Even the super-confident super-awesome are not immune to culture

Occasionally I have to take a break from mommy-blogs.

Why?  Because they make me anxious.

I know, you’re thinking, how could *I* be anxious about parenting?  I’m the laziest (non-negligent) parent on the planet and my kids are disgustingly perfect (though of course you note that I would never use the adverb, “disgustingly,” I would say they’re “awesomely” perfect or something [actually I would say "amazingly," but I grant you our frequent use of "awesome"]).  Both of these are true.

But mommy-blog anxiety gets even to me.  Culture is *that* strong.  There’s only so many blogs on having to lose the baby-weight, worrying about what/how much baby is eating or how much screen time toddler is getting or worrying about whether something is too early or too late or too long or whateverthe[expletive deleted] before even I start questioning if these are things I should be worrying about and are my kids really as wonderful as they seem [spoiler alert:  they are!] and if so, what’s wrong with them [rational answer: nothing!].

Now, I’m not talking about blogs where the kids or parents have actual real problems+.  [Also, I'm not singling out any one blog right now.  This unnecessary anxiety seems to be a contagion that is going through a huge number of mommy blogs right now.]  I’m talking about blogs where the kids are seemingly perfect, and the mom is seemingly perfect, but instead of acknowledging that fact, it’s anxiety this and worry that.  If their seeming perfection is wrong, then maybe I’m wrong about mine.

Of course, I’m not.  Even when the skinny girl complains about how fat she is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my normal weight.  But (just like in college with the weight thing) I can only stand so many repeated hits before it starts to get to me.  The patriarchy is expert at using the virtual paper cut as a primary weapon.  It perfected the ton-of-feathers attack.  Any one blog or post or NYTimes article can be brushed off, or given a supportive comment in response.  At some point part of me wants to say, “CALM the [expletive] down!  You’re working for the patriarchy!”  But that’s not supportive so I try not to, especially since it’s not any one post’s fault or even any one blogger’s fault– it’s the culmination of many posts and blogs with the same message to be more anxious.  I get grumpy because the patriarchy does that to me.

And you may be thinking, “You’re grumpy because deep down you know things aren’t really that perfect.”  But that’s not true.  Deep down I know they really are, because I have huge trust in my family.  I have trust that even if there’s bumps and growing pains, that they’ll figure things out for themselves even if I’m not doing whatever is “optimal” for them.  I trust that there is no “optimal,” that there’s just “different” and “sub-optimal” is another word for “learning experience” (or, as my mom would say, “character building”).  I trust that my husband and I love our kids and will always be there for them and that they know that.  I don’t have to trust me to know deep down that my kids are doing great, I have to trust them and my husband and that we’ll tackle the challenges as they come.

And I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll work through them.  But if there aren’t any right now, I don’t need to @#$#@ing create any.

I could do one of three things.  1.  I could comment super-supportive calming words on these blogs in an attempt to spread confidence (though of course this sometimes backfires because tone is difficult in writing among other reasons), 2.  I could do lots of introspection and re-affirm my core confidence and awesomeness, or 3.  I could avoid the anxiety paper-cuts by not going to those blogs.  Guess which option is the least work and most conducive to getting two more papers and a grant proposal out before summer ends?++

So… currently taking a break from mommy blogs, at least until swim-suit season is over.

+And we are *certainly* not talking about things like post-partum depression.

++Also note that we are not blaming people for working through their anxieties via the media of blogging.  It’s the patriarchy that is the ultimate root cause of that kind of unnecessary anxiety.  But that doesn’t mean we have to read about it if it has negative effects on our own well-being.

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49 Responses to “Even the super-confident super-awesome are not immune to culture”

  1. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I am convinced that the details of exactly how people parent their kiddes has very little influence on ultimate outcomes, so long as they provide a physically and emotionally safe and loving environment.

