January 10, 2014 by Julia
I had three girlfriends over this past Saturday night for one of our periodical get-togethers involving cocktails, a million snacks, ice cream, and a crappy movie which we usually only give about a quarter of our attention. These are women I met through the new mother’s support group I joined after Fiona was born (almost) six years ago, and for a while in my mind I referred to them as the “moms,” although clearly our friendships had grown beyond just comparing notes on parenting. We had all decided to stay home from work with the kids, and got through our weeks with regular play dates and outings, experiencing similar phases at the same times, since our babies had been born within a three-month span. Our kids are still very close to this day, although now that they’re all in Kindergarten at different schools, they see each other much less often.
Anyway, Jill is the one who got me hooked on mommy blogs, which I read for a year before starting my own. There is one fairly well-known blog in particular that she and eventually Krissy and I would discuss, featuring gorgeous photos of this mom’s four children, cool design, and a whimsical, almost sexy writing style. At first, we all kind of wanted her home and her wardrobe and her…persona. Then I started to get annoyed by this run-on sentence thing that she does fairly often in an attempt to convey free-spiritedness or kookiness. I mean, it would have been fine a few times, but it seemed to be her crutch. (I have NO writing crutches! Oh, wait.)
We wondered how she took care of her twin toddlers, pre-schooler and elementary-school aged son while managing to exude such coolness. And then…duh-duh-duh! It came out that she had a nanny watching her twins until naptime every afternoon while her older kids were in school, which essentially meant she had half the day to herself in order to blog or do other creatively fulfilling stuff.
It was hard for us not to feel like that changed everything, and judging by the online comments, we were not alone in the feeling (right or wrong) that we’d been duped. The blogger claimed that she’d never been dishonest about the fact that she had a nanny – but as my friend Sarah pointed out, it’s not like she was blogging about the nanny taking the kids to the zoo. It had looked like this mom was in the day-to-day trenches with little ones just like the rest of us, except she had used her photos to transform the mundane into luminescent art. We thought she was one of us, and thought maybe that lifestyle was within reach for us, too, if we tried just a little bit harder. Turns out, a nanny sure does come in handy when you’re cultivating an online persona of carefree wonder.
Back to Saturday night. We discussed this blogger, mainly to confirm once again that we consider her a phony and not as interesting as she used to seem. At some point the upcoming season of The Bachelor came up (of course). I said, “Oh – I can’t watch any of it until I go to see Sarah in Chicago in a few weeks. We’re going to binge-watch for hours while I’m there.”
To which Cary immediately said, “You and your trips! You go on more trips…and you act on your blog like your life is so hard!”
And somehow I equated this teasing to something akin to what we’d been saying about that other blog, and I felt so defensive. I said something along the lines of, “I only go to Chicago twice a year!” which she debated, and I admitted it might have been three times one year before Jack was born, but it doesn’t happen anymore. I added, “And I don’t hide any of the trips I go on – I write about them all the time!”
We were all laughing, and Cary said, “You know I’m joking, right?” But I couldn’t shake the feeling (again, right or wrong) that everyone in the room considered my life easier than theirs, especially when it came up later that one of them referenced my blog as an example of a husband giving his wife time to herself – almost an entire day of yoga and reading and writing in bed over our holiday break.
I went on defending myself, telling them how Dennis and I try to give each other fairly equal amounts of time away from the kids, for the sake of our own social lives, creativity or rest. Which, based on conversations with other moms, is a rare system for parents, many of whom do it all together from breakfast to bedtime, seven days a week. The only downside to our tag-team style, I said, is that we have to make sure we get enough family time all together. “We try to have family dinner five times a week,” I went on, “And we have family days on Saturdays.”
But after they left I still felt upset. My life IS hard, I thought. The previous day I had worked from dawn to dusk, never sitting down for more than five minutes, putting away all the Christmas stuff, getting the kids outside into the snow, dusting and vacuuming and organizing. And then on Sunday, while Dennis was still at his brother’s place relaxing, Jack had one of his top five meltdowns of all time because I had the nerve to try to change him out of his dirty pajamas at noon. It went on for 45 minutes, and I wasn’t sure I could even get him into his car seat for our drive to the grandparents’ house. Fiona and I both were crying in the car. I am home full-time with a two-year-old! I thought, bitterly. That in itself means my life is not easy!
Not to mention, I thought I’d been pretty honest here on the blog. I try to cover the light stuff and the dark stuff, the difficult parts and the wonderful parts. I don’t actually keep track of how many “up” or “down” posts there are, but I am sort of aware of a swinging back and forth between the two in my writing, as I am aware of it in my real-life mood. And to me, figuring out the truth about myself and life and people is where the interesting stuff lies. I’m not looking for pity when I write about the hard days; I’m looking for clarity, hope, and a sense of community. And while it’s true that I think a Pollyanna-type blog would be pretty boring, I don’t believe I exaggerate hardships for the sake of creating drama. (Humor, maybe.)
I clearly over thought everything and jumped to conclusions that certainly weren’t intended by my friends. Analyzing social interactions is how I entertain myself while pushing cars around on the kitchen floor.
But it did prompt a questioning of my own judgement of this other blogger, who has the (rarely mentioned) nanny. Why did I feel the urgent need to prove that I am not like her?
Because I want other people to know that even though I have amazing support from my family and have been able to take short trips or breaks, I’ve also suffered and toiled and sacrificed in a myriad of ways to be the best mother I can be to my children. Because I want to be included, not resented or envied or judged. Because I have enough mommy guilt about whatever I do for myself as it is.
I think this must be true of that other blogger with the nanny, as well. Of course she has sacrificed. She has four kids, including toddler twins. Of course she needs to be supported by other moms. If she approached me at the library with her twins in tow, I might be in awe of her tattoos and sleek bangs and retro style, but I certainly wouldn’t reject her as a possible friend.
We need each other. Even Kim Kardashian, with her glam squad and (no doubt) staff of nannies, needs friends who talk to her about what it really means to be a mom. All the doubts and joys and pride. It’s confusing, exhausting stuff.
I have no problem with not judging the struggling, bedraggled, normal moms at the playground – it’s the cool, carefree, yet well-groomed ones I sometimes have a problem with. But I’m getting over that.
If I see a hot mama, I’m going to attempt to think “Go you!” rather than “Well, she clearly spends more time in the gym than with her kids. She needs to get her priorities straight,” which is based on wild assumptions that are just as judgmental as someone disparaging an overweight or unkempt mom.
If I read a blog about a mom going on a writing retreat or getting something published, I’m going to think about how much she must have enjoyed it, or how much she probably deserved it. And if I feel a twinge of envy, I am going to question why I haven’t gone on one, myself. And then I might look into a way of going on my own retreat.
And if I see another mom reaching beyond her family for a moment, or an evening, or a weekend, or longer, and the kids are okay, and her caregiving partners are okay, then I’m going to support her in it.
Let’s not idolize the mommy martyrs. Let’s allow each other to keep feet in both worlds, – children and then whatever else it is that makes us happy – and accept each other in whichever world we meet in.
Most of us want both, don’t we?