4/2/14

Parenting Before There Was Social Media: Did We Have It Easier?

This picture was developed at Target, not on Instagram.


WARNING: I'm about to get all kinds of Grumpy Old Lady on ya. Well, maybe not Grumpy but definitely the kind who begins sentences with the phrase "Back in my day...". You've been warned, lovelies.

I just read an article on Huffington Post, titled "I'm Done Making My Kid's Lives Magical" by the woman who created the absolutely brilliant and hilarious Honest Toddler website (and soon to be book!), Bunmi Laditan.

For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed her post. It was well written and fun to read. And yes, she made her point.

But one paragraph in, I found myself chuckling (see? CHUCKLING. That's what old people do, right?). It was this paragraph that finally made me turn all Grizzled Old Mom:

"Since when does being a good mom mean you spend your days creating elaborate crafts for your children, making sure their rooms are decked-out Pottery Barn Ikea masterpieces worthy of children's magazines, and dressing them to the nines in trendy coordinated outfits?"

I pushed up the sleeves of my sensible cardigan, and said out loud to nobody:

SINCE NEVER, BUNMI. Never. Nobody EVER said being a good mom meant that you killed yourself planning a chevron-themed birthday party for your one year old, including hand cutting the fondant elepahnt for the cake. Nobody EVER said good parenting was proven by the fact that your kids are wearing casual-chic mini-versions of your clothes. Nobody EVER said that if a child's room is too pretty to play in, mom and dad must be like, the best parents of all time!

I began to lament our society and social media and all of the mother effing first world problems in it. The overdose of images and blog posts and commercials and Pins and everything else that saturates, completely saturates our lives. Stupid Elves on Shelves and hipster parents taking pictures of dinosaurs in compromising positions and then posting them on Instagram and getting all sorts of accolades for it, most of the compliments along the line of "Yeah buddy! Those are some great parents!" and "Now THAT is some good parenting!".

I thought back to the hoopla over the little girl who designs fashion gowns out of paper with her mom and then mom posted the pictures and all of the people saying what a great mom she is and that YEAH that is some good parenting and how very lucky that little girl is to have a mom like that.

I started to get pissy and Grumpy Old Ladyish and then I started to feel kind of sorry for Bunmi and all of the other parents of this current flock of babies and children. I looked back on the days when my kids were infants, and toddlers, and elementary school-aged. I thought about what kind of pressure I felt, as a mom, to be perfect. Did I feel any at all?

Yes. Of course I did. I felt some of it while sitting around in the countless ECFE classes I attended. Some other mom would say something about how her kids had done something special or cute, or how she'd spent the weekend smashing teacups so she and her daughters could make mosaic picture frames...and for a few seconds I'd be all "Well crap. Here I thought I was a rock star because I cut an apple in half and had the kids paint with it."

I remember feeling inadequate when I'd take one of my kids to a birthday party and the house was super organized and tastefully decorated AND there were recent pictures of the family IN FRAMES. But then I'd go home and realize that my house was not going to be super organized while I had four kids under the age of 6 and a husband who worked all.the.time.  And the pressure lifted.

This is when I started to feel really bad for Bunmi, and all of the parents out there like her. I guess the cool thing to call them is millennial parents? Whatever they're called, I felt bad. Because I realized that the pressure I felt, back in my day, was from ONE mom in a parenting class or ONE glimpse into a magazine-cover-perfect home. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a newer, younger parent and be faced with hundreds of thousands of other moms and other magazine-cover-perfect-homes. I think I may have shed a tear.

I joined Facebook in 2008. My kids were 13, 12, 10 and 8. Before that, my dalliances online were limited to eBay (I was quite the seller, back in the day), a few chatboards, and downloading angry divorce music on iTunes. The bubble I lived in was populated by the other families at school, my neighbors, and to some extent, the celebrities I read about in the gossip magazines at the gym.

The one book I read when I was pregnant was the inane "What To Expect When You're Expecting" and I threw that thing away when it told me that "colic almost always ends by the third month, if your baby still cries more than an hour or so a day after that, you should consult your pediatrician because you've probably given birth to a future serial killer" (I was holding a screaming 6 month old at the time)(and most of that sentence really did appear in the book, at least back in 1994)

The births of my babies were announced with phone calls and were videotaped on actual videotape. If I said I "posted a picture" it would have meant that I sent a photo of the new baby to grandma via snail mail. Chatting with friends meant we all sat in the same room and gabbed. Pinning something? Please. Like I know how to sew.

