The Susan Phenomenon (or why social media makes modern parenting much harder than it needs to be)


Susan’s baby on the left, everyone else’s on the right.
​There’s a strange phenomenon I’ve noticed as I’ve tried to navigate the adult world. I first encountered it when I got engaged and planned a wedding, and it’s only grown more pervasive in my life since I became a parent. It’s this constant, invisible pressure to do things a certain way, not because it’s organic or feels right, but because you feel like you should. It’s a nagging tug that follows you around your day to day life and grows even more pronounced on special occasions like birthdays or holidays, a little voice in your head always full of suggestions for how to not simply live your life, but create Moments, beautiful, perfect, curated social media ready Moments. And there’s a checklist of them, things or events you feel pushed to accomplish but don’t really know why.Here’s the thing. It’s hard to be an adult. It’s hard to be a parent. It’s hard to be a mom. No matter what. No matter when. But in 2018, it’s gotten exponentially harder to do these things. And I’ve finally come to the realization that we can blame it all on Susan. Or rather the Susan phenomenon.

So here’s what I think happened, the mythological origin story of why modern parenting has gotten so unnecessarily complicated, the reason we all have glue gun burns and raging caffeine habits. It all started with our friend, Susan, circa 2010, right at the birth of Instagram and Pinterest.

Susan is that woman, that mom. We all know a Susan. She’s an over achiever, but makes it all look effortless. She only needs 3 hours of sleep a night (4 if she’s really feeling tired). She went to culinary school, did a stint as a pastry chef in Paris, and has a masters degree in nutrition with an emphasis on toddler diets. She studied child development and psychology, has an education degree, and worked for years as a teacher’s aid at a Montessori school.

Susan is an expert in calligraphy, photography, and basic ceramics. She can embroider a pillow, sew a dress, and knit a blanket. She knows how to whittle figurines out of wood, cut glass, and use a table saw. She is a whiz with chalk paint, and can refinish any piece of furniture in a single weekend. Susan doesn’t just have a crafting table. She has an entire crafting wing of her house and spends the majority of her salary at Hobby Lobby and A.C. Moore.

Susan LOVES a chalkboard paint moment. Half of her house can be drawn on with chalk. She has a cookie cutter for every occasion, including Arbor Day and  Columbus Day. Susan has an Etsy shop where she sells her own screen printed shirts along with inspirational quote paintings (did I mention that she is an excellent water colorist?).

Susan never misses a volunteer opportunity. She is the class mom every year and brings all the snacks for her kid’s sports teams. She LIVES for DIY. She has a freezer full of homemade casseroles and a refrigerator full of pre-prepped nutritional and delicious meals (toddler and adult versions of course). When her kids were babies Susan made all her own baby food, even if it meant hours of steaming and pureeing vegetables.

Now that her kids are older Susan still makes all of their meals, and they typically have a rotating theme. She sends them off to school with healthy “bug” snacks made out of celery sticks, grapes, and pretzel antenna or packs spooky halloween lunches with mummy hot dogs (organic, turkey dogs of course). She makes her own lunchables, packed in adorable little bento boxes, and never stops for fast food.

Susan makes EVERYTHING herself, from play-dough to bath bombs to matching bridesmaid caftans. Even if she is just a guest at your wedding she will come with an emergency kit stocked with needles, thread, and back up lace (that she researched specifically to match the bride’s dress, just in case).

If you have a headache, Susan has an aspirin. If you feel sick, Susan will be right there with the Pepto or Tums. She remembers EVERY occasion, from her first kiss with her husband to the birthday of your cat (and you better believe there will be a homemade, cat themed cake delivered to your door every year, complete with fondant kittens and chocolate catnip). Susan LIVES for a countdown, whether it’s to a baby’s birth, to Christmas, or to national sibling day.

When it comes to Christmas, she is Buddy the Elf. Her house turns into a magical winter wonderland that makes FAO Schwartz look bush league. There are trees in every single room, each with its own theme. There is a train set and full scale replica model of snowy New York City that she put together by herself the night before (remember she only needs 3 hours of sleep, 2 during Christmas time), a massive Christmas village (which she may or may not have made herself  in one of her pottery classes), and heaping plates of homemade sugar cookies everywhere. She doesn’t just get her kid’s pictures taken with Santa at the mall. She rents out Santa (and not like a grody, weird old Santa with a fake beard, but a magical, warm Santa who may or may not actually be from the North Pole) for a full day and using her own camera, takes loving, perfectly framed and lit images of her children and Santa cuddling by the fire that would make a grown man weep.