  2. Miser Mom Says:

    Well, I for one am going to miss having you around my neck of the woods (after all, your encouragement is a big part of why I kept blogging). But I wish you a happy mommy blog sabbatical! A non-anxious parent is a good one for your kids to have.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I thought you were a personal finance blog? Just like Wandering Scientist is a professional scientist blog. [She says right after hitting send on a response to your post today. It's already too late to re-categorize. Though yes, today's post was unexpectedly pretty anxious, and I did respond with a "no, your way isn't the only way to get kids to do dangerous things."]

      • Miser Mom Says:

        Ha, yes. I hit “publish”, came over here, saw your post, and thought, “wow, what sucky timing I have!” I guess there’s danger in blogging as well as in home repair!

  3. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    Is mine a mommy blog? I go back and forth on this. I get bored with anxiety posts, too, but on the other hand I know they often draw readers in. And it’s not always the anxiety part, sometimes it’s just problem solving that’s interesting. I think these things are separate. Your children are, indeed, perfect, but some of the most interesting posts (for me) have involved subjects like figuring out how to solve the biting issue at daycare. Maybe it’s all in the approach.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on the headline. I deliberately skipped the “sleeping” post and its comments because that is one of those things that always turns into a judge-fest, and I know my kids truly are low sleep need (note how I don’t say, “bad sleepers” here because, except with teething, they’re not! they just don’t need much), but man, if you hear enough people complaining that their kids don’t sleep it gets to a person.

      But there’s also career stuff. Productivity stuff.

      I’d better stop categorizing people, because sooner or later just due to the vast numbers, one of the many many anxious bloggers is going to ask, “do you mean me?” and I’m just going to have to be silent on that (because : midwest). So no more categorizing. Even if CPP asks if his blog is a mommy blog, I am not going to answer.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      And I don’t know that it’s so much in the approach as in the stepping back before posting and asking: Is this really a problem? Why is it a problem? Why do I think it’s a problem?

      Biting at daycare is a problem because 1. If a kid does it too much they get kicked out and 2. Biting hurts people and we have an underlying belief that we shouldn’t hurt people that we would like to impart to our kids.

      Sleep “issues” are a problem if 1. the kid is grumpy from not getting enough sleep or 2. Mom and dad would like more quiet time. They are not a problem because 3. Everybody else’s kid seems to sleep more or go to bed earlier so I must be doing something wrong or there’s something wrong with my kid. But many people complain about 3 without 1 being an issue at all and while simultaneously complaining that dad never gets to see the kid because the kid goes to sleep too early. If 3 is the only reason, then it is a non-issue. But it’s a non-issue that a lot of parents have (because most kids aren’t exactly average), so they commiserate in the comments and it builds as something that seems like it should be an issue. Complaining about sleep problems that aren’t real problems becomes the normal. Being anxious is the normal.

      • Rented life Says:

        I think the sleep posts are the hardest. Second is starting foods. I found some decent blog posts about actual science, starting foods, and food allergies and we used that information to make our decisions (pedi just gives a stock sheet about rice cereal to everyone at 4 mo.) NO such information exists for sleep and I spent so much time looking as we were exhausted parents with a baby who only slept being held. Even gentle parenting groups on Facebook have too much anxiety (or hostility –gentle apparently doesn’t mean nice to other adults).

        Maybe this is why I read daddy bloggers?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        There’s really not much actual science on the food thing (we’ve got a post on that somewhere), and what there is seems to suggest that kids are really flexible and their bodies know what to do. Our favorite book on the topic is Hungry Monkey, which has science and the guy goes out and interviews chefs and finds out their kids behave just like everyone else’s.

        As a warning: the allergy research does an exact 180 on introducing allergens every 6 years or so. So introduce them early or introduce them late, who knows? I don’t think they’ve nailed it down yet.

        DC1 was like that. We just held hir a lot and carried hir around in a sling a lot and, after I did some more research on the safety of cosleeping, we coslept (which is when I started getting sleep). Ze sleeps in hir own bed in another room now, so it doesn’t seem to have done any harm. DC2 was the opposite! :)

      • Rosa Says:

        there is the inherent unfairness (and grinding pressure on parental sleep hours) when your baby only sleeps 12 hours total and all his cousins sleep 12 at night plus a 3 hour nap, or the 8 year old only sleeps 8 hours when his best friend sleeps 12.

