Desperately Seeking an Honest Dialogue

A couple of days ago I put up the following on FB:

My son is wonderful and amazing and I’m thankful for him every single day, but holy $#!^ he’s exhausting. Seriously, the next few years are going to be loooooong.

I got a few, “the next FEW years?! comments, which I appreciate because I know it’s going to be crazy until… well… forever?, but most of the responses were sacchariney sweet platitudes about how fast this time flies and how soon I won’t be cool so I better savor it and how cute he is (“but he’s always smiling!”).

What I was looking for was a little recognition and validation, for someone to say, “these years are going to be long, and it might really suck, but you’ll make it through.” What I got instead was an admonishment to cherish this time and a reminder of how cute my kid is.

I get it. I really do. Time does fly and someday I won’t be cool and truly, my son really is cute. (And he is always smiling, as far as FB is concerned.) All of this is true. But right now shit is hard. I am exhausted. And sometimes I wonder why it’s so hard and why I’m so exhausted. Sometimes I spend all day asking myself: Am I doing it wrong? Is it harder for us than it is for others? Why am I drowning even though nothing specific is wrong? Is it ever going to get better?

As far as I know, everyone else with two kids is having a great time of it. It’s all laughter and hugs and siblings interacting in adorable ways. That is what I see on social media. That is what I hear about at whatever birthday party we’re attending this weekend. It’s always the same… and it’s always positive.

I’m guilty of it myself. My whole FB wall is a parade of cute pictures of my adorable kids. I recite the same spiel at birthday parties and other events. As far as anyone knows, we’re having a fabulous time as a family of four.

The thing is, I feel like I have to put that kind of stuff up. It’s expected of me. It’s the only thing anyone wants to see.

No one wants to hear that it’s hard. No one wants me to share that most days I go to bed wondering how I’m going to get through the next day. No one wants me to post the truth (unless of course the truth is all unicorn farts and fairy queefs).

If I were to post an unhappy picture of my kids, I would be accused of over-sharing, or disrespecting their future selves. (Ironical unhappy pictures are fine, of course, but those don’t inspire any kind of honest dialogue.) No one wants to see pictures of the truth.

So I participate in all the same ways everyone else does. I put up exactly the kinds of pictures that proliferate the suggestion that “everything is always great” and I probably make other people feel alone in their struggles, just like I feel alone in mine.

I understand why we act this way on social media. I recognize that a place like FB–where hundreds of people you don’t really know have access to your information–is not the appropriate venue for meaningful interactions. But if more and more of our personal exchanges are taking place on social media, and we are forced to present only certain aspects of our experience in those venues, when are we supposed to speak–and hear–the truth?

Maybe this is only a problem for people like me, who don’t have many friend in the area to sit down and really talk to. I don’t have anyone that I see on a regular enough basis to really confide in, so I’m left with FB and this blog. I guess I just don’t know where I’m supposed to work through the complicated feelings. Or at least have them acknowledged.

And I think it really does benefit people to know that others are struggling, that two kids or being a SAHM or working outside the home or maintaining a marriage is really kicking their ass. And they don’t know if they can do it at all, let alone do it well. Maybe these feelings wouldn’t be so hard to process if we knew other people were processing them too.

The day after I put up that status update my husband thanked me for sharing it. “It’s exactly how I feel,” he said. But I know that is how he feels, and he knows that I know–we talk about it all the time–and yet it still meant so much to him that I put it out there. It still took a weight off his shoulders, just the slightest public acknowledgement of our struggle.

In the end I’m not sure what the answer is. I understand why social media isn’t an appropriate place to unload our burdens, but I also know that some of us don’t have anywhere else to unload. And I think we could all benefit from a little more truth and a little less filter. I just wish it were all easier to navigate, because I think we could all benefit from more authentic support and less glossy perfection.

Do you think social media can be a place to give and receive authentic support? Where do you go to feel acknowledged and understood?

17 Comments

  1. I am part of an awesome, awesome FB group where we share all of this openly. (Ironically, I just posted a question about school pictures, and they all recommended the frame you just posted with your son’s monthly pictures). It is made up of >1000 people who attended the college I did, from the 80’s to very recently, and we get/give advice on everything from newborn feeding to preteen dating to husbands who don’t help out. It’s so wonderful, except that it causes me to never get off my phone, which is a problem.

    Anyway, I know this doesn’t help you since you can’t join. But I thought I’d share that such a space can/does exist. I wonder if there’s a way you could find something like that, since the blogosphere just isn’t what it used to be.

    1. That FB group sounds awesome. I am a part of a FB group that I can go to for support, but it isn’t very big and participation has dwindled in the past year, so I don’t ask for support there that often (though it has been incredibly helpful for me in the past and I’m very thankful to be a part of it). A bigger group, like the one you describe, would probably be a more appropriate place to share some of my concerns so that they can be normalized by others.

