This is Our Call: On Writing, Social Media, Shame, and Mommy-Blogging

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I am a blogger. I am a mother. But I don’t really consider myself a so-called “mommy-blogger”.

My writing includes my experience as a mother, but does not revolve around it.

Also, I’m not about to tell you how to mother your kids.

Do I have opinions? Yes, and I almost always think I’m right–who doesn’t? But that’s not what my writing is about.

My writing is about my personal journey towards minimalism. My hope is that my writing serves and encourages you as you simplify life and invest in the stuff that truly matters (like mothering your kiddos the way you feel called to, for instance).

Sometimes my motherhood and my minimalism collide– in fact, they often do. And sometimes I’ll write about how what I’m doing as a mommy is helping me become more free and more focused on my current calling rather than what’s “comfortable”. But my hope and prayer is that this blog can be a place for all kinds of men and women at different walks in life– not just moms who use a specific kind of feeding/diapering/sleeping method that I personally subscribe to (or am just trying out–let’s be real).

Another huge reason why I’m not a “mommy-blogger” is because I am not comfortable with making my kids too much a part of my online presence. Their stories and their images are precious and private to me, and so I am very choosy about how I share them with the world. I also feel it is part of respecting my children’s self-agency and personal privacy to keep them off of social media at large until they can choose to share what they wish with whom they wish.

That’s my preference. I totally understand it’s not for everyone. I also totally get if my preference frustrates some people (as I know it may). And I very graciously tell those people that my choice isn’t an evaluation of their choice, and also: “tough– this is my call”.

I think all of us mommies, bloggers or not, could afford say this to some people in our lives: “tough–this is my call”.

I began this post by stating that I don’t consider myself a “mommy-blogger”, but I should clarify that this is not meant to shame any bloggers or mommies that do. This label has gotten a bag rap in recent years, not because bloggers are out there shaming other moms, but because we as moms experience a ton of shame already.

I think people in general experience a ton of shame, but moms especially. We are constantly and frantically trying to figure out what we are doing as care-takers of our children amidst the crashing tidal waves of their growth and development. We are drowning, even if our Instagram accounts look like we’re all smiles and Starbucks and cute mom-buns.

The Internet and social media can make motherhood seem even harder. Because we are constantly comparing our lives to other people’s, and also, overwhelmed with more information and opinions than we could even sift through, we tend to doubt ourselves and constantly wonder if we are “doing this right”. It makes us crazy–even crazier than we already feel trying to raise tiny humans.

While I don’t consider myself a mommy-blogger, I do understand why there are so many out there.

Being a mom is all-consuming and sometimes can feel utterly isolating, even in the sea of information and “connections” online. Your mind is constantly reeling about whether to use a pacifier, or how to get your 4-month-old past this awful sleep regression, or if choosing to co-sleep is an amazing way to bond with your baby or if it’s the lead cause of SIDS. And that’s just the “newborn” phase.

I can see why many moms turn to writing and seeking an online community to share and learn and reach out. And while social media and the Internet at large can sometimes make things harder, it also can be a lifeline in other instances.

We must remember that not all “mommy-sharing” is or is meant to be “mommy-shaming”. In fact, I think most moms are coming from a place of trying to be helpful by simply sharing their experience.

But it can be easy to forget that other people’s choices aren’t evaluations of our own choices.

What we as mommies (and as people in general, really) have to continually remind ourselves is that the way we choose to live our life is our call.

Just because one mom writes a post about cloth diapering doesn’t mean you should feel bad about buying Huggies.

Just because one mom balances a full-time job and raising her 5 kids doesn’t mean you are any less for being a stay-at-home mom of 1.

Just because one mom documents in her natural birth experience on Instagram doesn’t mean your C-section was any less natural.

Just because one mom posts articles about the necessity of vaccines for all kids doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t dare voice any questions about what the CDC recommends.

Just because one mom proudly breastfeeds until her daughter is 3 doesn’t mean you should feel shame about weaning at 12 months.

And just because you disagree with these mommies doesn’t mean that they are wrong or bad or should be ashamed.

This is their call too.

 

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Begin Again

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I’ve done it again.

The thing I vowed to never do and the thing I knew was oh-so wrong, even as I found myself doing it.

My husband has left the house for a few hours to cool off and I sit alone shame-faced, tear-smeared, and utterly disappointed in myself.

Not but four days ago I remember writing in my journal how I was giving up being negative for the month of September. And now I am eating those written words like a bitter pill.

I screwed up… again.

I silently wish over and over that I could do tonight all over, to not be critical, to hold my tongue, to pray instead of voice my disapproval in such a nasty and disrespectful tone of voice…

Oh God, could I just start over? Please?

And it’s not until now that I remember the words of St. Benedict: “Always we begin again.” And I think about what it means, in my faith, to be born again.