Susan doesn’t throw regular parties. She throws elaborate, extensive theme parties that make the MET ball look like a hick barbecue. She spends as much time planning a 2 year old’s birthday party as some people do their own weddings. Every year has a new theme, each more elaborate than the last, and a month out from a party Susan pretty much stops sleeping entirely because she is up all night hand carving tiny wooden bats or pruning miniature bonsai trees to give out as party favors.

Susan gardens extensively and sources her own vegetables all summer long. She can roast a perfect chicken and has a fabulous little recipe for homemade lavender ice cream to go with her famous chocolate cake. Her house is always clean but she never seems to be cleaning. Instead she spends her days on the floor with her kids, wrestling and exploring and creating, all with perfect hair and nails.

Susan makes her kids’ halloween costumes every year. She also hand monograms every single Christmas and Easter outfit, each one carefully picked out and stored in tissue paper months before the actual holiday, never the night before in a rush because she completely forgot. In fact Susan never forgets anything or does anything last minute.

Susan spends a lot of cash at Nordstrom and Restoration Hardware, but she also loves an IKEA hack. She has made stunning, museum quality furniture out of items named VLERG and NERDORF. Oh did I mention Susan dabbles in interior decorating? She mostly does it as a hobby, but occasionally consults on a project or two. Her house has been featured on (a dozen) home tours and in several national magazines.

Susan always has fresh flowers in her foyer. She arranges them herself, because she had a brief stint as a professional florist. She can also make wreaths and garlands, using leaves from the huge magnolia tree in her backyard mixed with some fresh herbs from the living wall in her kitchen she designed herself. In addition to the flowers, there are always multiple candles strategically placed throughout Susan’s home so it never smells like dog or baby poo, even though she has 7 kids, 3 dogs, 2 cats, and a bird.

Susan has a killer laundry and mud room. She installed the cubbies herself. And then engraved them. She also tiled the floor.

Susan’s children are never bored. They are always engaged in developmentally appropriate sensory play, thoughtfully running their little hands through moon sand or rainbow oats or feel frames.They don’t watch TV. Obviously they don’t even own a television.

Susan has it down, all of it. She loves this stuff, deeply down to her soul. It fulfills her. It brings her joy. She’s good at it. And there’s nothing wrong with it. I would never begrudge Susan her life’s work. That’s not the problem.

The problem, is that back in 2010, before we all knew what a Pinterest board or Instastory was, Susan took a liking to social media. She began to share scenes from her insanely perfect life, and because they were so beautiful, other people started to share them. And then more people not only shared them but tried to emulate them. There is more than one Susan out there. In fact there are a lot of Susans, and more and more Susans shared their elaborate gender reveal parties or customized bridal party favors. On and on it went, like a giant snowball. And 8 years later, we have suddenly found ourselves in a world where everyone (or at least a lot of us) feel like we need to be just like Susan. Instead of being the exception, Susan’s life has become the standard we are all supposed to attain. Her mark is everywhere.

It’s because of Susan that we feel the need to have gender reveal parties where we are showered with pink or blue glitter from above or set off giant pink or blue smoke bombs or shoot our spouses in the face with a pink or blue paint gun.

It’s because of Susan that women feel the need to ask their friends to be bridesmaids with proposals that are often more elaborate and complex (and expensive) than the actual proposal of marriage.

It’s because of Susan that we feel the need to hire professional photographers to document EVERYTHING IN OUR LIVES, from our pregnancies to our newborns to our second pregnancies to our second newborns to our child’s 8 month birthday. We can’t just go to Sears and get a nice little studio portrait, even if deep down we know that’s what we want. We have to throw down several hundred dollars to stroll through meadows and pretend to laugh and talk like we’re on a Barbara Walters special, even if we’re threatening our toddler under our breath because they keep kicking us in the shins between set-ups.

