I joined the ranks of motherhood just as social media sites like Facebook and blogs began to take off, and over the years this new way of connecting and sharing information has brought me moments of joy and inspiration, good humor when I needed it and, occasionally, even insight. Online, we gain little glimpses into the lives of others, feeling a part of everything from major life events like births and weddings to the mundane and the trivial.
While some—probably most—simply close up their laptops feeling amused or entertained, blogs and social media have been a pain point in my journey through motherhood, at times leaving me racked with self-doubt, insecurity, and a sense of inadequacy.
Early on, when my children were very young, I became an avid consumer of blogs authored by women who take mothering to a whole new level. These are women who, in addition to homeschooling their multiple children, knit sweaters and crank out quilted masterpieces in record time, diaper their babes in cloth, grow flourishing vegetable gardens, cook from scratch, and look remarkably happy all the while.
Daily, I would log on to simply marvel at all they accomplished and the joy with which they achieved such greatness. And I was inspired, wooed by the idea that I, too, could bring about such perfection in my own home.
Despite my extraordinary efforts, the reality of my days never quite seemed to reach the heights of those online. My children were not interested in the craft project I had spent hours planning and prepping the night before. Knitting projects were slow-going at best and beginning to feel like just one more thing on which I was falling behind. The vegetable garden never took hold and no one wanted to get on board with cloth diapering. At the end of the day, I served up PB&J sandwiches, bathed and got the kids to bed, and fell asleep exhausted and dismayed by my utter failure.
Even as my feelings of inadequacy grew, I kept returning to the blogs hoping to see something I hadn’t seen before, something that would enable me to make my reality match what I saw online. I told myself that if I just tried a little harder and did it better, I would master this motherhood thing once and for all. But somewhere inside I also began to wonder why I kept going back to visit these “friends” who made me feel so darn bad about myself.
The truth is I wanted to hold on to the belief that this world of happy, content children and unfaltering, fulfilled mothers existed. To shut it off would be to accept that, while my days with my own children were punctuated by occasional moments of joy, the reality of mothering is messy, exhausting, and not something you master or outwit. Quite simply, the hope of fresh carrots from the garden and handmade woolens was far lovelier than staying in the present moment with the toddler who was refusing to eat what I cooked or throwing a category five tantrum in the middle of Target.
I admit that, for the most part, I love my phone, my apps, and my iPad. I really do. But increasingly, that love is joined by a sense that the ways in which we are using technology to share our experiences as mothers actually does more to hurt and isolate us than to uplift and connect us.
So much of what we share online about motherhood are curated snippets of our days; a “best of” collection or highlights reel of only the carefully selected moments we want people to see. It is not that we are spreading lies about our lives; we just refrain from telling the whole truth. Particularly online, we somehow feel a need to act as if our homes are immune from bouts of chaos, disagreement, frustration or any other undesirable state. In doing so, I think we create distance between others and ourselves.
Trust me, I am not arguing that we go on the Internet and air our dirtiest laundry, but rather that we show a little more courage to be authentic, vulnerable, and imperfect.
In the name of authenticity, if I were to write my status update for today, it would read: forgot to send lunch money with my oldest, lost my patience more times than I would have liked, had to search high and low for a matching pair of clean socks, mediated (with mixed success) at least 10 arguments between my children, and ordered up a pizza for dinner.
In the mama-lottery, I’m afraid my children drew one imperfect lady. But they love me regardless; a skill I am still trying to cultivate in myself. In doing so, I hope to teach my children to be brave, to show up, and to share their authentic self—in real life and online.
Do YOU have an opinion you’d like to share with Literary Mama readers? We look for pieces with a strong focus and argument on issues that are important to mothers and/or writers. Do you have a new perspective on a popular topic or can you introduce readers to an issue that hasn’t yet caught the public eye? Check out our Submissions page for more details. (Scroll down to Blog, Op-Ed.) We’d love to hear from you!