So often I want the development of my character (and the character of others) to be a neat and tidy process. I want to look back and see a steady progression into a better person, more self-controlled, patient… (I could keep going).

But all too often I look at my journey and I see a tangle of stuff– good things and bad growing up together. One stupid habit abolished only to be replaced with another one, equally as detrimental. I see plateaus and back-slides and screw up after screw up– the same ones over and over again!

If I look at the world, I don’t often see much grace for this kind of messy progress or lack of improvement. If I look into myself, I don’t always see hope, especially when I’m here–sitting on the couch waiting for my husband to come home so I can apologize once again for being the way I don’t ever want to be.

But I do see hope in those words.

Always we begin again.

And I think of the way life is.

How trees say goodbye to their own leaves each fall, and how they start from scratch come spring.

How each January the first, most of the world makes promises and vows that are oddly similar to last year’s.

How, in the beginning, children need you oh-so badly, and then they grow to leave you and be needed by their own little ones.

How even though I’ve been born already, 28 years ago to my then 28-year-old mother, I was born into a different kind of life at age 20–a life that is now reminding me of my need for a kind of grace which I cannot get from the world at large.

Always we begin again.

I see that supernatural grace in the eyes of my husband, who knows Jesus, when he holds me once again. I see it when I wake up in the morning with the permission to be different, to “put on” the woman I know I can be despite the woman I was last night. I see it when I forgive my parents for the things I’ve vowed to do differently for my daughter. When I let my upstairs neighbor borrow my vacuum for the sixth time this week and patiently explain how to use the new washing machine (I’ve lost count of the number of times).

I see it in God’s love– a love like a kid loves a raggedy old stuffed doll to pieces. And I know that I am that ragged little doll. And I know He loves the stuffing out of me. It makes no sense. And that’s why it’s grace.

And I know that I must give myself this love-grace too. Otherwise, I don’t think I am ever really able to begin again.

So tonight I’m starting over. And when I screw up in this same way a few days, weeks, or months down the road, I will breathe deep, let go, and I will begin again.

Always.

A Letter from a Self-Conscious, Sensitive, Formally Anorexic, First-Time Pregnant Mother

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I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t at least a little self-conscious about my body. Whether it was my hair, my skin, how big my thighs were, how small my breasts are, or the puffiness of my face when I smile– I have always had a very self-critical eye when it comes to looking in that mirror.

During my high school and college years, I struggled deeply with depression and a dangerous combination of anorexia and bulimia. This lasted seven long years, and left a lasting impression.

While I am now free from the physical manifestation of my eating disorder (Praise Jesus!), old habits, as they say, die hard; it is difficult not to revert back into those former patterns of thinking. Especially now.

Especially now, because my body is changing quite a lot lately, and it seems as if everyone who sees me feels the need to make comments about it.

Especially now, because I’m pregnant. 

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My growing belly is a welcoming landmark for seemingly harmless comments to be tossed carelessly and amiably at me, a sensitive soul to begin with, but even more so due to those lovely pregnancy hormones.

So this is a letter to my acquaintances who naively believe your comments about my body to be of no consequence during this very fragile and challenging time in my life before motherhood:

Dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well,

Not all of you may consider yourselves to be “older”, but you are all older than I am. Not all of you have even been pregnant, but if you have, it’s been a good while. I assume this, because you probably have forgotten what a very vulnerable and emotional time pregnancy is– otherwise I do not believe you would say the things you do.

Some of you I see almost daily, or at least every week or so, and I might even call you my friends. Yet, I know you must not know me well, for you would not speak as you do if you truly knew me.

And yes, you are always a woman.

So, dear older, non-pregnant woman who doesn’t know me well, please listen and learn from an emotional pregnant woman who is being deeply wounded by your careless comments.

Listen. For the sake of any other woman who has struggled with body-image, which statistically is about every woman you see around you.

When I’m 18 weeks along, please don’t inform me that most women don’t even look pregnant at 18 weeks. Please, resist that urge to be the first to tell me that I must be carrying twins, because when I find out that there is only one baby in there, I’ll remember your comments about how big I am, and even though I try not to, I will feel shame creeping over me.

When you haven’t seen me in a few weeks, please don’t tell me I’m carrying the baby in my hips and butt. I don’t know many women who want to hear that they have gained noticeable weight in these areas of their body, and I am not any different.

And besides, what do you expect me to say to that comment? “Why thank you. I’m so glad you noticed that my backside is expanding– I thought no one ever would!”?

Not likely.

When you ask me what type of birth I want, please don’t scoff and tell me what you did instead, implying that it was a better or easier decision. Please don’t discourage me from a natural birth that would benefit the health of my baby and empower me as a woman and mother. Please don’t assume my expectations are unrealistic. Let me figure that out for myself, or let my very experienced and qualified midwife tell me.

