Article Jan 21, 2015

Social media and our narrow view of motherhood

In November of last year, the New York Post ran a piece by Karol Markowicz titled, “Modern moms looking for perfection in all the wrong places,” in which the author encouraged mothers to stop the comparison game and just love their kids. This is not the first such article, nor will it be the last. I have spent significant time over the past two months thinking about this issue and how best to respond to it as a follower of Christ.

In her piece, Markowicz writes, “You may have noticed, in the last few years, a proliferation of crafting, baking, clothing-making, all photographed to dreamy perfection in perfect light with a perfectly designed (and clean!) home as the backdrop.

“Domestic perfection is in, and no one has been harder hit than moms.”

Keeping up with the Joneses on the internet

The author goes on to describe the problem not as a phenomenon, but rather a spin on an old issue—keeping up with the Joneses.

“It used to be coveting the new Mercedes in the Joneses’ garage, but now they’re on the Internet showing us the birdhouse they built using reclaimed wood and recycled wire and making us feel bad about ourselves in a whole new way.”

It is true that social media takes this natural inclination to comparison to a whole new level. Not only do we see the birthday parties of our children’s friends when we attend, but now, online, we see those of our high school acquaintance’s children whom we’ve never met. We see images of report cards, sports trophies, ballet costumes, Lego creations, and science projects. And then we compare—either we’re not doing enough, or we’re patting ourselves on the back for doing more.

I started reading the comments on this piece by Markowicz and those on other articles on this topic and noticed that many articles addressing the “mommy wars” or the danger of comparison miss something vital: a “good mother” is not defined by one demographic.

Motherhhood in different demographics

The truth is, for millions of mothers around the world the thought of themed school lunches or birthday parties (or even birthdays) will never even enter their minds. Even in our own cities and towns, these ideas will never be a reality for many. So when we define mothering success by the images we so often see (and share) on social media, we are unwittingly setting a standard that many women will never attain. Success for many mothers would be to provide their children with three meals a day and shoes.

Yet, because of our ability to curate the information we receive on a daily basis, we easily take on a myopic view of the world. I have noticed how quickly my own social media interaction falls into line with those I follow. We develop our own terms and language. We post the same kinds of pictures. And for anyone who doesn’t fit into the online world I’m creating, my role as personal curator allows me to simply cut them out of my news feed. So, in essence, I have the unfortunate ability to limit my exposure to people unlike myself—people who live vastly different lives. We can insulate ourselves from news outlets or different perspectives that make us uncomfortable. And so, we trick ourselves into thinking our mothering experience is universal.

Broadening our social media spectrums

The more I have thought about this, the more intentional I have tried to be with broadening the spectrum on my own social media consumption. I find when I open things up and stop following people who only speak and look and have the same life as me, I’m far less prone to comparison. It changes what I post online as well. There is a steadying balance to rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. I know I will never love perfectly in the already/not yet reality in which I live, but I want to love both my children and my fellow moms well.

At the end of the day it boils down to what Jesus said to His disciples in the upper room: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:9, 12).

I fail at this daily, but the real example of how to love my children doesn’t come from other moms, either in “real life” or on social media. That’s too limiting. If my definition of loving my kids does not apply to my sister in Rwanda, then it’s the wrong definition. Sure, it may have different practical implications, but, at the heart of it, our requirements for one another are too small, rather than too great. Our example is not someone who got up early to bake gluten-free bread and harvest eggs from her free-range hens for breakfast (which sounds amazing). Our example is One who gave up His life. Greater love has no one.

Yet, the Father who gave His Son and the Son who gave His life do not wait for me to fail to live up to this standard and then rejoice at my failure. Right now, the Son is interceding for me before the Father, and the Father loves me and sees me as righteous because of the Son. So when I walk in the joy that comes from knowing such a gracious God, it redefines motherhood. The reality is that we’re all failing at this daily, but there is peace and joy in Christ in the midst of it. That is a portrait of motherhood that works universally and one we can share with our social networks—on our street and around the world.