        But your stepping back is the best answer. No need for the barrage of “you must be doing it wrong” that happens when the low sleep child is compared to any other child, in real life or on the internet.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t know that it’s unfair though… because you get to spend more time with your awake baby. And you get to feel less guilty about things like working outside the home (not that a person should feel guilty about that, of course) or screen-time, or whatever it is that the cousins’ parents are saying you’re a bad parent for doing because you need a break. :) There’s trade-offs!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hm, that would probably have been a more positive post… “How can I tell if my parenting problem is really a problem?” and then all the step back and ask myself stuff with examples … sounds judgy, but less so than this post! Maybe I’ll put that in the queue for *next* summer when it starts all over again and this post is long forgotten.

  4. sarah (SHU) Says:

    I am sure that this post applies to me and some of the things I’ve written about lately. It’s hard, because I feel like I’ve been at my most honest in some of those anxious posts — and yet I completely see how they could be offensive and/or annoying to others. At the same time, I find that there are some commenters that tend to really relate to similar struggles (body image, milk production, etc). I do feel like comments from women like you and OMDG have been really helpful to me in letting go of any ideas about ‘perfect’ parenting, and to truly embrace the idea that NO ONE wins when mommy plays the martyr card.

    Also, I never meant to become a mommy blogger but I suppose that is a fair label to apply lately. I’m guessing that the topics I write about might diversify more as the kids get older.

    • sarah (SHU) Says:

      Just saw your comment above to Laura. Don’t worry, you can be silent and I don’t mind. I absolutely get where you are coming from. Because despite being a likely culprit, I have had the same feelings from reading other blogs.

      • ana Says:

        Same here. (i.e. I know you may be talking about me, and that’s OK, you don’t have to say it!) Also, yes, I try to avoid blogs/posts about things that make me needlessly anxious (i.e. certain posts of yours about money I just skip, because we are doing ok, but not THAT ok) also almost every post on any blog with advice about sleep and potty training and toddler tantrums I just skip because every kid is different so how so and so does something is NOT generally helpful and only confuses the issue needlessly. However is someone is simply venting that they are exhausted or tired of cleaning up pee or what have you, then I’m happy to lend a supportive “me too! hang in there, it gets better”

      • ana Says:

        ummm that was a reply to nicoleandmaggie, not sarah, sorry!

  5. Liz Says:

    Okay, yes. I realized a few weeks ago that I’ve spent the last 5+ years absorbing information on all sorts of lifestyles (frugal, ere, bougie, yuppie, green, anarchist…) and diets, er, ways to eat (French full-fat, paleo, caveman, vegan, vegetarian, organic…). But after my Lenten experiment to give up insecurity this year, I realized I felt ready to dive into my own way, comfortable that I’d explored different options and knew what kinds of things to think about and trade-offs to consider.

    A lot of blogs seem to incite anxiety to gain readership, and a lot of news and magazine articles are built off worst-case scenarios. I’d rather not live in fear of everything. I also grew up in a household where the dominant voice, that of my mother, was not constructive in insidious ways. (She means well, and we have different personalities – things that were hard to see when we were tied together.) That fear inspired a lot of poor decision-making with regards to friends, loves, and not-taking-opportunities when I was younger. Screw that. I’m gonna be happy.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      At some point we all out-grow whatever it was our parents did and end up becoming ourselves! (Assuming that they weren’t abusive– that’s an entirely different level that we’re not talking about here. I’m certainly not qualified to talk about it.) We can be influenced by them, but we get to decide what parts to keep and what parts to change.

