms. They always have our backs.)

All jokes aside, I'm really, really glad my parents are on Instagram now and that they can see what I'm up to. I think (and I hope) that it makes them feel better connected to me, especially on a daily basis, and that my photos give them a glimpse into what my life is like here in London - particularly when it feels (and is) so far away.

And I'm proud of them for adapting and embracing new technology (although, yesterday I had a conversation with my dad on FaceTime that went like this: "Hey Dad, have you seen my Instagram photos?" "No ..." "Have a look at them now." "How do I do that?" "Open the app." "Oh, hahaha! Dorothy is so cute! And what is the steak? What is the apple thing?" "Okay, right, now return to FaceTime, Dad." "How do I do that?" "Touch the green bar at the top." "I'm touching it, it isn't doing anything." "Just press it once." "I'm rubbing it! It's not doing anything!" And so on, and so forth).

I'm working on Twitter and Facebook (I'm just afraid my mom may inadvertently get herself involved in a Twitter maelstrom).

Are you friends with your parents on Facebook? Do they follow you on social media?


  1. Funny post, unintentionally so or otherwise! I started my blog so my mum (my son's only surviving grandparent) could see photos of my son every day. Same goes for her FB account. Now she says things like, "Hupf, I seem to get all my news from FB these days!" (conveniently forgetting the FT conversations and the postcards and letters with photos included sent "just because"!!

    1. That's terrific, Ruth! And it's lovely that you have your blog on top of sending all the postcards and letters and the FaceTime conversations too. But it's a great way to keep in touch. Btw, I peeked at your Houston photos and it looked like you all had so much fun!

  2. Your dad sounds HI-LAR-I-OUS. "Yuck! Who's that?!" XD Between that and your mom being your personal hype-woman...your parents sound like so much fun hahaha. My mom was on Facebook before I left and we Skype a lot (or used to -- less so now). She reads my blog, too, and comments sometimes, which is nice. My grandmother is the one I worry about...she still calls Facebook "The Face"... >.>

    1. Gianni ... don't even ... you have no idea. It's somewhere between madness and hilarity in my household. "Personal hype-woman" had me cracking up to no end, though!!! It's nice to know that you also keep in touch with your mom through your blog. And, "The Face" ... hahahaha!

  3. This is brilliant! I have just got my Mum an Iphone and this morning she has been sending me emojis of animals :)
    It makes me feel so loved, and so proud of her.
    We're going to FaceTime later, and though I'm not an expat we do live at different ends of the country, so it's great that technology can bring us that tiny bit closer together - and also ensure I get my daily dose of rabbit emojis!!! x

    1. Amazing, Gemma!!! Emoji conversations are THE BEST. I used to almost exclusively use emojis to communicate with my mom when we'd chat on Skype. I think living apart from your parents (or at least, not in the same town), regardless of whether or not you're an expat, is difficult. x

  4. "What's wrong with your chin there? That dark mark? Is that a zit? I don't want to see that." I love your dad Jaime!

    1. Hopefully you'll meet him this year and he'll say something suitably embarrassing! x

  5. This was a great post! I already tweeted you about this, but I like this topic, so: my mom actually got Facebook before I did, though she didn't start using it properly until I moved country. I told her engagement with my page helped the posts reach people, so she likes ALL my posts. It's really sweet. I also got her an Instagram account because I wanted her to post pictures of my cat, which she's never done. She checks my Instagram on occasion, but she doesn't actually use it. Instead, she sends pictures of the cat... via twitter DM. Which is also the only thing she uses Twitter for: DM-ing me. She's not very private with her various accounts, so sometimes my sister or my father use them to communicate with me, and she found that twitter DMs were a little more private. If you'd told me last winter that I'd be communicating with my mom via twitter DM - which I used to hate - on a daily basis, I would have been utterly baffled. But here we are.

    She also reads my blog, which has been a little weirder - she uses google translate to understand what I post, and sometimes it garbles some things. But mostly I like to write really honestly and sometimes I worry her when I post about my depression. I don't talk to her a lot about it because it either saddens me or annoys me when she starts in with the bootstrapping, even if she means well. But I still feel a little stifled sometimes.

    It's worth it, anyway.

    1. Thanks, Lix! I look forward to reading your post. Thanks for sharing your experience with me.

  6. Oh, can I ever relate to this. Social media – especially when living away from home – is both a godsend and a nightmare. We could take this a step further and relate it to blogging. I think blogging about personal things has brought me closer to my parents in a way, because it helps them to see a side of me and helps them to understand feelings I have that I am, for some reason, comfortable writing about and sharing online but probably wouldn't just casually bring up to them over coffee. Somehow this third party platform frees me up to express myself in ways I didn't before. Does that make sense?

    But yes – back to social media. Sometimes I think my mom knows my Instagram friends better than I do, and that's a scary thing. (Warning – she definitely knows who you are, Jaime!)

    1. *turns beet red*

      And yes, everything you mentioned in your first paragraph totally, completely makes sense. I don't know about you, but I was 17 when I moved away from home to attend college at the opposite end of the country. In many ways, I feel like my parents still "know" the 17-year-old me. I often feel like I haven't grown up in their eyes. So yes, especially since some of my posts are so personal (and like you said, stuff I wouldn't bring up necessarily at the dinner table), I feel like blogging has brought us closer together.

      Thank you for such an insightful comment, Robin! You know I could talk to you for days on end about this stuff ...

  7. No need to turn red! Promise it's totally fine.

    And I feel the same way. Thinking about writing something on this soon – everytime I come home, often without Derrick because of logistical reasons (read: ticket prices and work schedules), I feel like I fall into kid sister mode, because that's always been my place in the family and because I also left home at 18 for school. It's weird and interesting and I'm guessing in some ways we all do a little of that.

  8. My mom is more active on social media than me and it gets a little bizarre. She talks about things I've never heard of (she was using snapchat before I'd even ever heard of it), uses an excessive amount of emojis and acronyms (I had to google "FOMO" the other day because she kept using it), and has a habit of sharing and retweeting things that make me cringe, but being so far away from home, I've enjoyed the connection it has given us. I still can't get her to understand that I can't see things on Facebook just because she can see them (she thinks if someone is HER friend, that they are automatically MY friend, too, because she and I are friends and "you're my daughter. I don't care if you see my Facebook!".....sigh).

    I AM really glad she uses social media though, because it's just so damn convenient for me to share things with her that way, but I do sometimes censor myself or hold back about certain things altogether because even though I'm in my 30's, I still don't want to disappoint my mom. HA!


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