Truth in the Time of Social Media

Daycare pisses me off sometimes. It irks me that they think they can make parenting recommendations simply because I pay them to parent my child for 40 or so hours a week. It was after a daycare worker said my son was behind his class for not using baby sign language, something I did not know he was learning and should be reinforcing at home, that I did the only reasonable thing and messaged another mom to complain about the audacity of someone at daycare saying my kid was less than the stellar being I know him to be.

The other mom agreed and placated my fears that something might be wrong with my son. Then she surprised me by saying that I had taken to motherhood naturally, and that she was in awe of women like me. She said she was impressed by my ability to take care of my son and myself.

I don’t know this woman well. We’ve spent occasional time together, but we primarily interact over social media. It’s possible that she just said this to make me feel better when I was questioning my maternal abilities, but I think she meant it. Which leads me to assume that my social media posts gave her this glowing impression of my motherhood.

I am not a perfect mother. I’m also not great at taking care of myself. I rarely eat vegetables and like wine a little more than I should. What I am good at is running absurd distances, keeping my child alive and making pithy comments online. So why would anyone think I had it figured out?

It must be that the online me is the best me. I only share the good or funny or cute stuff. I post pictures of my kid being cute because like all moms, I’m pretty sure my kid is the cutest child to ever exist. I also post a lot about running. I’m highly competitive and I compete in a lot of races, frequently ones that I’ve picked out because I know I have a chance of winning or placing in them. If all you see of me are the race wins, cute kid pics and funny anecdotes, you might assume my life is spectacular. Here is a win as documented on social media:

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What you don’t see are the times my kid won’t stop crying for no discernable reason. Or refuses to eat and throws his food on the floor. Or tries to grab the poop out of his diaper in the middle of a change. Or the days I count down the minutes until it’s time for him to go to bed.

What you wouldn’t know is that running isn’t about getting in shape and looking good for me. It’s my outlet. I need it to stay relatively sane. Running is the time I can unplug my brain and forget my never ending to-do list and all my worries of the day. If I don’t run, I’m grumpy and stressed. I know many people will only run if chased and can’t fathom enjoying running 30 miles a week, but it’s my thing. I post about it because running brings me joy and I’m proud of it.

Everyone has an outlet. It can be reading a book, practicing yoga, crafting, time with friends, or watching Netflix to the wee hours. You know yours, and if you don’t, try different activities (or in-activities) until you find something that recharges you.

It’s ok to have an outlet. It’s ok to share with the world the things that bring you joy and that you’re good at. Take my older sister. She’s good at a lot of things, something as a younger sibling I am acutely aware of, but among her many talents is an otherworldly ability to bake. She enjoys it. Not only are her desserts delicious and complicated, but they look good too. Her creations look like the originals that amateur bakers emulate on route to epic #pinterestfails. Just look at a sampling of things she actually made in her own kitchen:

Looking at these images, who wouldn’t think she was a maven baker? For every success though, there’s a string of less-than stellar outcomes that never make the cut to post online. We all want to share our triumphs and gloss over whatever paints us poorly. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem is when you take an online persona at face value. There’s always something beneath the surface.

Facebook isn’t real. Instagram is filtered life. Twitter brings out the worst in people. We’re so entwined with social media that it’s hard to remember that nobody is entirely authentic online, even when we mean to be. Many people, moms included, see the idealized partial picture of a social profile and compare themselves with this perceived perfection. We know our own imperfections, so it’s easy to see how great other people’s life’s can seem and come up feeling inadequate. But that’s not a fair comparison.

Instead of finding shortcomings in ourselves when we venture online, remember that nothing is quite as it seems. It’s fine to see accomplishments of friends, family, and your college roommate’s ex-boyfriend and congratulate their achievements. Just take it with a grain of salt, and never compare you’re your multi-dimensional self with the flat personas that come through online.

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