  6. xykademiqz Says:

    The main reason I am not a shriveling ball of anxiety about my parenting (because my natural state is to be anxious and intense about everything) is my husband, whose attitude is perfectly sane: kids are who they are; our job is to love them, impart some core values and common sense, take care of their safety, health, and education, and support them in their chosen endeavors. That’s it. I would be considerably more overbearing regarding the kids if it weren’t for him. He’s just a confident, secure, low-stress guy. How the %^#%$#& did he get to be so %&*%$#& perfect? Grrr. ;)

    Anyway, I don’t spend too much time on mommy blogs as it seems like such a foreign world to me. I usually lurk as I don’t feel very much at home there. I have noticed that the ones I go back to are written by moms who are working professionals and who also have an unusual angle to their story (e.g. single moms by choice, women struggling with infertility, or moms of multiples). My favorite mommy blog is Academomia. She is my inspiration in terms of how to be authentic and positive and happy in the face of chaos. She is hilarious and posts pics of her gorgeous kids, which I really appreciate. If you need the equivalent of a nicotine patch for mommy blog withdrawal, I recommend Academomia.

    In all honesty, I generally don’t have a strong feeling about mommy blogs one way or another. I am not sure why that is, perhaps because being a mom or a good-looking woman (presumably that’s behind all the baby weight posts?) have never been defining parts of my identity; I always think of myself as a scientist and academic first. Whenever I read the ultimate baking posts or turbo crafts posts, I ask myself how my colleagues would react to me mentioning these topics — it’s fun to imagine the impression of bewilderment mixed with horror on their faces.

  7. Griffin Says:

    I just finished rereading Juliet Schors’ The Overspent American. Her concept of reference groups really resonated with me, not just when it comes to consumption habits but also with respect to cultural norms. I wish someone would study and write about how reference groups have changed in the last decade as blogs have emerged. The reference groups Schor refers to include people you know (neighbors, colleagues, extended family), and, I am beginning to believe that the blogs one reads, if not carefully cultivated, extend one’s reference group to a confusing group of quasi-peers.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s an interesting idea! On the one hand, parenting here where I live (red, religious, command-oriented, etc.) is very different than what I see online, but just from occasionally reading the NYTimes I can get exposed to completely the opposite anxieties as well! I can choose a different reference group, but there’s a lot of noise out there too, making a preferred reference group more difficult to find. Ah, sociology.

      • ana Says:

        I think this is really interesting. Back when I used to read more “mommy blogs”, I’d talk to my husband about something and mention how “everyone is dong xyz” and he’d say “who?” and then I’d realize “ummmm. these blogs I read?”. You can really change your frame of reference, and start to feel really different, depending on what corner of the internet you immerse yourself in.

      • Rosa Says:

        that different reference group can be really helpful though too. I “know” a lot of women who wanted to parent nonviolently and had very little face-to-face support for that, being imbedded in the red, religious, command-oriented culture you mentioned. The internet is GREAT for getting someone to tell you “no your mom is wrong you should not spank the 4 month old that’s insane.” if you want to hear that.

    • Rosa Says:

      I love that book! She also includes media/tv as reference groups for some things but a blog/social media update would be awesome. Especially for people who get the “facebook effect” thing of people only posting good stuff. I have managed to cull my social media to either people who don’t do that, or people who don’t do that in person and I see them in person often, so I think I get a good balance of public face and reality (including a lot of plain talk about money/budgeting, which is super helpful.)

      As a former advertising professional, I am so, so much more influenced by bloggers than by advertising or TV. Since I only read blogs of people I admire or feel like I’m already like, they’re way more influential than the mass-market stuff.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That study that people are talking about right now (because they think it violated ethical standards) shows that the actual facebook effect is that when feeds post good stuff that makes the readers happier, not sadder (though we haven’t read the actual study so we don’t know how they’re measuring happiness). We found a neat blog that explains it that we’ll link to on Saturday.

        We mostly only post good stuff at our blog, because yes, we really are as awesome as we appear. Actually even more awesome because we can’t brag too much without giving too many details.

        Though if you need some negative reality, I do seem to have caught DC2’s cold and have an annoying post-nasal drip right now.