It’s because of Susan that we can’t just buy a yellow sheet cake with vanilla frosting, order in some pizzas, inflate a few balloons and have a birthday party for our kid. Thanks to Susan there has to be a THEME. And we have to commit to that theme, even if it means we are going to spend hours of our lives decorating cookies to look like elephants or turning our yards into petting zoos. We can’t just give our kid a slice of cake. It has to be THE SMASH CAKE. So we either spend a lot of money or spend a lot of time baking a miniature (on theme of course) cake, buy specific decorations for the kid’s high chair, dress them in an elaborate outfit, hire a professional photographer, all to watch a one year old put their face in some icing (or burst into tears because their parents have made it into such a pressurized MOMENT that the poor thing can’t handle the stress).

It’s because of freaking Susan that we are supposed to bring elaborate favors into PRESCHOOL for every holiday (even if a kid is more likely to eat a hand crafted President’s Day card than look at it).

It’s because of Susan that Elf on a Shelf has turned from a cute thing that some people do to a MANDATORY LIFE EVENT that will scar your child if he or she misses and basically ruin Christmas. And freaking Susan took it up several hundred notches by planning elaborate new “tableaus” for her elf every day that involved hours of planning and storyboarding (Susan is also an amateur director and writer, so she has a lot of creative energy to get out). And Susan’s elf has to bring her kids toys and treats and books every day, so now you have to buy presents for the weeks leading up to Christmas and not just for the day itself.

And speaking of Christmas. Have you ever found yourself furiously searching online for matching Christmas pajamas for your kid or rushing around to different stores a week before Christmas? Have you been incredibly stressed out over these pajamas, to the point where you feel like the success or failure of your Christmas literally depends on your baby and your toddler wearing matching striped footies? Susan.

Same goes for the “baby going home from the hospital outfit” phenomenon. Susan has made us all feel the need to be Kate Middleton, only there is no paparazzi waiting outside to take our pictures. No one cares what our babies are wearing. They are going to poop on that outfit. Possibly within moments of putting it on.

We can also blame Susan for those monthly baby pictures and the entire Etsy industry that has cropped up to sell creative signs to display how old the baby is. Same for pregnancy updates.

Oh and you know how everyone has to come up with a super cute and charming way to announce they’re pregnant now? One word. Susan.

Let me pause for a moment to say that none of these things are bad or stupid or wrong. I know I sound super mean and judgey, and I’m not trying to do that. Because you know what? I have done MANY of these things. But the reason I wanted to write this was because I finally realized that half of the things I’ve done as a parent so far are because I really wanted to do them, and half are because I just feel like I’m supposed to do them for the photo op. And that’s a really stupid reason to stress yourself out. Life is stressful enough without all this pressure to create perfect moments to share on Instagram.

If you do these things because you want to do them or because you think it will make your kid happy that’s fabulous. You will not hear a bad word from me. If planning an elaborate themed birthday party brings joy to your soul, go forth and do your thing. If taking professional photographs of your family every few months is near and dear to your heart, and you love it, and you love the result, God speed.

I only have an issue with the times that we do these things not because they make us happy or because we really want to do them, but because we saw that Susan did them and feel like we should too.

God love Susan because women like her do really exist. And honestly, we all have our Susan moments. We all have our things, whether it’s crafting or baking or coming up with games or taking gorgeous photos. And we should embrace those things we’re good at and that we love.

But we also should really evaluate the other stuff, the things that make us curse silently under our breath as we stab ourselves with a sewing needle for the 10th time in an hour trying to sew a halloween costume, or that leave us in tears as we throw away our 3rd attempt at a homemade cake.

Sometimes you have to give yourself a pass, say you know what, Susan may be really good at this, but I’m not. And there are alternatives that make everyone’s life easier, like going to Target to buy party favors instead of crafting them, or buying a cake from Wegman’s (because they make really good cakes).

It’s okay to not be a super mom. It’s really hard, but we need to give ourselves permission to just let go of all the crap we do because we feel like we should instead of because it feels right for us and our families. Let’s all just take a breath, put down the glue guns, and remember that no one is perfect. Except for Susan. Although quite frankly I think she might be medicated.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *