Analyzing the Role of the Mommy Confessional

Mommy Confessionals…

Thanks to Shell from Things I Can’t Say for letting me link up with this sensitive post. I have to admit, I’m fearful that this post is the most likely of all the ones I’ve written to be quickly digested and misunderstood, resulting in negative blogger feedback, so please, read carefully.  Also, if you have engaged in “mommy confessing” with me in the past week or two, this post is NOT about you; it is about a trend and a conversation between myself and a friend.  So please don’t take it personally.

Recently, my girlfriend and I were discussing the latest trend in mommy blogs and real life sharing between mothers, what I like to call the “Mommy Confessional.” For the purposes of this post, a mommy confessional is revealing personal parenting failures or difficult, negative feelings about parenting either through an interpersonal discussion or on an online forum.  What my girlfriend was decrying was the indifferent nature of some mothers who post their parenting imperfections online in a nonchalant and seemingly unregretful or even prideful manner.  She expressed frustration with the kind of attitude that promotes or even lauds neglectful or self-centered parenting, and I understood her point.  After all, I too, have read or heard mothers cite parenting failures or negative parenting attitudes with an air of pride or cockiness, and have felt off-put by these admissions.

However, I also know the feeling of relief that comes when one is able to admit imperfection of any sort to a trusted friend, or to seek advice or understanding from other mothers in a public forum.  Hearing some variation of the words, “That’s normal” or “I’ve been there, done that”  or “I feel that way too” makes you feel a little less like a screw-up in the parenting department and can enable one to move beyond soul crushing guilt complexes to parent with renewed confidence and energy.  We all need someone to confide in, someone to empathize with our feelings and struggles, and give us even a little sense of forgiveness that we will not grant ourselves.

As a listener though, I have to reflect upon my role as a mommy confessor, in addition to my role as a confessee.  Walking the fine line between enabling forward emotional momentum of another mother, and just enabling poor parenting through constant and inappropriate reassurance is a challenge.  Because how many of us are really going to be honest with another mother if we think they’ve gone too far with a discipline issue, if they appear distant and neglectful in their parenting, or if they are consistently self-focused and selfish with their actions, expectations or rants?  Will we speak our honest opinion, regardless of the friendship (or readership) fallout?  Or will we cave with some sort of diplomatic brush under the rug?  Odds are, most of us will mind our own beeswax while silently worrying or judging.

As a confessee, I admit that sometimes I just need to get the negative feelings or experiences off my chest, that my “mommy confessions” are not always representative of who I am as a parent.  Sometimes they are just transient feelings that I need to process out loud or on paper so I can get a clear view of what is really going on inside myself.  Often, I find that once I speak the issue, I gain clarity and can identify what issues I have to work on as a mother, and what situations are just universally difficult to manage.  I have felt a great sense of relief when other mothers share their frustrations or struggles to balance knowing that I am not alone in my struggling.  But, I don’t stop struggling.  I am probably guilty of over analyzing my role as a mother, of creating extra anxiety over my performance when I am doing a hopefully more than adequate job.  Because I truly do care, and seek to get a clear view of my parenting through the reflections and reactions of those around me to my parenting choices balanced with my own internal gauge of right and wrong.  Guilt can be a very helpful motivator for change when change is perhaps needed.  Having someone eradicate or smooth away the guilt by validating feelings or actions when perhaps a more honest response is warranted might do both mother and kids a disservice and stunt growth.

I know those friendships I can turn to when I want honesty:  my husband, my sister, my mother, and my very closest real life friends.  While I will hear differing and perhaps valuable opinions to consider on my blog, it is not the place I turn to for interpersonal insight or to stimulate growth as a parent.  It is a place to share and find common ground with other moms.  I don’t seek for my blog friends to challenge my thoughts about myself as a parent, because though I appreciate my readers, our relationship does not have the level of intimacy where they see the whole picture of me.  Intentionally or unintentionally, I present only a part of myself online for my readers to know, and only those closest to me in the real (not virtual) world can supplement their impressions of my parenting with observations, interpersonal experience, and intimacy built over years of friendship development.   I appreciate dialogue and discussion and sharing of multiple opinions on my blog, but when it comes to applying them to my parenting, I do not internalize them unless I really trust the person.  So, I wonder when we validate each other’s parenting woes and foibles online, do we really know that person as a parent?  And are we enabling poor parenting when we LOL at a flippant parental confession? Conversely, would speaking our minds even have any virtual effect?