      • Rosa Says:

        I like real good stuff, especially good news & interesting science news. But the people who only post Happy Happy Everything is Great and then you see them in real life and they’re all “everything is terrible! Nothing works like I want, I am feuding with everyone!”, I don’t like that.

        Also I count funny as “good stuff” and that doesn’t fit in the perfect shiny story mode very well.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Hm, I think I’d just rather not know those people IRL. Feuding is so middle school.

  8. Steel Magnolia Says:

    Thanks. Just, thanks. This is such good stuff. And yes, I have the same thought with professional stuff and productivity and, and, and . . . .

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think I’ve realized the difference between LV and me in terms of needing to plan every moment of the weekend and needing to socialize on weekends… if I worked at home I might feel the same way too (it’s DH working from home that gave me that epiphany). But I get a lot of that structure and human interaction at work, so I prefer relaxed and unstructured weekends. The kids are also the same way, they get structure and interaction with other kids M-F, 7:40-5pm, so they don’t need it on weekends like they might if they had a nanny all week. Add to that introversion and extroversion… it’s easy to see why different strokes work for different folks, even if presented as the one true way needing optimization.

  9. chacha1 Says:

    “And I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll work through them. But if there aren’t any right now, I don’t need to @#$#@ing create any.”

    INDEED.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Maybe I’ve been looking at it all wrong, maybe instead of it being a pathogen spread by the patriarchy, it’s actually an allergen that arises when there aren’t problems for the metaphorical immune system to deal with.

  10. becca Says:

    I think I’ve finally gotten to a plateau of low-anxiety about parenting (I won’t say I’ve turned it off for good, cause who knows how teenage years will impact me??? Or even other stages). I was fairly neurotic early, but it was very much a symptom of low info. As I read what research was important to me, and talked to lots of people, and got some reference experiences, it receded. My kid being empirically awesome helps. But also, I’ve got my couple of things to focus on (encouraging reading fluently and enjoying time together, mostly) so I’ve got some place for my analytic *must problem solve* mind to go.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, pubmed definitely helped me with my first kid. It was comforting to know what they do and don’t know, and that for the most part all those dire warnings that people on the internet make are based on no information. It’s one thing to have a dire warning (and to make laws!) based on real good quality research, it’s another to fear-monger.

  11. Chelsea Says:

    I think the point made about the frame of reference (blogs vs. people “in real life”) really resonates with me. It’s easy to read a selection of bloggers, each of whom you admire for different reasons (frugality, parenting, career, whatever), and mash them all together to create this profile in your mind of a single “perfect” individual who, no matter how hard you strive, you will never become because that person doesn’t really exist. At least that’s the case for me. People write anxious posts for help and solidarity, but my experience has been that my “real life” friends, family and co-workers (who are not a carefully curated group) have been a much greater source of comfort and support (and less anxiety and comparison) than I’ve ever gotten from the internet. I’m sure part of that is being fortunate enough to live in a pretty liberal, educated part of the country and have a mostly non-crazy family, but, even if one does, I do think there’s something to be said for the self-esteem boosting effects of being able to say “Yeesh, at least I’m not that bad!”

  12. Leah Says:

    I feel you. I had to stop reading (for the most part) posts about pregnancy stuffs. We’ve tried to be really laid-back about everything. I trust my doctor. I have one great book I like to read (Mayo Clinic one). But, otherwise, there’s so many people with so much judgement even about how to go about being pregnant. And don’t even get me started on blogs that talk about how I should decide to labor.

    In short, I am in solidarity. I imagine I won’t read too many mommy blogs of that type either. I love the blogs like MiserMom that talk about creative, interesting, thoughtful ways to raise kids. I don’t like the judgy stuff.

  13. Alyssa Says:

    I tend to go through periods where I stay away from mommy blogs, or online groups, etc., because I just can’t take “it” anymore – where “it” can be a number of things, but usually mom-judging, or (like you) lots of anxiety about being a “good” mom.


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