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.

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Writing for an Audience

audience
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.