When I reach for another helping of pizza, don’t look at me sideways and then exclaim, “oh right, I guess you’re eating for two now”, implying that otherwise it would not be okay to eat as much as I am eating.

When you curiously ask me what pregnancy symptoms I’m experiencing, please do not tell me it’s odd I’m still getting morning sickness, or that you had energy all the way through your second trimester, or that you’ve never heard of round ligament pain “so early along”. It doesn’t feel good to have someone evaluate the worst of my pregnancy symptoms and articulate the strangeness or normalcy of each of them in comparison to another’s experience. Besides, you telling me that it’s strange to have acid reflux during pregnancy won’t make mine go away. 

When you see me drinking coffee, don’t assume I have not been informed about the dangers of caffeine during the first trimester. For all you know, I am trying to live off of a cup a week, and this is my designated time to enjoy a latte.

And when you ask me how I’m feeling and I respond “tired”, because most people forget that growing a human is rather exhausting work, please don’t tell me to “get my sleep now”, implying that I do not have the privilege of being worn out without a crying hungry baby waking me up in the middle of the night.

Please don’t tell me my face looks fat. Don’t tell me my boobs look bigger. Don’t tell me I am “skinny pregnant”. Don’t tell me I look larger than I should.

Don’t try to scare me with birth horror stories. Don’t only speak of the hardships of motherhood. Don’t force your own observations or “insight” about how it will be when my particular baby comes into the world.

Just don’t.

Instead, smile and listen and tell me I look like a healthy and glowing pregnant woman, or better yet, don’t make any comments about my appearance at all! 

I know I could suck it up and deal with it. I’ve come a long way since my eating disorder, and I’ve gotten good at shaking things off and not placing so much of my self-worth into how I look.

But I need to tell you that your comments do sting. I just need to.

Because, the thing is, I believe you say all of these things–these comments about weight and pregnancy symptoms, and crying babies, and epidurals, and lack of sleep–I believe you say all of those things because you are excited that I too am now going through this experience of pregnancy, and soon, motherhood, and because I think it probably makes you think back to your own experience.

And this probably makes you say some things you might not otherwise. 

I am trying to assume the best and be strong.

But I cannot lie. Sometimes those comments land at exactly the wrong time. When I’m exhausted, hormonal, feeling useless and scared and huge and disgusting. When I wonder if I’ll ever be able to do ab exercises on my back again or if I’ll get stretch marks during my third trimester, or if my swim suit will fit this week, if I’ll be good at being a mom, or if my husband is telling the truth when he says I still look attractive.

It’s so hard for me to fight off negative self-talk, self-doubt, and body-shaming thoughts during times like this.

 

So, dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well, although you may think I am being overly sensitive and although you may be right, I urge you to remember, or at least try to understand how tender the heart is during this fragile time of pregnancy.

And if you were one of those super-woman confident feminist mammas who worked full time up until week 40, never got morning sickness or pregnancy acne, and who hardly took other people’s comments seriously, please consider that I may be a bit different than you.

Be kind. Be considerate. Be gentle. Don’t just say whatever you’re thinking.

Dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well, I hope you will listen. And I hope this helps you know me better.

With love,

A Self-Conscious, Sensitive, Formally Anorexic, First-Time Pregnant Mother

On Pouring Into Others: a privileged girl and a dying man

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This sign hangs in my little make-shift office that is in reality just a corner of my dining room blocked off by bookcases and a paneled screen.

I often look at this sign as a reminder that I need to take care of myself SO that I can take care of others. “Put on your own oxygen mask first”. But today I am wondering to myself if I use this as a justifier.

How do we know if we are really pouring into others? 

I get up at around 5:45am and have my quiet time with God. I eat some zucchini bread with some coffee while reading and journaling out my prayers. I do my p90X workout at 7am, then clean the kitchen until about 8, then work on some marketing projects for our family business. Around 9:30 I step out of my little oasis, my safe-haven of a home, and rush off to the Kroc Center to teach my weekly PiYo class.

On the way I see people. I see a man sleeping on the sidewalk near a gas station, a tarp covering him. I see women walking with their children all bundled up, trying to catch the bus on this blustery cold day. I see men with cardboard signs making their way to the busy intersections near the highway, trying to gain the sympathy of passer-bys.

I teach the class to about 8 participants and we have a great workout and prayer time after; specific prayer is requested for our neighborhoods that are riddled with gang violence. After that, I drive home, get out of the car, and I see my neighbor. I yell his name and he immediately turns directions to come towards me.

(I’ll call him Leo, but it’s not his real name.) Leo lives in a little house across the street from me– lived there for a long time. Leo is about 45 years old, but he looks over 60. Leo is dying of lung cancer.

