When The Frugal Girl’s post “You Don’t Have To Be Good At Everything” post popped into my email box the other day, I found myself nodding along. It reminded me of a post I wrote around this time last summer, arguing that when inspiring blogs (or Pinterest) make us feel less-than or depressed, it may be because we’re imagining an Ideal Mother on the other end who just doesn’t exist. Here’s the post!
I have always been drawn to inspirational writing. The way I see it, my house is already full enough of sarcasm and peed-on toilet seats, and the world is already full of enough hardship and mundane details. I don’t need to seek that stuff out. When I read I want to feel uplifted, encouraged, that life is full of beauty and possibility.
Of course, there’s always a downside to seeking all that beauty and possibility. When you’re drawn to inspiring writing and inspiring people, it’s easy to start wondering if you’re really good enough, just the way you are (the way you REALLY are, too, not the way you would like to be.)
When I was a new mom – in the days before blogs – I joined a online mothering forum. The group was made up of dedicated, passionate mothers who discussed and debated the finer details of, well, everything, from birth to breastfeeding to babywearing to cloth diapering to positive parenting to education to communal living to organic farming to green toys to natural skin care to political activism to volunteerism.
Everything. No details were left un-examined, no opinions left unshared. The ideals and passion in that group were amazing, and energizing, and dynamic. And because I so admired some of the stronger, more ardent voices in the group, I convinced myself that a) every mother embraced each of the others’ ideals equally (so, for example, I somehow internalized that because one of them was committed to an all-organic raw diet, they all were) b) that because they held to their opinions so fervently they were right, and c) that their strongly-held values and opinions were also their daily reality.
Sometimes I believed that because the mother in question conveniently forgot to mention the parts where she struggled and fell short of her own ideals.
But often, I believed it because I wanted to believe it. Because if they could do it – create these lives that measured up to all their passions and convictions – well, I could, too. (Right….?)
At first, all that possibility was exciting and heady. Later, I became depressed and disillusioned. As it turned out, I didn’t have enough energy or passion or time or money to live the life I had wanted to believe others were living. And I started to realize that a whole lot of them weren’t exactly the people I had wanted to believe they were. You know. Perfect.
I was thinking of that the other day while clicking through a roster of inspiring mom blogs: the kind I like to pore over, filled with photos of interesting craft projects (that I will probably never do) and recipes for uber-wholesome tofu-and-sprout snacks (that my children would probably never touch). And I thought about people I’ve talked to who have told me that these kind of blogs make them feel bad about themselves.
It got me thinking: With whom does the responsibility for “feeling bad” lie?
And I have been thinking about it ever since. As a blogger who writes to inspire, albeit in a different way than the craft blogger or the healthy-food blogger, what is my responsibility to my readers? What is the crafty blogger’s or the foodie blogger’s or the positive-parenting blogger’s responsibility to me?
Here’s what I think I’ve worked out: writers – and, in a larger sense, all of us mothers – have the responsibility to share honestly, not to paint our lives as something they’re not. That means acknowledging that while we might be really great at some things or really passionate about others, we don’t “do it all” and we all fall short. Some writers are great at this. I love, for example, how bloggers like SouleMama and Kelle Hampton note right in their FAQs that their blogs are a small portion of their lives – the parts of their lives they want to celebrate and document – not the whole story.
But as a reader, I have a responsibility, too. If I’m going to read blogs that move me to do better, to try new things, to seek beauty and patience and creativity and possibility, I have to allow those bloggers to inspire me without hanging my self-worth on whether my actual life measures up to the (probably unfairly ideal) image I’ve created of theirs. I have to own not just my choices, but the values that lead me to those choices. And I need to not just accept, but embrace my limits, and allow my priorities – my priorities, not anyone else’s – to guide the decisions I make.
Following the “green living” example, am I a hypocrite if I work hard to get my family to recycle more and reduce waste, but also use disposable diapers? Or if I sometimes let my kids dunk their locally-grown carrots in HFCS-laden ranch dressing? Or if I can’t really ever see myself robbing our emergency fund so that I can buy the children only organic-cotton clothing? I don’t think so. My conscience feels clear on the trade-offs I’ve made.
At the same time, I think recycling and reducing and natural foods and reducing pesticides are wonderful goals, and I am grateful for the mothers who feel so strongly about those things that they are willing to be the passionate voices inspiring me to do a little better, a little better, a little better.
It’s not another blogger’s responsibility to make sure I feel great about my life when I visit her online home. Only I can do that, and the first step is getting really clear about what my values really are, and what choices I am able and willing to make to support them – doing as well as I can with the resources I have at any given time, and leaving my defensiveness at the door so that other people’s lifestyles and opinions don’t feel like a personal commentary on mine.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that what I’m drawn to is not a specific lifestyle, or parenting style, or perfection. What I am drawn to is people living out their convictions, seeking their own personal bests, carving out a life that fits their values.
But their values do not have to be my values.
And my priorities can only be decided by me.
It’s true: I have high ideals. But they are backed by merely human resources. And that’s okay. Life is not an all or nothing proposition. It’s okay to look to others for ideas and information without adopting their values wholesale. It is also okay to have ideals of my own that I can’t – or choose not to - always live up to.
Because what other mothers do isn’t about me, and it need not a prescription for the way I live my life. We all have our limits. We all have the issues we’re willing to go to the mat for, and those that just don’t matter to us that much, or those we will get to later, or those we simply don’t have the time or energy to get really educated about right now, or those that will just never get us excited enough to give them much thought. The better we know ourselves, the easier it is to recognize whether that twinge of “not good enough” feeling is coming from an imaginary lizard-brain critic, or whether it’s a quiet nudge from our own best selves.
So, those inspiring blogs? I say keep ‘em coming. Because to me, encouragement is just as important as raw, in-the-trenches accounts or been-there-done-that commiseration. And it’s just as real, too. Inspiring blogs speak to us because our deepest selves want to do better, want to be better. Not perfect. Not ideal. Just… a little better, in whatever ways we choose, in whatever ways matter to us.
Personally? I’m grateful for the reminder.