And as far as making my kid's childhoods magical? To be honest with you, that wasn't something I thought about. I was so very, very fortunate to be a stay at home mom during those first several years, and like a lot of the young moms today, I was exhausted and worn out and wished some of the hours and minutes away. We spent some days at the park. Some days with friends. Some days I gave the kids a bunch of daddy's golf tees, their Playskool hammers, a chunk of styrofoam and let them pound the shit out it for hours (and no, I didn't even think about the chemicals in the foam bits that were lodged in the carpet and their ears and my bra because I hadn't just read 68 articles about it).

But here's the difference between my early parenting years and Bunmi's and all the other parents out there: at the end of the day, I didn't open up my laptop and see pictures of my friend Lola and her kids making sandals out of coconut shells and pipe cleaners. I didn't look down at my phone at any point during the day (because it was a Sony cordless, and there was no screen) and get an email from my cousin Bree that contained 30 pictures of her kids during their latest photo shoot, the one where they met the photographer at the local dairy farm and the kids got to milk cows and they all had the cutest matching cowboy boots on!

There wasn't a HuffPost that reminded me every single day about "The 10 Things You Should Never Say To Your Kids Unless You Want To Ruin Their Lives" and "These 4 Moms Are Doing EVERYTHING BETTER THAN YOU!" and of course the "Open Letter To The Judging Bitch At The Playground".

At the end of the day, I sat down on the couch and tried to keep my eyes open long enough to watch Friends or Frasier or CSI. Some days I felt great about what I'd done as a mom, other days I was sure I'd damaged each one of my kid's psyches. But I did so quietly, and without all of those thousands of voices in the background either telling me that I hadn't done enough or that yes, indeed, I had ruined their lives.

I'm not saying that social media is bad. I use it every day, and for the most part, I enjoy it. But it sucks you in, people, into a shiny vortex that has walls made of the same thing the walls were made of in that machine that Charlie and Grandpa Joe were stuck in, in the original (and the best, of course) Willy Wonka movie. You just keep going and going and it's so hard to pull yourself out.

Look, social media can be all kinds of awesome. I'm a blogger, for God's sake. I have received hundreds of emails and messages and comments thanking me for sharing my horror stories (and funny crap) about divorce and single parenting and what it's like to be 47 and look like Hagrid and trying to find true love. My friend and all-around fabulous person Jill Smokler started her super successful website, Scary Mommy, just for parents who want to admit that it's freaking impossible to sprinkle magic fairy fart dust all over every single day of our progeny's lives. There are invaluable online communities where real, live friendships are formed every single day. The internet is a lovely thing.

But it's not where or how we determine who is a good parent. Is the paper dress mom a good parent? Do the Dinovember parents love their kids? Yes and of course, yes. But what about the dad who lives down the street from me? He isn't on facebook and has zero clue as to what Instragram is. This guy meets his little girl at her bus stop and gives her a piggyback ride home. Every damn day. The only difference is, nobody posts pictures of them doing this, and nobody has written a poignant, viral blog post about it. He is most certainly making his daughter's life magical, but he (and his daughter) are content with keeping the magic just between them.

And that's the thing: do these parents, the dress-making, fondant-rolling, dinosaur-posing ones...would they do all of this if there was no place to post pictures? If the only likes or comments or shares they got were from their children? I'd like to think that they would. And I'd like to think that this pressure these parents are facing today, this awful YOU MUST BE PERFECT, YOUR KIDS MUST HAVE AMAZING AND MAGICAL CHILDHOODS pressure, will ease up as more and more of them realize that magic and kids kind of goes hand-in-hand. A package deal. It doesn't have to be forced, or photo-shopped or posted anywhere to make it that way. You. Some time. Love. That's all they really want from us. Everything else is just gravy, and we all know that too much gravy isn't necessarily a good thing.

So, Bunmi, I wish you well on your quest to let your child live a life that isn't picture-perfect every day. I hope you get to stand at your backyard windows and watch her like I used to watch my son William, talking and playing and jousting imaginary foes with a stick. I hope that you, and other smart, creative parents just like you, are able to separate the good from the gilt on social media and all the marketing campaigns and tv shows and realize that when it comes down to magical childhoods, it's not getting the perfect shot of your kids at Disneyworld or having the Instagram pic of your daughter's birthday cake shared 1,000 times or making sure every single holiday is Pinterested to the nth degree.

Like Bunmi said, so wisely, in her post...magic is something you discover on your own.

And we won't discuss the fact that directly above her lovely post was the headline, "DAD TURNS VIDEOS OF HIS TODDLER INTO INSANELY COOL VIDEOS!!!". Sigh.