      And you’re right, the blogosphere isn’t what it used to be. And while I generally feel very supported here, sometimes I don’t want to write an entire post about an issue, I’d rather just have a conversation about it like you can in a discussion thread. Mostly I just wish that we were allowed to paint a more complete picture of what life is like so that the struggles can be more normalized, but maybe I really am struggling more than most people and so I want something different than other people want.

  2. I think that yes, some families have an easier time of it than others. Our link love this weekend has a post saying that has a lot to do with the supportiveness of the spouse, at least for professional women (the group studied in the article). Money smooths over a lot of rough edges too. And some people are just chill about almost everything. I don’t think that the healthy thing is to compare ourselves to other people in a negative way and then say that they are hiding or lying if their lives are something we perceive as better. Mindset is a great book.

    1. I do think some people have it easier than others. Many people would probably think that I have it easier than others because we have a lot of parental support (from our parents). But I think one big factor is a child’s temperament. I think my daughter is harder to manage (at least for me) than some kids (though I know other kids are much harder to manage–or would be for me–than she is).

      I’m not trying to compare myself with others and determine who has the harder time and I certainly don’t think people are hiding or lying by not saying the whole truth. I do exactly the same thing, because I feel it is expected of me. I guess I’d just appreciate a more, if honest is not the right word, maybe complete, conversation about parenting and marriage and life… But maybe that is impossible (at least on social media) because those conversations almost always involve other people (our kids, our spouses) and so we don’t feel we can share them.

  3. “And I think we could all benefit from a little more truth and a little less filter.” Yes! This! I’ve been pondering just this very thing as of late, so much so that we announced on Facebook in October that we’ve had three losses (as part of National Pregnancy Loss and Infant Awareness Month). For those who didn’t already know, it went one of two ways – either they completely ignored the post (majority) or expressed shock and extreme sadness on our behalf (only a few). I decided ahead of time that I would NOT be attached to the responses; what mattered was putting the sucky truth out there so that maybe, just maybe, someone else on a similar path would feel less alone.

    1. Yes, that is the danger in posting something more honest (or complete)… people are not always supportive and sometimes can be downright dismissive of our struggles. Maybe that is the other reason people don’t share that stuff, because they are more likely to get hurt than supportive.

  4. I think some of it also comes down to how you view something that others would deem a difficult time. For me, the time period that brought me to my knees was the sleeplessness of those early days. There are people who post perky pictures of themselves in those first weeks, but my thought is not that there was something wrong with me but just “wow, sleeplessness doesn’t affect them like it affects me.” By that same token, there are other parenting things that don’t faze me, and I don’t look at people struggling with those moments and think, “wow, that person doesn’t have it together like I do.” I mostly think everything just IS, and we personally struggle with various aspects of life — which aren’t difficult inandof themselves, but rather, difficult to us.

    Whether or not the discussion online is truthful… well, yes. Truth is a big thing. If you’re only showing part of the truth, are you still showing the truth? Are they really hiding something if they don’t post negative things online? I would say no — pehaps those things aren’t negative to them. They could be negative to you, but if it’s not negative to them, it’s not negative. I’m aware as I scroll through Facebook that I’m looking at the highlight reel, but maybe the highlight reel IS the way they see their day-to-day life. I don’t think it’s more valid to focus on the negative than it is to focus on the positive.

    1. You’re right, it’s not dishonest to only show part of the truth. What I show on FB is not a lie–my kids really do smile a lot and everything positive I post is genuine–but it’s not a complete picture. It’s not the whole truth. And that omission is what can be hard.

      You’re right that what is hard for one person is not necessarily hard for another, and we all have such different circumstances, so even common problems are experienced differently in different contexts. So maybe there is no way to share our authentic experiences so that others really understand.

      I guess what I’m looking for is a dialogue that is less, Wow! Having {insert life experience here} is super fun all the time! and more, Wow! Sometimes {insert life experience} is kind of challenging and I feel ambivalence about it even though the messages from society don’t acknowledge or accept those ambiguous feelings. But maybe social media is not the place for a more nuanced conversation. Or maybe I’m one of only a handful of people who want to have that conversation.

  5. I posted a video this morning on instagram of E shrieking and repeatedly hitting me with the caption “This is our new normal. I can’t say it’s my favorite stage.” Today has utterly defeated me and it’s only 9:15 a.m.

    1. I love that you did that. I guarantee it will make someone else feel less alone. We had some really bad hitting issues when my daughter was two and three years old. It was totally demoralizing, partly because I thought no one else’s kids were hitting like she was. It was a hard, hard time. I’m sorry you are going through that, because I remember how utterly overwhelming it felt to be in those situations.

