a note for put-together moms
I'll be honest. I'm not a big fan of "mommy blog" writing. I occasionally stumble upon messages about motherhood that I really appreciate (like these), but a lot of times they read like thinly veiled humble-bragging, no matter how much a writer insists it isn't.
Here's a recent example:
"Yesterday while at the pool I watched a young Mama and her little daughter enter the pool area dressed in very nice coordinating swimming suits. The mom, with her perfect loose curls tied up in a coordinating scarf, spent the first few minutes talking loudly on her phone to a friend while her daughter stood waiting to get into the pool. Mom ended the phone call and proceeded to spread out pool toys and sunscreen on a matching towel. Then after finding just the right angle and the right light, Mama pulled out her tripod and took a few selfies with her daughter. Little One asked to get in the pool. Mama said wait and then posed her daughter in front the pool, then going in to the pool and then coming back out of the pool. Little one smiled big and said "cheese" like she'd done it a million times. Then Mama told her she could play. Little One walked in and swam around for a couple of minutes. Mama called a friend on her phone and began another conversation while Little One politely and repeatedly asked "Mama, can you come in the water with me, please?" She was ignored. "Mama, come play with me?" she asked 4 more times. Mama glanced over at her but never got off the phone. After 10 minutes Mama ended her call, collected the sunscreen that was never applied, the water toys that never touched the water, and then her daughter and left the pool.
I sat there thinking about what I'd witnessed for awhile afterwards. I imagined the photos she took being perfectly edited and posted to social media with a caption like "Pool time with my girly! #Makingmemories"
Somewhere another Mama is going to be at home with her children, the house a mess from their play, her hair unruly from a day of mothering and her clothes dirty with spit up or peanut butter. She's going to be tired because she's spent her day cooking, caring, cleaning and playing with her children. She's going to look at that photo and she is going to compare herself to the perfect Mama at the pool. The Adversary is going to whisper into her ear "you aren't good enough... You don't look like that Mama at the pool... You don't have money to buy expensive swimming suits like that and you don't have time to make memories like she is" and that young Mama is going to believe it. She's going to feel like a failure. She'll never know that how she spent her time that day was so much better in God's eyes and in her children's eyes than that "perfect Mama" at the pool. Ugh!!
What we see on Social Media isn't always real. Sometimes and often it's a complete set-up. It's staged and filtered and it's counterfeit. Sometimes we do see absolutely real photos of vacations and beautiful homes and freshly done hair but it's only ONE moment. It's the very best moment out of a whole day spent much like our own. Working, cleaning, and messes...
Mamas, don't compare yourself. You ARE enough! You are amazing and the very best part is that you are REAL! Your dirty shirt and your messy house and your happy children are real and they are proof that you are doing it right!"
This post by went viral, so obviously it resonated with a lot of people. It popped up on my feed multiple times. As I read it, I tried to get in the "yeah girl!" spirit, but for some reason I just couldn't. After some thinking, I finally figured out why.
I don't like it because it's a comparison hidden inside a plea not to compare, and it's also subtle put-down to put-together moms.
I'll explain what I mean in a moment, but first I'll clarify that I agree with some of this woman's messages.
- Children definitely deserve our undivided attention, and we should put our phones down more. (I wish this is what the author's post was actually about.)
- A lot of what we see on social media is really fake.
- Actually being an engaged parent is much more important than maintaining the appearance of being an engaged parent.
- Motherhood is hard work and often not very glamorous.
- God loves the important work that mothers do.
- Comparison is generally very unhealthy and steals our joy.
All of those are good, true messages.
However, I strongly disagree with the idea that in order to be "real" or "doing it right" or to have "happy children" that one has to wear a dirty shirt or have a messy house or unruly hair or not talk on their phone for a few minutes while their child entertains themselves (or while your children wreak havoc in the background, which is usually the case when my sister and I chat.)
In fact, you can still be "real" and "doing it right" and be a mom who wears matching swimming suits, has perfect loose curls tied up in a coordinating scarf, comes prepared with sunscreen, pool toys, and matching towels, takes awesome selfies. and spends time talking to your friends on the phone. (I actually think you should do that last one more often because mamas need adult interaction, too. That's one of the reasons why people spend so much time on their phones -- because we're longing for the human connection in our modern, transient cultural moment.)
As a mom to a glued-to-my-hip toddler, all of the above sounds a little exhausting, but I'm inspired, not embittered, by the women who mange to pull it off. Because, truthfully, I don't want to be a mess. I don't want to wear dirty clothes and have a chaotic home and never have a moment to myself. Sure, some days the messiness is just unavoidable, but I would much rather be put-together and composed. Partly for my own sanity (because I feel so much better when my kitchen is clean and my teeth are brushed before noon), but also for my daughter's benefit, too.