This is why it concerns me when I sense an attitude of indifference or pride used when speaking or writing about parenting flounders.  As with any job, there are those that take their role more seriously than others, who value self-reflection, seek improvement, struggle, grow, and then there are the (perhaps rare, but these moms are out there) folks that coast, surf the internet, find any other way to avoid or distract themselves from their work, consistently whine and complain about how hard their jobs are, and get by with a sense of getting away with something.  At the risk of sounding self-important or superior, I think that is bogus, and so I’ve made the decision to speak up, at least just the once, to say so.  Parenting is the hardest and most rewarding and beloved job I have ever had, one that tasks my inner resources, requires me to move out of my comfort zone of self-centeredness into one that focuses on the needs of another, and one that challenges me to confront my inner demons and inner struggles on a frequent basis.  There are often things to laugh about as mothers, but never to flaunt a failing, though we might use humor to deal with them.  Admitting, confessing, discussing, seeking support and humor to move forward or cope are all human and important tasks in growing and should be supported in our personal and online friendships.  But callous braggadocio about being a crap parent, that’s just tacky.  Motherhood is too sacred for that.

Have you struggled with giving an honest reply to a brazen and disturbing “mommy confession?”  Please share your experiences in my comment section.

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22 responses to “Analyzing the Role of the Mommy Confessional

  • Tara R.

    I think I get what you’re saying. I have shared ‘parenting failures’ with close friends, and have posted some of these confessions. But, it’s more of a way to reach out to other parents who may be dealing with the same issues. I’m put off too by parents who over share, who do seem boastful of being neglectful at worst, or indifferent at best. I haven’t left negative comments on these confessions mostly because I don’t typically know these parents and it’s difficult to read sarcasm or satire on a blog. We don’t always get the whole story, so I try not to form an opinion of that person over one post. Besides, I really don’t want to get into a Internet crap storm with other commenters or the blog author if they take offense at my negative response.

    • pmlevitt

      Hi Tara. Thanks for reading. It is tricky isn’t it? And yes, so many people jump on the validation bandwagon that you do face a “crap storm” if you try to post anything that is honest rather than uber touchy feely. So we end up silent. This is my one forum for breaking the silence, so I’m glad I did it. And I’m glad you read it and commented.

  • Kristin @ What She Said

    When I’m put off by the tone of a blog post about parenting, I just go elsewhere. Sometimes I don’t even finish the post, and I definitely don’t comment. When it comes to blogging, I try to follow the advice that my mom always gave me – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That doesn’t mean I won’t offer a different opinion or perspective, but when I disagree, I make sure to do it diplomatically.

    Of course, there are times when you realize that no matter what you say, it’s not going to do any good and will only succeed in causing drama. That’s not worth my time, so I just move on to what I feel are more positive blogs that convey a tone I feel more comfortable reading.

    Along those lines, I also think sometimes “tone” is hard to read on the Internet and I frequently find myself unsure if the blogger is trying (and failing) at conveying self-deprecating humor, or if they really are just a miserable person and bad parent. And either way, I don’t think it’s my place to judge or condemn.

    If it’s the former, then I just remind myself that everyone has a different sense of humor and what might not tickle my funny bone, someone else will find hilarious. That’s the case with a pretty popular blog than many of my bloggy friends read – but I don’t get it, don’t like it, and therefore don’t read it.

    And if it’s the latter, well, it might sound somewhat callous to say but… as much as I’d love to save the world and all the children in it, I can’t. I can only parent my own child to the best of my ability.

    • pmlevitt

      Kristin, I agree, In terms of going elsewhere, or keeping our negative reactions silent, I think most moms, myself included, do the same. I just don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. And as I said in my article, as someone who doesn’t look to my blog friends for parenting advice, I agree that most moms aren’t looking to hear another mom’s contradictory reactions online. It does seem to be a trend though, like the cool, “in”, thing to boast with negativity about one’s parenting role, so it felt good to for once, escape the binds of social courtesy to say, “I think that kind of tone, is just crappy!” Because we can’t parent every child, or react from our guts rather than our social censors to every callous mom, and like you said, we generally just take our business elsewhere. Avoiding the issue can feel discouraging after a while. Sometimes it feels good to speak our minds, when we have the appropriate forum to do so:) While I won’t say it on another mom’s blog, I will say it on mine, just this once. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • shellthings

    You raise some interesting points. I think I definitely fall into the role of a mommy confessor. When I talk about my kids on my blog, it often is about the ways in which I’ve screwed up. And very, very little on what I’ve done that is “good” as a mom. Not because I never have good moments- in fact, I like to think I have way more good than bad. But, for the purposes of my blog, writing a post about how awesome my kids were while we were at the playground or how proud I am of different accomplishments… it just isn’t what I write about.