    2. Ha! I was just about to say check your insta post!! I love that you posted that. I hate the perfectly happy, gorgeous coiffed photos. The ones I post of Molly are generally her being a total turd or looking like a complete scruff. Keeping it real ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think the reality is most of us have less than perfect lives and in our immediate friendship group we keep it relatively real but the outside one seems to have all of the glitz without the crap.

  6. I definitely commiserate. I find raising my kids to be difficult. When I had my daughter and she was a much easier baby than my son, I realized that a lot of people really aren’t lying about how they felt during the newborn stage. They really did have it easier! Who knew? Really the whole first 2 years I felt like I was just not the right kind of person to handle an infant. And part of it may be my personality. I think they do wear me down quicker than some moms. But also, my children are very feisty (to put it kindly) and that is hard for me and maybe some other mothers have less feisty children or just deal better. But I do think there is some other stuff going on. FB is the pretty side of things usually. People aren’t trying to not show everything. It’s not conscious, but I think most of us would admit to taking more pictures of the “nice” parts. I have lots of pictures of my kids hugging and cuddling. Not as many of the temper tantrums. If I took them, I might share them, but really in that moment, I’m too overwhelmed to get the camera. FB makes me feel bad about myself sometimes, too. I try to remind myself what it is, and that other posters aren’t posting nice things “at” me to make me feel bad. But sometimes I do. But I do wish the other moms that have things easier, or handle things better, or whatever it is would sometimes be a little more sensitive and realize that maybe it is harder for some of us. And if we comment about that, maybe they should think about their response a little more carefully. Just a thought for those of you who aren’t struggling as much.

    1. I can totally relate to what you’re saying about parenting a certain age kid not being a good fit for you. My kids are also “feisty” and I really struggle with managing them sometimes. I have come to accept that part of that is me and part is my kids.

      I do want to clarify that FB doesn’t make me feel bad about myself as a parent. Sure sometimes it makes me feel shitty about myself as an adult who is supposed to be able to keep her house from looking like a shit hole, but as far as parenting goes… I assume other people are struggling too and mostly I just wish we were all talking about it more so none of us felt so alone in that struggle. But maybe most other people aren’t struggling like I am. Maybe it’s a good thing people aren’t more honest on social media because if they were, I’d realize that I am actually having a harder time than most people, instead of assuming they just aren’t posting their “crazy making moments” just like I’m not posting about my “crazy making moments.”

  7. To answer your question though I think some of the private groups on FB are for that reason, the smaller and more intimate they are the more real you can be but sometimes it’s still just a pissing game as to has better, smarter, cuter kids. Kind of sucks after a while.

  8. I think a lot of what’s going on is people don’t grab their cameras when their kids are screaming at each other, hitting them, etc. We’re too busy breaking up the fights!

    My kids are super close, which is one of the many reasons we’re stopping at two. But they fight. Holy shit, they fight! It’s called down recently, but it started to concern us that Matthew was such a brute.

    I post the crap on FB when I think about it (sleep, Matthew being a shit, etc) but I also think FB should be sort if light since you know, people follow me who I hardly know.

  9. I overshare on fb. I do it and I regret it instantly. But if I didn’t do it I wouldn’t be able to get through my days. We have a different and sometimes scary life with B, and I’m an open book. If I pretend everything is great, then I feel beaten down. I think the time is coming soon to close her blog but I feel that she still has a big mountain to climb and I’d like to document it so that our friends and family know what we are going through. I often think about cutting my friends list way down, but when I go to do it I only remove ten people. That’s not a huge dent in my 420 or so “friends.” It’s definitely an issue I’m going to speak to my new therapist about…how much I share on fb and how it makes me feel icky about myself. My opinion is that I wish that people would share more, even though fb is supposed to be light. Not more as in their entire lives (I have a friend who does this and I actually really admire her for it) but I think that this online environment can get quite unhealthy, and if more of us were real then there wouldn’t be so much shame. Now I’m just babbling on a and on…but it’s something that I think about a lot!
    Noelle (K ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I try to post the “but it gets better! Probably!” responses for people on fb because I have needed it at times. I rarely post anything of substance there because I am friends with a great many classmates and therefore I presume anything I ever post can and will be read by someone interviewing me (or deciding not to interview me) for a job. It’s hard to be authentic when you don’t feel safe and there isn’t a place online where I’d feel safe enough to be totally honest. My girls fight like mad or love each other super lots and switch back and forth every other minute (sobbing, giggles, screams, peels of laughter, all day long) and I just assume that if it’s bad now, it will be better later either because we’ve gotten used to whatever they are up to now or because they stop doing the frustrating thing.

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