Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Social Media Effect on Mamas (or: Comparison and Expectations): A Letter

Dear co-mamas (like co-workers or colleagues, because that's what we are, isn't it?):

So here’s the thing. I had a rough night last night. And by “rough night” I don’t mean that I partied too hard like a college kid, or that I got into a car accident, or found out some horrible news. Relatively mild, in reality. Yet I’m still affected this morning. In this age of The Social Media, it’s so easy to look at snippets of people’s lives, imagine how perfect they are, compare them to my imperfect world, and then my “rough nights” turn into epic failures, which is what happened. What did my night consist of? Well, not cleaning the cat box or filling up Clarence's water bowl, not cleaning the spots off of the floor, not reading my new book, not taking a bath, not watching a Christmas movie, and not getting much conversation in with my husband. No, my night consisted of rocking my sweet baby to sleep, then setting her in her crib, her waking up, me rocking her to sleep, repeat, repeat, repeat, then giving up in pretty high frustration and taking her to bed with me at 9:30. Gee, what a disaster, right? (eye roll)

It’s just that I had these plans. (The best laid and all that.) Picture this: I would put her to bed, then have a relaxing evening (with no diapers to wash!) chatting with Jeff, watching the rest of the Lifetime Christmas movie I had recorded (cheesy but wonderful), editing some photos for a gift I’m working on and maybe even reading my new book while soaking in a hot bubble bath. Ah plans. Can I get a “holla” from all the mamas out there who know what happens when you make plans? I’ve learned so many things from having a baby. SO MANY THINGS. One of the hardest to get through my thick head is that there are going to be plenty of times when I have to give up my expectations, let go of my selfishness and learn to roll with the punches. There are also times when I’m going to need to ASK FOR HELP. For some reason last night I allowed myself to get frustrated by my thwarted plans, knowing that I would feel so much better if I just asked Jeff to help finish some of those things I knew I wouldn’t get to (the kitty, the cleaning, not so much the bath ;). My husband isn't the only one who can't read minds, right? Martyr, martyr, martyr!
This brings me back to That Darn Social Media, which I feel magnifies my lack of ability to be OK when things take a turn to crazy town. Why does it seem like so many other moms portray these glamorous, easy, happy, romantic, successful lives? Why, when I look at Facebook or blogs do I only see their immaculate homes, pretty hair, flawless skin, trendy clothes, easy and well-behaved children, 4 course dinners, successful careers, happy husbands and even a sweet dog with a shiny coat laying by the hearth? It appears that their babies go right to sleep. They have multiple craft projects and homemade gifts going at once. Their marriage is full of sparks and romance. They are glamorous yet down-to-earth. They are patient, calm and generous. Their husbands are never annoyed with them and their kids never talk back. And to top it all off, they look RESTED. No bags under their eyes. Oh yes, and they are funny and witty and existential, too. Making a difference in the world everywhere they go. Changing peoples lives. AND WORLD PEACE. WHY does it seem like that? In my heart of hearts I believe this woman does not exist. Sure, she may exist in 15 minute spurts. She may partially exist once in a while. But she is just a wisp of reality. A movie character. In actuality, I am not alone in my imperfection.

A couple of months ago I was telling Jeff about the life I wish we led. (Yet again after reading a dreamy family blog that appears to be right out of a movie.) You know the one. The Perfect Life. Where we host gatherings with close friends once a month. On our deck we share bottles of wine as twinkle lights glow and soft, crooning music plays in the background. (We, in our fancy clothes, laughing gaily, our kids tucked sweetly into bed, clutching their teddy bears, dreaming for 10 hours straight.) The life where we have neighborhood parties. Where we walk into our neighbors back doors without knocking and our home is always open. Where our kids and our friends kids are best friends and it’s almost as if we are all the parents to each child. Oh, and in this life, my house isn’t spotless. No, it’s messy. Filled with dishes and goblets that signify entertainment and companionship. Cluttered with blankets and toys that represent happily playing kiddos. (Somehow in this Perfect Life Of Mine those things always look warm and inviting instead of looking like piles and messes that make my brain want to explode. And somehow they always get cleaned up with a smile and cheer and many more than just two hands. Or maybe Mary Poppins style, with a snap.) Where do I come up with this stuff? Snippets on The Social Media, that’s where.

