The Fiction(?) of the “Perfect Mom Post”

Barbie
“Little miss perfect.” by abigailala is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

To my mom readers: I don’t know about you, but browsing Facebook makes me feel bad about myself. My Facebook feed is full of mom posts promoting their great parenting hacks, model kids, fun family trips, and impressive summertime bucket lists. I hop on Facebook for awhile, and I log off feeling empty, and deeply insecure about myself as a mom.

Recently, I was off Facebook for about a year as I manuevered my first year officially back to work (teaching) since the births of my two sons, now almost 3 ½ and 5 ½. But when summer break hit, I logged back on and got triggered. I saw many manifestations of those “perfect mom posts,” and I immediately felt like a bad mom because of all the things I wasn’t doing. I didn’t have a summer bucket list for the kids. I didn’t have any fun trips planned. Long ago, overwhelmed by the many transitions that have characterized this stage of our lives, I had stopped making the effort to even post cute pictures and captions of my kids.

I eyed the feed for a couple weeks warily, despairingly.

I wanted to lash out on my own Facebook feed. I felt angry and insecure, and it was Facebook’s fault. Pinterest’s fault. It was the fault of those perfect moms with their perfect kids and perfect posts.

I did lash out. Thankfully not publicly. I opened my trusty writer’s notebook one night and released a self-righteous personal essay, from my professional standpoint as a writer and writing teacher, on how moms need a lesson in audience awareness and rhetoric: “Leave all the personal pictures for family photo albums, and for Grandma,” was the nature of my rant.

While I penned my angry essay, I thought I was doing my fellow moms a service, teaching them good writing technique for Facebook. Teaching them to consider their audience, because, obviously, my negative reaction as a Facebook reader and audience member showed that they were doing something wrong. Initially, I planned to post that essay on this blog.

But boy, I’m glad I gave the idea time to rest and, later, reconsidered. I realized that what I had written was likely to anger, if not hurt, my own target audience. I was about to be guilty of the very writing and publishing sins I was calling out. I also realized that I might be wrong about some of my key assumptions.

I wrote: “People didn’t used to wave family pictures around at the watering hole; why do we do it on Facebook?” “I long for things to be more like they used to be, women sitting around together having real, personal conversations.”

I remembered how lonely I had been as a stay-at-home mom, feeling disconnected from family and friends. I remembered how I felt lonely not only when we lived far from family and friends in Missouri, but also while I lived down the road from family and friends in Texas.

Women long to connect with one another; and in our modern world, it’s hard to do that in person sometimes. Who am I to say that moms wouldn’t share the same silly stories, or tips, or even pictures of their kids, with one another, if they were able to sit down with one another in person? I realized I was being too harsh.

For myself, when I get a chance to really talk to other moms–or when I take the time to write on social media–I know that I need to have harder conversations than the ones that often show up on Facebook. But who am I to say that the other moms on my feed need frequent “therapy sessions” like I do?

We all have different areas of struggle, and I need to get okay with the fact that motherhood is not a huge area of struggle for all women. The fact that some women “just love staying home” with their babies (and happily, and frequently, post their feelings about that on Facebook) should not threaten my worth as a person. I have my own unique strengths, and as I’m finding, those strengths center more in the workplace than in the home.

As I pondered all these things, I was pleasantly surprised, in fact, to realize that my professional training could help me understand the “fiction” I thought I was reading in those “perfect mom posts.” (Warning: We’re about to get a little nerdy here, moms…).

Scribbling Women–AKA, The Before-Facebook Days

A concept from my past training as an English major came back to me: the concept of “Scribbling Women,” or women of the nineteenth century who wrote domestic fiction, often under aliases, because they were trapped at home without a public voice. Ha. I remembered how, once I got a little babysitting help as a SAHM, I was a pretty voracious scribbler myself. The stay-at-home mom years were some of my most productive blogging and book-writing years. I was never a super active Face-booker, but perhaps I would have been more so, had I not had additional writing platforms available to me. During my SAHM-hood I was also blessed to have public-speaking platforms available to me, after the publication of Ending the Pain.