    That material is best for my private, family blog: documenting it for me and for my family, but not my blog audience. B/c I think they would roll their eyes or be bored with me writing that. So, usually, all that makes it to my blog as far as parenting goes are my failures and bad moments.

    It’s just a tiny glimpse into what my life is like. I guess if someone only went by that, they would probably think I was an awful mom! Though, I don’t think that anything I’ve written is anything that someone would think OMG, she’s awful(like people who write about abuse/neglect/ect).

    Though, I have had people take one sentence out of what I’ve written in a post completely out of context and go off on me for being the world’s worst mom.

    I think, just like everything else, we have to look at the context that someone is writing. I might sometimes appear flip about something… when it was something that caused me to cry when it happened, kwim?

    Very interesting thoughts on this!

    • pmlevitt

      Shell, I am a mommy confessor too; I think all moms are…at least with someone. What differentiates you from others I see is that you have a tone that cares, vs. well, not caring. Tone says a lot about the way a person parents. I think you give a forum for sharing struggles, which as I said in my post is a very important role for moms, many of whom are isolated in homes or by social constraints from saying things they need to say. So being a confessor or confessee can be a good thing, too. For me, it’s the tone that makes me feel empathetic or understanding vs. appalled or disturbed. And I hear what you say about people taking one line and fixating on it without reading the rest of what is often a carefully constructed piece; that drives me crazy too! Thanks for sharing, and for giving us a forum to Pour our Hearts Out.

  • Mama Zen

    What a thoughtful post! I honestly can’t think of a time that I’ve read a post and genuinely thought that the author was making light of really bad parenting. I’m not sure how I would respond if I did.

    • pmlevitt

      Thanks! I have, and I just left the sites. And then there are those that just walk the line, you know? With over-sharing, or the kind of “I don’t give a dang” attitude. Being Mama Zen, the master of words (great poetry!) I’m sure you’d think of something. At least in your head!

  • Annie Boreson

    I really enjoyed your post and found your point well taken. I have often seen posts that have a little edge to them…like they would like you to understand why their child was punished severely, or why they were justified in saying something to their toddler.

    If I reflect on my own writing, I would say that at times I have made a comment to one of my kids that I was not proud of and I’m sure they have shown up in my writing. Maybe it’s not correct…maybe I go too far, but all I can say is writing helps me understand the world. It helps me to figure out how I feel about a certain aspect of my life and my relationships. I know when I’ve failed my family and when that has happened I have always tried to the best of my ability to make it up to them. Thank God they are now grown and doing well. (They even call me most every day to check in.) So, this is just to say, mistakes will be made when parenting, but the bottom line is you do the very best job you can at all times. Parenting is hard work, but like you, I feel it is the best job in the world. Thank you again for your insights and confessions.

    • pmlevitt

      Hi Annie,

      Your comments are always so thoughtful! It is an interesting point you make about writing; I think writing is kind of like a barometer for my soul, and it is always interesting to see what comes out when I start. It is also difficult to choose how to be an honest and authentic writer, about what to write, what percentage of that we share, etc. What part comes out in blogs, fiction, or poetry. I find what offends me when it is “real” is easier to accept from a character, etc. We all make parenting mistakes, and we all handle them differently. What may be too edgy for me, may resonate with another reader, but I know what writing I have to walk away from. And also, in real life, we face similar dilemmas. Thanks for sharing!

  • adriennesfts

    Hmmm, interesting topic. The blogoshpere does have a air of allowing you to be a total mom fail, and everyone is ok with it. I think it’s a great place for support. I also think that our bad moments are what we share b/c we feel we need to unload, and be re-assured in some way. Sometimes even laugh about a screw up. I honestly haven’t read anything yet that is really horrible. Just everyday “not the perfect mom” type stuff.

    However, it’s an interesting point that there has been an atmosphere created where you can totally neglect your kids and everyone sends you hugs and love.

    I get what you’re saying. Great points/topic!

