Suzanne Perez Tobias: A thin line between humility, the humblebrag

02/07/2013 12:00 AM

02/07/2013 12:01 AM

Perhaps you’ve never heard the term “humblebrag” – it’s annoying being a social-media vanguard who has to explain everything all the time, but I’ll try … #humblebrag – so here’s the definition:

“Subtly letting others know about how fantastic your life is while undercutting it with a bit of self-effacing humor or ‘woe is me’ gloss.”

Humblebrags are everywhere these days, thanks especially to social media. There are humblebrag Twitter feeds, hashtags, blogs and even a book, “Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty,” in which television writer Harris Wittels republishes and comments on some of the best (worst?) humblebrags of all time.

To illustrate, check out this tweet from former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer ( @AriFleischer):

“They just announced my flight at LaGuardia is number 15 for takeoff. I miss Air Force One!!”

See what he did there? He’s going to be on this plane for hours and probably won’t make his connection. They’ll no doubt lose his luggage. Life is so maddening when you no longer travel with world leaders.

Nowhere is the humblebrag more ubiquitous or chastised than in parenting circles.

“Parenting forums are overloaded with parents seeking ‘advice’ for their talented children,” writes Rhiana Maidenberg on the parenting website “Status updates complain about burdens most of us would love to have.

“While I understand that all of us — even the inordinately blessed — need some reassurance now and then, I also know I’m muttering at my screen a lot lately.”

Some examples Maidenberg cites:

“I was so sick during my pregnancy! I only was able to gain 10 pounds!”

“I’m so tired of being asked if I am my children’s nanny. I can’t help that I look so young!”

And my personal favorite:

“How do I support my best friend whose toddler is developmentally delayed, when my own is so advanced?”

Such a conundrum.

My children and I talk frequently about the importance of counting our blessings. Like most parents, I try to reward their effort and boost their confidence – not constantly, but regularly – with hugs, high-fives and fist bumps.

Sometimes I post updates or accomplishments on Facebook, mostly so that long-distance grandparents and other relatives can share in the victory lap.

Parenting is hard. Kids and teenagers can be exhausting. Plenty goes wrong. So if the occasional tweet with a “#proudmom” hashtag makes me a braggart – or a humblebraggart – I suppose I’m guilty as charged.

Because that line between humility and humblebragging is thin and tricky, as even my children realized recently at our family dinner table.

My 12-year-old son, Jack, hates any talk about romance or girlfriends, as I’ve written about before. At dinner this particular evening, his big sister was teasing him incessantly on the topic, as big sisters tend to do.

“Face it, Jack,” Hannah said, smirking. “You’re the total package.”

“What does that mean?” Jack asked.

“You know,” she said. “Smart, funny, handsome, athletic.”

Jack sighed.

“I don’t want to be the total package,” he said, shaking his head and shrugging. “But sadly, I am.”

Humblebrag extraordinaire.

About Suzanne Tobias

Suzanne writes about family life on Thursdays. She has covered local news for The Eagle since 1990. Suzanne is a native of North Carolina and earned an English degree from North Carolina State University.

Find her on Twitter: @suzannetobias

Contact Suzanne at 316-268-6567 or by emailing her at

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