The other day I was doing some online research, which is code for surfing the web while avoiding laundry and sitting in my pajamas at noon. Anyway, I came across something that caught me a little off guard. There’s a popular parenting website out there (I mean, other than Richmond Mom, of course) that offers a “confessionals” forum. Basically, you go to the forum and anonymously post your most shameful secrets. It seemed a bit voyeuristic…so naturally, I read all the posts.
After I was done, I was stunned. But not for the reasons you might think. Sure, there were a few posts that made me think perhaps the person posting would be best served seeking professional help. But what startled me was that the secrets, for the most part, were not about anything all that shameful…rather, they were about the struggles of parenting.
People talked about the white lies they told their kids in an effort to win battles over food, bedtime, and sibling rivalry. They talked about the struggles of breastfeeding. They confessed their occasional apathy towards childrearing. They admitted what we all know, that parenting is really hard. They even said things like, “I wish I liked being a parent more than I do.”
I completely understand the purpose of this type of “confessional” space for sharing secrets.
Sometimes it feels good to be able to say exactly what you’re thinking without any fear of judgment. Or at least, with the knowledge that your anonymity will protect you from being judged to your face. After all, there’s nothing like sitting in a circle of friends while everyone is sharing parenting stories like, “I take bites out of the cookies and leave fake footprints by the fireplace so my kids will still believe in Santa Claus…hee hehe…I’m so bad.” And you’re like, “I know! I told my kids Santa would die if they didn’t eat their peas…hahahaha…who’s with me?!” *crickets chirping* “No? No one?”
For the record, I’ve never actually said that, but I’ve come close. Desperate times, desperate measures. And truthfully, most of my friends would say, “Yeah, I hear you.” What struck me, however, about these confessions, or secrets as it were, from other parents was the simplicity of their nature.
They weren’t bad things.
With few exceptions, they weren’t things that most of us haven’t said or done at some point. But, they were things that people needed to get off their chest and for whatever reason, an anonymous internet forum felt like the safest place. I imagine that a lot of the people who visit this site do so just to feel “normal” and know that they aren’t alone in their thoughts and frustrations.
However, it left me wondering…why?
Why aren’t we having these conversations in our own daily lives? Why is this not the norm? Most of what I read should be said out loud, if for no other reason than because 95% of the parenting population will breathe a deep sigh of relief and say, “You, too? Thank goodness.”
Over the years, there has been a dramatic shift in the types of parenting materials out there. These days, it’s not hard to find that gritty, salt-of-the-earth mother who blogs about “real life parenting,” telling hilarious anecdotes about her kids and husband and all the crazy hijinks they get up to. She tells her stories with humor and honesty in a way that leaves us laughing and posting comments like, “OMG! I thought I was the only one! (smiley face emoji, unicorn emoji, rainbow emoji)” So it’s not that we don’t have realistic touch points. And yet the fact remains…
We live in a world where a term like “mommy shaming” is alive and well.
It’s one thing for a blogger to take a snapshot of parenting with raw humor. It’s another thing altogether for us to embrace it in our daily interactions. With so much of our lives lived online and within the parameters of social media, we are under a complicated microscope. We were raised by parents who were trying to overcome the perfection of the Leave It To Beaver generation. But now we’re trying to balance the “earth mothers” of the 70s and the “new woman” of the 80s and 90s. And we’re doing it all in the age of social media and marketing. As a result, we’ve created new standards that might be harder than ever to live up to.
As parents, we have access to more information, more articles, more images, and more social commentary than any generation before us. Instead of the private shame that comes with the thought that maybe the other members of the PTA noticed that we forgot to iron little Sally’s blouse because we were just too tired to get to it, we have to fear social media comments from people that we may or may not know.
And so, we nitpick our Facebook posts or our Instagram pictures, making sure that we only put up the happiest, smiling-est, “I’m so proud of my kid” photos that we can. We scour Pinterest and other sites for inspiration and ideas so that we can have the craftiest, most whimsical birthdays and holidays, forgetting that when we were kids, a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party was the Academy Awards of all birthday parties. We worry about breastfeeding or not breastfeeding, forgetting that there was a time when it was not only socially acceptable, but expected, to use formula. We talk about the “amazing miracle of childbirth” like we’re supposed to love every second of labor, forgetting that as recently as my grandmother’s generation, women were routinely knocked out and kept in the hospital for a week—no questions asked. And why? Because labor. That’s why.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am so very glad to be a parent in this generation. We have more freedom than ever before. And yet, we continue to feel guilty, because we are still judging one another whether we mean to or not.
We still feel like we can only admit our struggles in anonymous forums because we still live in fear that we might just be doing this whole thing wrong.
Again, while I both appreciate and understand the need for a “mother’s anonymous” in the form of identity-protected (i.e., judgment-free) confessionals, I hope that we can all learn to carry our truth with us into our daily lives more often. Because here’s the thing, underneath each of the posts, there are buttons to “like” the post, “hug” the person, or “me, too” the heck out of whatever the person posting has to say. You would be amazed at how often “hugs” are shared. Even the posts that truly deserve the title of “confession” are filled with hugs.
I have to wonder, if someone posted the same thing on Facebook, or better yet, shared it with everyone while at a playdate or on a girls’ night out, would we be able to be as accepting or supportive? I hope the answer is, “yes,” but I don’t know.
Often times, we are afraid to accept others for one reason and one reason only—we are struggling to accept ourselves.
I think the sooner we learn to love, accept, and most importantly, forgive ourselves for our failures, mistakes and, somewhat questionable survival techniques, we’ll be able to do the same for others.
And so my goal and my encouragement to all of you parents out there is this: share your secrets. If you really and truly can’t share your feelings with friends or family, then share them with a professional and get some guidance as to whether or not you need to make some changes in your life. But, in the meantime, I have a feeling that the more we tell our dirty little secrets, the more we’ll realize that they’re not so dirty after all.