Jeff quickly laughed (thanks for that encouragement, sweetie) and told me there is no such magical life. Easy for him to say! He without the Facebook account, without a bloglist to follow. I know it’s true. I do. In my heart of hearts. It’s easy for my heart of hearts to betray me, though. And so I compare. I envy. I become discouraged. I become stressed. And the life I actually lead gets even farther away from the “dream” because I become less of who I truly am while I obsess about being someone I’m not. (someone who doesn’t even exist!)

When I got to work today, feeling discouraged about last night and how it veered away from “the plan,” what did I do? I took to The Social Media, of course. And what did I find? Encouragement! Friendship! Camaraderie! (darn you, The Social Media, and the way you confuse me!) Sweet friends left comments for me to take heart, not despair, remember what is true. I was sent links written by other mothers who do NOT have it all together and want everyone else to know that. Mothers who aren’t hiding behind polished windows and freshly baked brownies and kids in the latest organic cotton fashions. They are right there in the midst of their post-partum depression, on the tightrope of the work-marriage-motherhood, balance. Sharing beautifully their struggles.

Tears sprang to my eyes as I read the honest words these women expressed. “Oh yeah” I remembered “I’m not alone here in my imperfection.” It’s crazy that it takes bold and blatant reminders, isn’t it? OF COURSE I’m not perfect. OF COURSE I don’t have it all together. No one does! But let me not forget, I have it GOOD. I have it GREAT. Like one sweet woman wrote, I have these warm, cozy moments. Sweet, precious, cherished moments. In the midst of a house that needs cleaned (“needs” being a relative term, usually not applicable at my house, in spite of my OCD brain yelling at me to mop the floors), a dinner eaten in shifts, a baby with a bit of a fever who won’t go to sleep, lack of relaxation, lack of marital connection, and on and on. I have a soft, warm, perfect baby in my arms who needs me, I have a husband willing to help the minute I ask (why don’t I just ask!?!?), a beautiful home, a full tummy. I have seen my daughter's eyes light up in delight and heart her tiny, sweet giggle. I have friends who are quick to encourage (never mind the fact that I forget their birthdays or that they just had a baby!), a stable job (ignoring the part that I don’t love what I do all the time) and I have memories as well as memories-in-the-making.

So, if you look at my blog or my Facebook page and all you see are joyful pictures of my daughter, a clean house and the twinkle lights on my pretty Christmas tree; If all you see are my husband and I smiling with our arms around each other or fun events we’re attending; remember this: On the other side of that camera is an insecure woman who is dying for a new hairstyle and cut, a highchair that desperately needs to be washed (you just can't see it because of that cute baby sitting in it!), a cat litter box that hasn’t been cleaned out in a week (gross! Sorry Clarence!), an evening of tense conversations, repressed frustration, and complete lack of relaxation. A busy working woman that jumps right into her raggedy man sweats as soon as I get home from work. A mind constantly second-guessing my parenting skills. A mom and wife who sometimes wishes for those carefree days of singlehood or baby-free years (and then feels crushed by the thousand pound weight of guilt for possibly thinking such thoughts.) A girl who forgets to let go of impossible dreams so that she can focus on making memories in the here and now. Me, struggling to balance it all. Striving to do it all/be it all/have it all. Me, comparing, wishing, stressing, wondering. Me, longing. And Me, figuring it all out right beside all of YOU, who are right there with me. Perfectly imperfect. Perfectly US.