He’s completely drunk, as usual, but I stand with him by the curb and listen to him talk for a good half hour, making sure he’s not in the street when cars drive by. I don’t really know what to say or how to help him and it makes me feel helpless.

His mind wanders, and he keeps talking, but I’m not sure about what. The alcohol is making him slurr his words and the man has only a few teeth left, so it’s hard to understand him. I recognize the hurt in his voice. I have no idea what he’s going through right now– to know that he’s dying and to know that he could have prevented it–but I can imagine.

I can imagine and it brings tears to my eyes. He tells me they will take him to the hospital soon, but until then he keeps staying with friends and family because he doesn’t want to stop breathing in his sleep and lay alone in his house until someone finds him. He wants to be found by friends. This is where I start to cry.

He reflects on his children. His wife. He hopes he can kiss her again in heaven. He tells me in one breath that he is so angry at himself for doing this to himself, and then in the next that he has no regrets and that he’s happier than he could hope to be.

He smells like cigarettes and liquor, and I wonder if he will remember this conversation. I hope he will remember the hug, the warm smile in the bitter cold wind, the patience with which I try to listen to him. I hope… I wish he would surrender this habit of cigarettes and booze. I wish he would try to live out the rest of his short life in sober consciousness, with intentionality and dignity. I wish he knew something other than drunkenness and a chemical high.

I wish I could encourage him to change now, to let him know that it’s never too late… but… it is too late, isn’t it? He’s going to die. Soon. What would I do? Would I change? If there no hope for a future improved by my choices? Would I even try?

I suddenly want to leave, and I feel so guilty for it. But it’s cold and my ears are starting to go numb, and I really can’t understand a lot of what Leo is saying. Still, I listen intently. This conversation is making me so sad and I can’t do anything about it. But he seems comforted just talking to me, so I stay and I listen, and I pray…

Lord, please give me the words you would have me speak.

Nothing.

Lord, please show me what I should do.

Nothing.

Lord, work through me so that I can help this man.

Nothing.

What the heck? God, why can’t you use me here? I’m right with him! I can do something, can’t I?

But God didn’t have anything else for me to do. There was nothing of myself that I could pour into Leo. There was nothing I could change in him. There was nothing I could say to make it better. My cup, regardless of whether it was full or not, was seemingly not pouring into any of the people around me who seemed so desperately to need filling.

And even now I ask myself, why? Why couldn’t I have helped? Why couldn’t I have done something?

I think the answer is a little more simpler than I usually like: I am incapable.

I don’t really know if Leo simply needed someone to talk to, or if there was something that he needed to hear in that moment. All I know is that I didn’t do any “pouring into”. All I did was listen to him speak, simultaneously listening to the quiet sound of my heart breaking.

I go inside my warm home with quaint decor and a clean kitchen, with two cats sleeping on the chairs and reminders to “do all things with love” on the walls. I feel utterly guilty for having what I have, living how I live, and owning what I own.

I only hate my own privilege when I can’t seem to use it to help someone who doesn’t have it.

My cup– if we’re going with this whole metaphor thing still– feels completely drained dry after my interaction with Leo. I’m emotionally exhausted, guilt-stricken, and heartbroken for my neighbor, and for this community at large.

“It is not selfish to refill your own cup so that you can pour into others. It’s not just a luxury. It is essential.”

But to refill my cup would, in fact, seem selfish–like a luxury. In fact, most of what I did today– the quiet time, breakfast, workout, job, cleaning, and marketing work– it all seems like luxury compared to what I see when I look outside at this dark and hopeless part of the city that I’ve now been calling home for the past 3 years of my life.

“Put on your own oxygen mask first!”

–I’ve been told to do this, but it doesn’t seem right. Not when people are sleeping on sidewalks and sleeping at friend’s houses because they might die in their sleep.

No it doesn’t seem right when there are people in need everywhere and when it’s really hard to know if helping is helping or if helping is hurting… a lot of things seems pointless and stupid when looking at the heartbreak that surrounds me.

This world isn’t fair. I believe that this outrages God more than it could even outrage us.

And I believe that God loves Leo and the homeless man at the gas station and the bundled up mommas and their little sweet babies and the men standing at the intersections with signs. He also loves the drivers who pass them by and the ones who roll down their window to toss them some change. He even loves the helpless white girl who doesn’t know what to say to a dying man.

This world is dark, riddled with guilt, and it’s so sad. But the beautiful thing is that God’s cup never runs dry, and he continues to pour it out in the form of Christ’s blood. It doesn’t always look like I think it should look, at least not on this broken side of eternity.

But it’s like Leo said to me today, “Oh I believe it’s going to be much better after death Miss Claire. I do. I just don’t know what it will hold, and that’s what scares me, but I believe it’s going to be better than this…I do believe that…”

I do too Leo. I believe it will be a time and a place where all of our cups will runneth over.