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.