So, I did the responsible thing as a reader, and reconsidered where those “perfect mom posts” were really coming from. In the college classroom, we call this “critical reading,” as we apply knowledge of the “rhetorical situation.” The three elements that make up the rhetorical situation are writer/speaker, subject, and audience. These three elements are present in any writing or speaking situation–any communicative act–and they make up the message that is transmitted (spoken, written, or otherwise communicated).

Rhetorical Triangle

Writer/Speaker: These ladies that had my heart racing were not out to make other moms feel bad. They were merely moms dwelling at home—many of them home by choice—and if their posts were any indication, they loved being at home with their kiddos. They were moms who had chosen to stay home with their kids who, although happy at home, still needed to connect with other moms. So they were using the best platform they had, and that was Facebook.

Subject: The stuff of our lives makes up our conversations, so it makes sense that when one is a SAHM, a frequent topic of conversation will be kids. Oh, I remember it well; when I stayed home, with no work outside the home to divide my attention, my kids were almost all I thought and talked and wrote about. Home again for the summer, I am currently much more kid-focused; I find myself thinking and speaking and writing a lot more about motherhood than when I am working. It makes sense. We think and speak and write Facebook posts about the stuff of our lives; so who am I to criticize other mothers for posting mostly about their motherhood experience? (I did it too, once.)

Now, it is my sense that some moms could be more honest about motherhood in their posts, but that’s a subject for another blog. Until a mom messages me, or comments on my ugly-honest motherhood blog posts that they feel the same way (and a number of them have), I shouldn’t assume that her posts or published feelings are deceitful or fake; as a Christian, I should be happy that she is happy, and that her parenting journey is going well.

Audience: And now we get to audience. Who am I to say that these mom posts that had me so riled up a few weeks ago are inappropriate for their intended audience? As I reconsidered, I realized that I had taken it upon myself to react on behalf of all readers based on my own insecurities as a mom. Who am I to say that posts that make me feel insecure make other mom-readers feel that way? I am but one mom in a sea of Facebook moms, and, admittedly, I have some deeply rooted mommy issues that other moms may not have.

I don’t want to begrudge any happy moms for their “perfect mom posts” anymore (and I really just mean “happy,” “grateful,” “glowing,” “laughing,” “silly” mom posts). If those are the conversations moms need and want to have, some lighthearted chitchat at the watering hole, that’s great.

For myself, I’ve been grappling with some old mommy issues this summer. I’m talking about issues with my own mom…and you can bet that those issues filter into my own mothering. So maybe (probably) my own painful history, and the painful continuing story, is where my anger, and insecurity, is coming from.

Do any of you out there struggle with parental relationships? Anyone have mental illness, divorce, separation, or estrangement in your family history? Anyone understand? If so, message me, email me, call me, or meet me for lunch, and let’s have that conversation.

I’ll leave the lighter mom posts to other moms who can honestly make them. And God bless you, moms. You are doing an awesome job…every one of you who keeps showing up and doing the best you can do. For me, those “perfect” mom posts (“happy,” “grateful,” “glowing,” “laughing,” “silly” posts) feel more like fiction right now, so I’ll put my writing and speaking energies elsewhere. This writer will try to take her own advice and strive to create content that accurately represents the writer (speaker) and subject, and appropriately connects with the intended audience.

Three Reasons Why You Should Tell Your Story…and the Three Audiences You Should Tell

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Signing books at the Seventh-day Adventist Gulf States Women’s Retreat. Photo credit: Heather Severance.

“Sharing our stories of how God has saved us is the best way to share the gospel,” I told my audience at the Gulf States Women’s Retreat this November. That’s what I said, and over the course of the weekend that’s what I did. Stories, as Jesus well knew and demonstrated in his ministry, have a way of penetrating the heart like pure information cannot—and for this I am glad. It means I don’t have to be a Bible scholar to share Jesus, I just have to be willing to share what Jesus has done for me.

You see, stories from the heart open up other hearts in beautiful, sometimes painful, but also healing ways. After my first talk (of four), one woman caught my shoulder and said, “I need to talk to you,” and proceeded, for two hours, to tearfully tell me a story she’d “never told anyone” before. The next day, one woman after another approached me to confide their own stories of pain. “I could tell you some stories,” grandmother-aged women winked at me over lunch, and proceeded to do so. Over a thirty-six hour period, I heard stories of abuse, divorce, death, and attempted suicide, and not just me–the women started talking to one another! Praise God, this was one of my goals for the weekend: to get the women talking. To get them telling their stories.