    Stopping by for the fist time today from PYHO. 🙂

  • motherwho

    I found this post so interesting. So far I haven’t come across any mummy confessions that are (or are bordering on) what I would consider neglectful parenting… I really don’t know what I would do if I did? I guess it would depend on the situation. Sometimes the internet can make you braver, and it is easier to say things that you wouldn’t necessarily have the guts to say in real life. Like a few months ago when I saw a mum at the supermarket yelling at her kids and telling them to shut the F up. And then hearing a slapping sound and one of the children crying – I turned towards the sound to see other shoppers also looking at her. I didn’t see her slap her child, but did she?? And there was me, with my own baby and shopping trolley, quietly ignoring this horrible scene. I feel ashamed for doing that, and also horrified that this mother could behave like that with her two children in public (not excusing behind closed doors by any means at all – it just displayed that she either did not care, or did not see this behaviour as very very wrong)… and no one said a word. Last week our car broke down on our way to our family caravan in rural Victoria… we were waiting at a big service centre for my mum to pick us up. A young family with a baby and a toddler came in, bought McDonalds and sat down near us to eat. The little toddler wanted to go and play on the equipment and kept jumping up to leave the table. Finally the dad grabbed him by the arm and said ‘sit down and eat your f’ing food’. Ahhh!

    I think you have brought up some really interesting points about how people react to blog posts. I guess this does happen in the real world too, although in a different way.

    I still don’t know what I would do if I came across a post that seemed to be boasting or even just documenting behaviour that I would consider to be bad parenting. Would anything I say have any effect?

    • pmlevitt

      Likely, both online and in those real life situations, what you would want to say wouldn’t have any effect. There are some poor parents out there (though it’s almost taboo to even say that) and there are also parents who really just screw up but instead of changing their behavior, consider it a right of parenting. It is so frustrating to keep silent when you see situations like this happening though. Great examples! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • Jen {at} take2mommy

    I’m not a fan of reading those posts, where a mom brags about being a bad mom. I think the right response is just to leave the site. I certainly wouldn’t leave a falsely-positive, “hugs!” comment, nor would I leave an honest comment. Posting an honest reply, ie, “you need to show patience with your kids” won’t get you anywhere. It won’t influence that blogger to be a better mom…and it will probably set off a comment war.

    • pmlevitt

      It is true! And it gets under your skin after a while! Cause while we ALL have our mommy moments where our kids are driving us mad, being a mom is an overall pretty darn wonderful experience! Thanks for stopping in to visit and comment!

  • Indu

    I don’t know what I would do other than moving on to more like-minded bloggers.This is probably completely besides the point you have made here but just about the only experience I’ve had in regard to feeling guilt over possibly enabling a friend’s negativity. Postpartum depression strikes some moms quite seriously and I have on occasion (from my own experience of going through PPD) believed that vocalizing extreme negative feelings sometimes makes it seem like it’s okay to have them. It was important for me to be there for my friend, but there are times when I have felt guilty about saying that it was completely okay to feel or worse, say out loud negative things/feelings about a hapless infant. That said, I don’t think it really would make a difference to try to correct/positively comment on someone who’s callously ranting about motherhood experiences even if it’s just to provide humor to their readers.

  • MEL

    The confessionals thing is an interesting topic. I could wax on about online “communities” replacing real life ones or maybe something about many human’s need to confess to someone, but that would sound pretentious. And would probably be wrong.

    Instead, I find it interesting that little of this kind of thing circulates in the dad’s blogs (as far as I can tell). That’s probably a difference in how men and women share, but I do find the flaunting of poor parenting styles disquieting. There seems to be some unspoken agreement not to criticize others in this regard, even if its rightfully deserved (this probably stems from the moral relativism that infects much of our culture). But, as you say, there’s a fuzzy line between “am I alone in this” and “I’m awesome b/c I’m mean to my kids.” But who can draw that line for each person? Of course, tone doesn’t come across easily in text since we miss body/facial cues to let us know if there’s sarcasm or neglectful ignorance to accompany these confessions [that’s why we invented emoticons 🙂 ].

    In the end, I think I’ll try and remain more focused on my own family and take care of them. Let the others eat cake.

    • pmlevitt

      I agree with the fuzzy line! I think tone can be an issue, but not always. And you know my feelings re: emoticons!!! LOL! Thanks for your thoughts from the male camp!

  • Juliana

    Just now saw this post! You know how I feel about this. I’ve seen a lot of blogs where the Author openly brags and jokes about parenting failures. It definitely rubs me the wrong way, but I just walk away as well. I never comment. I agree that it has everything to do with the tone. If someone writes about their parenting failures in an honest and remorseful way, I can totally empathize with that person. It’s the bragging, making it a joke tone that really irks me. We all make mistakes, even big ones in our parenting, and I think it can be really helpful to talk to others who have been there. I don’t think it’s helpful to brag about them and then give each other high-fives.

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