37 comments:

  1. I feel like parenting suddenly became super competitive when I started selling eBay back in 1999 ish. The best thing that came out of that era was our friendship!

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    1. Awww...thank you. You were the best thing I ever found on eBay ♥

      And regarding the competitive thing: mayhap I am seeing the past through rose-colored bifocals. Or, and here's a thought, maybe going through a shitty divorce right smack dab in the middle of their childhoods kind of took the wind out of my competitive sails??

      Now I have guilt! Was I not competitive enough?? :)

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  2. ...and a couple of my kids. Who had to wear Oilily.

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    1. And apparently I've also conveniently forgotten Molly's extensive Hanna Andersson phase...gah.

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  3. I love everything about this <3

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  4. Oh, back in the day when Friends and Frasier were our 'wind down time' choices. I so was there! You know, I just watched Frasier the other night (it was on very late, the night I had trouble sleeping, again) and was so completely bored with it. But back then, that was the point, wasn't it.
    Great post.
    I am a grumpy old lady right with ya.

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    1. I was always baffled as to why Niles was married to a woman! I love me some David Hyde Pierce...imagine if they'd written his character as a gay man. Now that would have been some good television!

      Thanks so much for reading, fellow Grump :)

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  5. I love the line from the lady to her friend (who tells her, "I unfriend you,") on that hilarious Esurance commercial: "That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works!"

    That's not how any of this works. Applies to most things these days.

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    1. Okay, Michelle and I watch that commercial OVER AND OVER on YouTube. Because that's us in 30 years. I'm the angry one, who says the line about that's not how it works. Michelle is Beatrice.

      Best commercial ever. And yes that really isn't how any of this works.

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  6. I think there is definitely a lot more pressure now. I try to remind myself that Pinterest and Instagram and DIY/Lifestyle/Mom blogs all only offer one tiny snapshot of life, not the entire thing. There is mess, there are fights, there are days when you want to stay in bed with wine and chocolate. Just because they didn't tweet about it doesn't mean it didn't happen.

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    1. I have had a few wine and chocolate and bed days. Only for me it's vodka and Twizzlers.

      And yes, I actually have to tell myself to chill sometimes, especially when I'm in a funk or PMSing. I have a lot of friends who are doing really well in life, and while I am so, so happy for them, I have to admit the envy shows up now and then.

      It's good to remind ourselves that there is always stuff we can't see....

      Thanks for reading!

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  7. A very nice read. I imagine every generation has a version of this. (How about before telephones existed at all?) We all have had the same childhood: Some fun, some pain, some love, some magic, some disappointment. Always not enough of the good stuff and too much of the other. A time we can't wait to escape--until we do.

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    1. YES. I was explaining this post to one of my best friends, who doesn't do ANY social media, including reading blogs ;) We had a good laugh over what our moms and grandmas would say about all of this..."Why, we didn't have remotes when we were young parents! And we only had 4 channels!". Actually, that was my childhood.

      Of course you are 100% right. And stop making me cry...I love that last line: A time we can't wait to escape- until we do. I might have to borrow that.

      Thanks so much for reading, and for chiming in!

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    2. I think we (as in you and I and all bloggers) see a lot of this stuff than the "normal" non blogging population. Sometimes it's easy to forget that things aren't as fishbowl-esque in the non-blog world. Though I know Facebook is a microblog of sorts.

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  8. I'm a stay at home mom to my 3 yr. old daughter and somehow have avoided any guilty feelings stemming from social media. I go on FB and read some mom blogs, but if I ever come across a "perfect" looking post, I disregard it as I would like, a Cosmo magazine... fake crap. I kind of feel bad for any moms stressing out over creating elaborate projects. I'll readily admit I'm a "sit on the park bench and talk" type, just telling the kids to go play by themselves. I think it's good for them and feel like I'm being a good parent!

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    1. Good way to look at it, FVM. And speaking as a "sit on the park bench and talk" mom, I'd say you are definitely being a good parent. It's important to let kids socialize on their own...within shouting distance, of course. But they need to learn how to initiate play, negotiate and settle minor conflicts without a parent hovering over them. :)

      Thank you for reading!

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  9. My only qualm is that now mom's who do enjoy crafts thematic parties and instagram are being shamed for doing so. I am a stay at home mom and enjoy making things with my son. ,We had a great where the wild things are 1st birthday party with home made crayons Max crowns and other thematic nonsense. Am I spoiling my child am I causing undue feelings of inadequacy in other moms?? I don't think so. Frankly I'm tired of all these parenting blog posts that tell us what not to do and what to do in such dramatic fashions. I'm pretty sure balance is the key to joy and if someone wants to judge me for taking cute pictures of my son playing with home made playdough or for the needle felted doll I made for his birthday go ahead. Bottom line is do your best at being an engaged loving parent and forget about the rest of it.