But How Do I Know If I Should Share? 

“But how do I know if my story should actually be shared, and if it’s actually going to bring glory to God or not?” the question came to me anonymously on Sabbath afternoon during a roundtable discussion. Good question, and I’ll answer it with the remainder of this blog.

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Photo Credit: April Hobbs

The short answer is: defining your audience and purpose for sharing will guide you as to what to share, and when.

Defining your audience and purpose for sharing will guide you as to what to share, and when.

Each act of communication—each story we tell—has an audience and a purpose. What are yours? Let’s look at three levels of storytelling I have identified in my Christian/writing journey. You’ll see that each level has a different audience and purpose, and they all build upon one another to eventually lead to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, or our ultimate goal as Christians. Let’s talk about the audience and purpose for sharing the ugly stuff first.

Level One: Start Small

Purpose: To Heal from Your Pain and Your Past

Audience: God and One or Two Trusted People 

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Two attendees at the women’s retreat. Photo Credit: April Hobbs

If you’ve read Ending the Pain, you know that I believe sharing our painful stories is a first and necessary step in the journey to new life (whether we’re talking “new life” as Christians or “new life” after trauma). But when you are still in pain, with wounds still fresh, your first purpose for sharing must be to help you—not to witness to others.

I resent when Christians and churches ignore this part of our Christian journey—the part where we are broken and need healing—and simply tell us to go witness to others. Uh uh. Nope. True discipleship doesn’t work like that, because we can’t share what we don’t have. (See Part 2 of my book, the “New Beginnings” chapters, to read how effective we are when hiding behind plastic smiles at church. [Not very]).

Who should we tell our stories to when we are still broken and bleeding? Share them with a small audience that includes God and at least one other person—a spouse, a friend, or a trusted pastor or counselor. I don’t know why, but there is something freeing in the simple act of putting our stories outside ourselves—maybe it’s the new perspective and validation we gain; maybe it’s the support that comes when others suddenly know how to pray for us or help us. Whatever it is, it’s important to tell someone how you are hurting as a first step to healing.

Level Two: Identifying with Others

Audience: A Small Group

Purpose: To Get Support from and Give Support to Others Who Have Gone Through the Same Things

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More attendees at the Women’s Retreat. Photo Credit: April Hobbs

The next step to healing and moving your story outside of yourself is to tell a small group. Sometimes you will have to search for a group, and other times it will come together organically, as has happened recently in my life.

Three women at my “new” church in Missouri (my post Ending the Pain church) read my book and caught on to what I was presenting, and all three reached out and asked me for the prayer ministry I described receiving in the book. After praying with two of them individually and repeatedly over the summer (becoming their “one” person to confide in for a time), I gathered them into a small group because it felt like time to take their healing to the next level (also because I couldn’t keep up the pace of all the prayer appointments!). These two women had begun to feel hope through connecting to Jesus in prayer and sharing their story with me, and it was time for them to find support in connecting with one another.

We’ve met three times now as a group, and it’s been a beautiful thing to watch them open up to one another (as I once did with my initial, Ending the Pain, prayer groups), realizing that other Christians struggle in the same ways they do. I have witnessed such relief in their faces and postures and words as they learn it’s actually okay to talk about their ugly stuff…in this audience, among kindred spirits, among others who “get” their pain.

This is key at the second level (and the first): choose your audience well. It’s already hard to share and be vulnerable, so make sure you will be safe when you share. Don’t believe the lie that no one else has gone through this. Oh, what a lie! (There is nothing new under the sun.) Pray for God to show you those who will understand, accept, and support you. When you find this audience, as the ladies in my group have “found” one another, you’ll find not only the release of telling your story, but also the blessing of identification. You will be blessed at hearing others’ stories, and you know what? Suddenly, though you are still a work in progress, you will be blessing others! You’re not all better yet, but the beauty of opening your broken heart to Jesus and several trusted others begins the process of sharing your story for God’s glory. You and your small group get to watch, together, as you are transformed into God’s likeness. Now that’s a testimony!