As Viv gets older, I want her to see me and know, first and foremost, that she's dearly loved, prayed for, thought about, and one of the most valuable people in my life -- and all of that is absolutely unconditional.
But I also want her to notice that I made time for my friends. I want her to appreciate that I helped everyone's lives run more smoothly by being prepared. I want her to enjoy our home and make it a place she wants to be. I want her to think I have great style.
I think other mothers want that too, and there's no shame in that. Obviously, you don't have to model perfection (who can do that?), but you can model preparedness, cleanliness, orderliness, and personal style if those things are important to you.
That's why I wish the writer didn't spend so much time contrasting "perfect pool mommy" to "real messy mommy." The one mistake "perfect" mommy made was not paying more attention to her kiddo during that visit to the pool. Her put-togetherness is irrelevant to her quality as a mother, but the writer is literally sitting there, scrutinizing her appearance and every move she makes and assuming that she posted the pictures with a misleading caption -- all so she can assure all the "real" moms out there on social media that they're doing a better job.
And that just doesn't sit right with me.
After the post went viral, the writer added this:
"I'd like to add some thoughts about the post because it appears that the context of my words had been misconstrued. While I do feel like our children deserve our attention and we all do need to put our phones down and really be present with our family and friends, that was not the message I was sharing.
(Which is a bummer, because that was her most valid point.)
I, in no way, meant to shame or judge this pool Mama for her actions. I don't know why she behaved the way she did and honestly I don't care. I'm sure she had her reasons. We all do. She is just a Mama doing her best too. Shaming her was also not what my post was about. I was not pointing fingers. I was not insinuating that I was better than her. I was not pinning stay-at-home moms against working moms. I was not shaming anyone for taking photos of themselves or their children. C'mon y'all, preserving memories is often just as important as making them, right?! I was not shaming people for reading a book at the park while their little ones play on the swings. Please don't hate on others for doing things differently. Don't judge the mom at the pool who couldn't get in the water with her kids that day so she played Candy Crush on the sidelines (Hello! That was ME!!)
The sole intent of my post and what I hope you take away from it is this... The beautiful, perfect, filtered photos that pass by our eyes as we scroll on social media are not a full depiction of real life. They are staged (either for someone else's self worth or because a company is paying for those staged photos to entice you to buy whatever it is they are selling). They may also just be a beautiful photo of a child laughing, a momma having a good hair day, an exquisite meal or a tropical paradise, but they are just a glimpse of a perfect MOMENT. Is there harm in taking photographs of those moments and sharing them? No! Y'all know that I do it too!
The ONLY take-away that I intended for you to get from my "pool post" is not to compare your whole self and your whole life to one perfect moment that you see on social media. Don't feel less than enough because what you see on a screen looks "better" than your real life. The scene that I saw at the pool was the opposite of what I would have imagined had happened had I just scrolled social media and saw her beautiful photo. That is the point. That is why I painted the detailed picture for you to see. So that you understand that what we see on social media is not the whole truth. THAT is the only point I intended to share with y'all.
"We spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves to others—usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does." - Dieter F. Uchtdorf
We are enough, just how we are. Remember that YOU at home with your kids or YOU at work supporting your family or YOU with the spotless house or YOU with the small apartment or YOU with an extra 30 lbs of weight that's you'd rather not have, YOU are enough. Don't compare yourself or your situation to anyone else's. Comparison is the thief of joy, y'all! If you share my post, remember the intent. Please don't share it with the intent of shaming a mother for doing it differently than you do. Much love to y'all."
That's all very nice-sounding, and I'm all for less comparison, but it doesn't really jive with her initial post. In her addendum, she says the mom by the pool "is doing the best she can" and we shouldn't judge her or compare each other, but her initial post made it pretty clear that the messy mom is "better" and doing it "right." Those are the words she chose.
"Your dirty shirt and your messy house and your happy children are real and they are proof that you are doing it right!""
"She [referring to messy mom] will never know that how she spent her time that day was so much better in God's eyes and in her children's eyes than that "perfect Mama" at the pool."
Sorry, but that's a comparison if I ever saw one.
At the end of the day, this is a small thing. I believe the writer meant no harm, and obviously a lot of women liked the message and shared it with good intentions. I just wonder if posts like these are really the most helpful, non-comparison-fueling way to go about supporting fellow moms.
I love being a mom, and I know so many good moms who vacillate between chaos and composure. Instead of deeming chaos better and more "real," maybe we can just accept that we move between the two as we cultivate ourselves, our children, and our homes. Rather than elevating messiness or "realness "or whatever you want to call it above put-togetherness, why don't we just celebrate every step a woman makes toward being the mother she wants to be?
Especially if we want to stop our constant comparisons and keep our joy.
Just some Saturday morning thoughts.
Whether you agree with my take or not, to all the mamas reading -- thanks for raising your children. Regardless if you feel like a mess today or on point, you're doing some of the world's most important work.