Belfast Telegraph

Sarah Caden: She is the Apple of Gwyneth's eye of course, but did mum really need to tell the whole world about it?

Special occasions such as birthdays will lose their meaning if we don't scale back the over-emoting, writes Sarah Caden

Gwyneth Paltrow. (Ian West/PA)
Gwyneth Paltrow. (Ian West/PA)

By Sarah Caden

Last Wednesday Gwyneth Paltrow's older child, daughter Apple, turned 15. We know this the same way, these days, we know about the birthdays of the children of friends, acquaintances, maybe even old school pals we are secretly social media stalking: Gwyneth, of course, put it on Instagram.

Her message to her teenage first-born was effusive. "Happy birthday my angel. You are so strong and so good and so damn funny and sooooooo gorgeous inside and out. I am the proudest mama ever," went some of the birthday greeting, accompanied by a cute picture of Apple with a long-stemmed rose in her teeth. Along with the message, to which we'll return, was a screenshot of a text message conversation between mother and daughter in which the latter suggested photos to accompany the public text.

"Also, here are some options of Apple-approved birthday posts," wrote the teenager, who is Paltrow's daughter with ex-husband Chris Martin.

"Oh why thank you," answered Paltrow. "Don't need to break the old internet again, now do we?" She added.

"Yeah let's not," said Apple.

Naturally, this was found hilarious left, right and centre online. Both Apple and Paltrow came out of it well. The former was gutsy, the latter was still possessed of having a sense of humour, despite being an old person.

Why there was any need to post this chat is another matter. It resurrected, obviously, a spiky moment between mother and daughter that occurred earlier this year when Paltrow posted photos from a family ski trip.

Then Apple posted on her mother's Instagram: "Mom we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent."

"You can't even see your face," Gwyneth replied, as the photo caught Apple in ski mask and goggles, but that wasn't the point. And this was pointed out, while the sharp interchange was deleted. Apple Martin, it was said, was a high-profile forerunner of what would be happening in ordinary homes all over the world in years to come.

Children no longer children would start objecting to the cataloguing of their lives from ultrasound to adolescence and while they, more than their parents, will understand what's online is up there forever, they would start declining to co-operate in future over sharing of their private lives.

In France parents were warned three years ago that the state's strict privacy laws could see them charged with violating their own children's privacy by posting pictures of them online. The penalties could run to more than €30,000 in fines or prison time.

In Switzerland last week child protection authorities ordered a grandmother to stop posting pictures of her grandchild online. The relationship between the child's mother and the grandmother was difficult and the mother did not give permission for the online postings and yet she was relatively powerless to stop her without recourse to the authorities.

According to a 2018 McAfee survey, 30% of parents surveyed said they posted pictures of their children online every single day. As we all know, this sharing cannot show the children doing something special every single day and yet there is this drive in us to share.

We are egging each other on, obviously, because to opt out is, in the current culture, to suggest one doesn't care, or doesn't rate one's kids and their carry-on.

But what are we trying to prove? And to whom? And in the process, are we devaluing everything? If everything is an occasion, then are there any occasions that matter any more?

In this season of First Holy Communions, however, there is a sense that while we gaily participate in the daily trumpeting of our families and our children and their every move, there is something we cling to of the old ways.

You can say what you want about the spirit in which a lot of Catholic families enter the First Holy Communion rites. Of course, there is an issue around the fact many families who don't darken the door of a church any other time tick the boxes of obligatory Mass attendance and religious instruction in order to give their child the big day.

Of course, there's an issue around the amount of money spent on the big days and the size of the sums accumulated by children. However, there's something in the continued embracing of the Communion ritual that speaks of a craving for something more meaningful than all the endless posturing of living our best lives and being Insta-perfect.

If nowhere else in the occasion of the Communion, it's there in the family photos that proliferate at this time of year. They are, in essence, so different to the ones we are now used to seeing of each other, day in day out, hour by hour, minute by minute as we upload.

The family photos which proliferate at this time of year aren't far off the family photos of our own childhoods. Everyone done up and dressed up. Kids who've had their bath the night before and now have their new outfits on. Mum and Dad both in the photo, instead of one behind their phone taking the picture.

The religious meaning of the day is not overlooked, but there is massive meaning for people in this big day as a rite of passage, one of those big moments in a family life. Even those who participate with complete disregard for the religious aspect are respectful of the day as something that is part of who we are - a cultural bond, an occasion that matters and surpasses all the froth of social media.

Some moments do matter and cannot be devalued, perhaps. And we cling to them differently and more defiantly than we do to the daily uploading. While we meanwhile render all our other moments meaningless by over-proliferation.

Another child taking first steps? Another marriage proposal? Another family holiday, or child's birthday party, or school play? Yawn. So busy are we trying to prove our daily greatness to each other that we don't believe any of the hype anymore.

Obviously, the 15th birthday of Paltrow's Apple was a big occasion to her. Why she needed all of us to know it was a big occasion to her is another matter.

"I will never be able to put into words how much I love you," Paltrow also wrote in her birthday greeting to Apple last Wednesday. But she tried. And she tried publicly - which for some odd reason causes the sentiment to carry less weight than if she kept it between themselves.

Apple Martin will have to work harder if she really wants her mother to slow down the sharing. And in our own lives, maybe we need to see in our own special moments a signal that some scaling back might not hurt.

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