Level Three: Going Public

Audience: Anyone the Lord Moves You to Tell

Purpose: To Comfort Others with the Comfort You Have Received

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During my third talk, I shared a bit about my publishing journey, I talked about story structures in the Bible (and in all our lives), and I encouraged the women to also tell their stories for God’s glory. Photo Credit: Heather Severance

When it feels comfortable and natural to share your story, when it ends with victory in Jesus, and when it no longer hurts (very much) to tell, praise God! You have gained a testimony that has gone past the “rough draft” stage and is ready for a larger audience. You are ready to share your story for God’s glory, not only to a couple close friends, but to whomever God moves you to tell.

That said, the audience for “public” sharing varies. We are not all called to go hugely public, and that’s okay. We all have a sphere of influence that only we can reach, whether it is one person or one thousand. The point here is, if God has changed your life for the better, you have a testimony, and because you are a Christian, you are called to share it with someone, some audience. Whether that audience is Aunt Mabel or coworker Bob or your book club or Bible study group—or whether God calls you to write a blog or publish a book or give a talk—God wants you to be ready to share the reason for the hope you have (1 Pet. 3:15).

Still Scared to Share?

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Gulf States Women’s Ministries leader, April Hobbs, praying with me before a talk. Photo credit: Heather Severance

Now, what if you have found victory in Jesus but still get weak-kneed at the thought of sharing? First I’d encourage you that even Bible giants like Moses got scared, and I’d remind you, as God reminded Moses, that God was the one who made Moses’ mouth (Ex. 4:10, 11); it is God who works in you to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13); and it is God who will embolden you to share. Just as you learned to ask him for healing in your hurt places, ask him to prepare you to speak to the audience he has for you. And he will. And guess what? The more you share, the easier it will get, until you realize that sharing your story is as easy as simply having a conversation.

Last Thoughts

Finally, after decades of not knowing how to “share Jesus,” I know what to say to people when they ask me about my faith: I just tell them my story. And I hope you, dear reader, are feeling encouraged to do the same…if and when you are ready.

But before you bust out a blog or a Facebook rant, first check your audience and purpose for sharing your story today. Ask yourself, and God, these questions to help you figure out when and where to share:

  • Is this primarily about me, or is it about God working in me?
  • Do I need more healing before I make this public?
  • Could I benefit from sharing this with a small group?
  • Am I at a point where my story would benefit others? Whom?
  • Will my story be good news to someone? Lots of people?
  • Finally, can I share my story publicly without needing approval from everyone? Perhaps a certain demographic won’t like it, but does it speak true of God and have the potential to bless more lives than it would ruffle feathers? (Remember, Jesus certainly didn’t base his ministry on approval ratings!)

Only God can answer these questions for you, but one thing I know: wherever you are right now, God can rewrite your sad story, and he can finish the good work the he has begun in you. We all have stories of sadness, suffering, sin, or struggle, but by God’s grace, over time, they can all become testimonies to the good news of Jesus Christ; they can all have happy endings.

When Writers Shouldn’t Blog (a Farewell, for Now)

Image created at canva.com
Image created at canva.com

I’m taking a break from my blog. I love it, but that’s the problem: I love it a little too much. In this season of life (early motherhood, moving to a new state, The Love Dare), lost in my own learning curves, I’ve lost audience awareness; I’ve slipped into nearly moving my diary online.

But a blogger should write for an audience beyond herself.

The fact is, I don’t have the capacity to write for an audience right now. At least not a blog audience, because a blog audience needs continual attention, much like the husband I am trying to love better; the one-year-old son who needs me constantly; and my God, who hasn’t been hearing much from me lately. (Ouch.)

Since deciding to put my family first, and actually implementing plans to that effect, I haven’t had much free time—but what free time I have has gone to this blog. Consumed with blogging and blogging ideas, I’ve lost the intimate prayer life and the desire to read God’s Word that I had before having a child. So, with the help of Love Dare #23, it’s time to remove this “thing that is hindering my relationship[s], [this] addiction or influence that’s stealing [my] affections and turning [my] heart away from [my] spouse [and my Maker].” It’s time to get re-centered on what’s most important.