Let’s keep our heads up. Let’s not paint pictures of idealism and untruth, but instead, while capturing for The Social Media each lovely moment we DO encounter, let’s also encourage one another, be honest with one another, and march ahead as passionate moms and wives, friends and daughters, employees and employers who LOVE WELL, even while we stand alone at the end of the day with our hands in the sudsy water, with bags under our eyes, No crooning music, no fancy dress. rRmembering those special moments we did have and not letting the chaotic, unplanned, frustrating moments rob us of joy. Let's do it for each other, for ourselves, and for our kids, too, who will see our love and remember our passion and not care less about the state of our home or our fashion sense.

Much love,

Here is a list of blogs that are so powerful, followed by some awesome quotes I took from some of them:

“I'm everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. Someday I won't be here -- and I don't know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now -- but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.” Allison Tate

“…also don’t take photos of my fleshy post-partum body that makes me turn away from the mirror every day, scolding myself for not sticking better to my diet. And I certainly don’t take pictures of our sorrowful bank account, the very one that leaves me crying in heaves once a month as we struggle to make rent and pay preschool dues. I can’t take pictures of how frustrated I feel to not be writing, to barely have time to respond to emails, or to help friends with projects. I don’t know how to capture the anxiety I feel about how Greg and I will make it through our girls’ early years and survive happy and romantically attached. I can’t show you the moments in which I feel worried about my career, my future books, or about when and how I’ll ever find time to write again… But most of the time I feel frazzled, depressed and coiled tight with anxiety. Being a mother is hard. Being a wife is hard. Being a writer is hard. Living in California is hard. I worry about the future a lot. I worry about the present. I worry that I’m not being present.

And maybe that’s where the photos come in. I spend so much time feeling like things aren’t good enough, that when they are I take a picture, desperate to hold onto that moment for just a little longer.” Claire Bidwell Smith

“My point is this. I used to worry that not only was I failing to do a good enough job at parenting, but that I wasn't enjoying it enough. Double failure. I felt guilty because I wasn't in parental ecstasy every hour of every day and I wasn't MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY MOMENT like the mamas in the parenting magazines seemed to be doing. I felt guilty because honestly, I was tired and cranky and ready for the day to be over quite often. And because I knew that one day, I'd wake up and the kids would be gone, and I'd be the old lady in the grocery store with my hand over my heart. Would I be able to say I enjoyed every moment? No.

But the fact remains that I will be that nostalgic lady. I just hope to be one with a clear memory. And here's what I hope to say to the younger mama gritting her teeth in line:

"It's helluva hard, isn't it? You're a good mom, I can tell. And I like your kids, especially that one peeing in the corner. She's my favorite. Carry on, warrior. Six hours till bedtime." And hopefully, every once in a while, I'll add -- "Let me pick up that grocery bill for ya, sister. Go put those kids in the van and pull on up -- I'll have them bring your groceries out."

Anyway. Clearly, Carpe Diem doesn't work for me. I can't even carpe fifteen minutes in a row, so a whole diem is out of the question.” Glennon Melton


Erin said...

Wonderfully put! Thank you for not only stating what I and probably every mother out there feels, but for reminding me to live the life I have and to celebrate and cherish the happiness within it.

Cheryl said...

I've been there Terri. I still have days/nights like this. The other night I was up at 3am stressed to the max about when I can squeeze in some time for my kids to see Santa this year. I go days without doing dishes (gross I know). And my master bathroom? If nobody else sees/uses it, it's not a priority. Even neglecting these things, I don't seem to have time some days to sit and relax and/or spend the extra few minutes giving each of my kids 1:1 time.

I have to agree with Erin, thanks for so nicely writing what so many of us feel. Please don't feel alone!

Stephanie said...

Thanks Terri, you just made me cry(not that its hard these days)! Thank you for writing it down so eloquently and reminding that everyone else is struggling with the same issues.

sara said...

a little late on this one but just had to say that i know how it goes!

motherhood can be a mixed bag... so many feelings to navigate... i could totally relate to so much of what you posted...

you're a rad mama, mama.
almost one full year under your belt... time flies, right?!
enjoy baby's first christmas :)