By now you likely know about Dinovember. In case you don't, here's the website's description: "Every year, my wife and I devote the month of November to convincing our children that, while they sleep, their plastic dinosaur figures come to life."
The parents document this endeavor with hilarious photos of dinos ripping open cereal boxes, destroying walls with crayons, interrogating Ninja Turtles and other playful mischief. Dinovember has been featured on every online news outlet imaginable, and the Facebook page now has more than a quarter-million Likes.
Why did the dino parents do it? "In the age of iPads and Netflix," the site reads, "we don't want our kids to lose their sense of wonder and imagination…. All it takes is some time, energy, creativity, and a few plastic dinosaurs."
That last part stuck with me. The time and energy investment of Dinovember sounds exhausting, and I don't think I'm alone in that assessment. In fact my wife first told me about Dinovember in a text, saying, "So great," followed by, "Wish I had the energy."
These awe-inspiring, time-intensive, energy-sucking parental projects are everywhere. There's the dad who turns his kids' lunch bags into works of art with colored Sharpies. The parents at cardboardboxoffice.com painstakingly recreate scenes from movies with their baby.
Every week I see links on social media for projects that make Fred Rogers seem like a slacker, and I can't help but think it's a) raising the parenting bar far too high, and b) making us all feel more guilty than we already do for not being endlessly energetic, creative and patient parents.
I'm suspicious of motives, too. The Cardboard Box Office parents' plea to "Follow us on Facebook for weekly photos!" can feel less like imaginative parenting and more like a ploy to turn parenting stunts into a career (or at least a modicum of Internet celebrity).
I'm also skeptical these experiences all went as swimmingly as presented. We tend to post the best versions of our kids and our parenting practices. I'm guilty of this, too: My kids don't have boogers coming out of their noses on Instagram.
But I'm trying to be more aware of this tendency in myself and in all these viral parenting stories. How many fights did the Dinovember parents have while cleaning up the dinosaurs' mess late at night? How many mornings toward the end of November were the kids' reactions (or lack thereof) a letdown after all that time and energy?
When it comes down to it, a lot of these viral parenting endeavors are about the parents, not the kids. And that's fine. Moms and dads need creative outlets, and these at least benefit their children in some way. But let's not pretend this is all about instilling wonder in our kids.
Sometimes my wife or I put a note in my kids' lunch boxes - just a few words on a Post-it note saying, "Have a good day!" or "I challenge you to a game of Skylanders after school!"
Kids want to know they're loved, and the mundane ways that most of us show that love would make for a pretty crappy Pinterest board or YouTube channel. But that's OK. Your kids don't need you to Pin or Vine or tweet your love for the world to see. Sometimes a simple Post-it in a lunchbox will do.
-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer who occasionally tweets about his kids. #fulldisclosure