But for me not blogging doesn’t mean not writing. While away, I will continue to write. I need to keep writing, in fact, to cope with all the growth and change happening around and within me. I just need to write for awhile without an audience, except my Savior, so I can listen better to him instead of worrying about what readers will think, or how to package my thoughts under a catchy title, or what content will get the most “likes.” I need some quiet time to be raw and real, to pray and journal, and to get back to that “empty notebook” strategy and the “writing to my roots” approach that evoked the germ of this blog and my first memoir—the core message of which I still believe needs an audience. (I’m asking God right now if it’s the right time to revise that memoir yet again…)

In time, I believe I will hit upon another message that deserves an audience–an audience to include (most likely) new mothers, impatient wives, writers, and well-intentioned (but struggling) sons and daughters of God. For now, I am seeking wisdom again, in and for this new stage of life. For now, I need to listen more than I speak; I need to read more than I write; and I need to write more than I blog.

Farewell for now.

Writing for an Audience

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Photo Credit: Auditorium by Ayla87

I started blogging because I needed an audience. After journaling for no one but myself for fourteen years, I needed to start thinking about writing for others, especially since I wanted to write and publish my memoir. I realized I had been self-centered, or writer-based, all those years. What’s more, I realized my previous education (even though I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English), had not helped me with the transition to writing for meaningful audiences. But now that I was serious about publishing a book, I had to become more reader-based.

If you’ve done any research on the publishing market, you know that being reader-based is essential to (traditional) publishing. If you’ve done that same research and you had an English education like mine, you might have concluded that many English teachers must not be writers—in the sense of trying to publish their writing.

Most of my English teachers gave me dead assignments, or what my thesis advisor called “orphaned texts” to write: papers that were not meant to go anywhere beyond their desk. My advisor also termed these assignments “autonomous texts”—texts that had no communicative element, no audience, and no purpose. This was in opposition to a superior type of writing situation: the rhetorical situation.

Last week I introduced my composition students to the rhetorical triangle—a way of thinking about writing that places a text in context of a specific speaker, audience, and topic. The major lesson is that if any element of the triangle changes, the text must also change.

Learning to think of writing this way—as a communicative act—has been changing my own writing dramatically. And it has tested me. First, on this blog, I have been forced to confront the self-pitying nature of so much of my past writing—and with that, the uselessness and counter-productivity of said writing. Considering my writing through the lens of a prospective audience has forced me to look in a mirror, as it were, and has helped me clear away the dross of my thoughts for current and future projects. The benefits of blogging have included even more healing for myself while looking in that “mirror,” and a push toward meeting my real goal of book publication.

Incidentally, I’ve just received my editor comments back on my memoir manuscript, which are further propelling me to write for an audience. I’m glad I had the training of eight months of blogging to prepare me to think about meeting the needs of book readers.

Trish Ryan’s assessment was great, pushing me to make some difficult changes I sensed I might need to make, but that I wasn’t emotionally ready to make earlier. I hope I am ready now. Time will tell as I enter the revision stage. Providentially, Trish told me I sent her the manuscript at just the right time to get feedback and intervention. I was glad to read that. I knew I wasn’t done with this project at first draft’s end, but I was at a point where I needed an experienced reader and writer to coach me to stretch limits for my intended audience.

Some of her best advice relating to audience was to lay out my story chronologically. Touché, as I had tried to bury or bypass some hard emotional scenes. I needed her to tell me that the audience needs more facts of my background to understand all the feelings I divulge throughout. She also urged me to err on the side of action versus reflection to keep things moving for readers. She said setting up a more complete background to my story in the beginning would help diminish the need for so much reflection later—readers would better understand my actions with the appropriate lead-up.

With her feedback, I am better equipped to revise my book for my audience, which will mean cutting out some material that was personally revelatory but not globally relevant. Though this may be hard, having  had an audience of one see and validate those parts of my story has heartened me to the task of cutting them from the final draft. (The tougher job now will be revisiting and writing those difficult parts of my past that need to be in the book).

So the final takeaway for this post? We writers, if we want to be published, and even if we just need to heal, need various audiences to push us to self-reflect on what we’re really accomplishing with our writing—and push us to take sometimes difficult steps. In the end, I believe writing for an audience is making me both a better person and a better writer, and it can do the same for you.