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    1. Hey Jessica, I'm hoping you didn't get any shame or judgment from what I wrote. Totally not my intention. For what it's worth, I also made crayons for my kids, we had the SWEETEST Max from Where the Wild Things Are Costume (wish I could post pics in the comments). In my opinion, you are doing the opposite of spoiling your son. You're giving him a really awesome gift.

      As far as the feelings of inadequacy in other moms, frankly, that's always on them (present company included, because yes I feel inadequate quite a bit..only now it's over nice vacations and being able to take my kids on a billion college visits). You and all the other creative, crafty mamas keep right on doing it. I teach preschool, and I'm constantly on Pinterest looking for cool ideas for the classroom. So I love that there are women like you out there!

      My main point in this post (and if this is your first time here, please know that I tend to go on and on and on before I get to the point) is how I can't fathom what it's like to be a young mom right now. Personally, given what an insecure freak I am, I would probably go crazy with all of the social media things. And not good crazy :) I'm hopeful that most of today's young moms have it more together than I did back in the day.

      Thanks so much for reading!

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  10. Another great post, I love it. I often tell my kids about the days when people actually printed photos and shared them by passing them around at play group or something.

    My first taste of the mommy competitiveness came from Gymboree baby classes - one other mom was constantly comparing her son to mine, for more than a year. But that was just two hours a week, and she was the only one. My play groups were mostly about camaraderie with other moms, thankfully, though the spreads everyone put on weekly had nothing to do with Pinterest but were equally intimidating - some moms making elaborate fruit bowls whereas I was lucky to find a new box of crackers to open on my days to host.

    This is a good reminder that I should shut down the social media more often, though, I am a complete addict.

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    1. Ack! I also went to Gymboree classes, a million years ago. And dammit, yes...now I remember those weird "oh, he's not crawling yet?" vaguely condescending mommy convos. Ugh. I think I may have blocked out a lot more than I realize.

      Almost every single day I think to myself, "Self, cut down on your weird Facebook perusal thing" because I swear to God it's become like a reflex with me. Pick up phone. Click on the facebook thingie. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Like, comment, click out. Repeat ten-fifteen times.

      Do we need a 12 step program?

      Thanks for reading, State of Motion :)

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  11. Yeah, social media has probably started going a little too far, and I think more people are starting to realize it. I think part of the addiction is that, with the wonders of photography and writing, we can create a sort of fantasy world that only includes the very best or funniest pieces of their lives. For example, there is a lady that I know for a fact is in a domestic violence situation, is an alcoholic (I know a lot of people joke about drinking a lot at home, but this girl is the real thing) and often neglects her children (seriously... the real thing, not joking around.) But if you look on her Facebook page, you would think she has the perfect little family where everyone is always hugging and smiling!

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    1. YES. Exactly. I know a few of these women, too. It's so sad! And I love, LOVE your "fantasy" analogy. It really is a fantasy world for a lot of people. An escape pod? I know I need to get off the social stuff, at least cut down. I'm not one of those constantly posting people, but I do "check it out" way too often.

      Thanks so much for chiming in Angel. You always bring up good points.

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  12. This is the kind of post that my first initial gut reaction is something along the lines of YEAH! YOU TELL IT! and the more I think about it, the less enthusiastic I become. It starts to feel like the idea here is that women felt less pressure to be perfect moms before social media, and all I can think about is how 60 years ago, if you couldn't maintain a sparkling house, polite children, and dinner on the table every single night you were a failure. The pressure was extreme, and there was nothing to do but compare yourself to your neighbors (and let's not even talk about how your children had to be dressed to the nines every single Sunday and taken to church). No social media there.

    And for those women who love doing those things, and who feel like it helps them come to love motherhood, I feel like these kinds of posts shame that. They turn around and say "excuuuuuuuse me for not being PERFECT" as if the other person was trying to say that they were, just because they managed to do these really neat things we wish we could all do. I know some people are like that--I don't know any personally, because I tend to avoid people like that, but I absolutely know they exist. But, for the most part I meet moms who are thrilled when they managed to do something they wanted to do, like throw this crazy party that was handmade Eric Carle themed. Sometimes it feels like the glorification of "how things used to be" gets relived with serious nostalgia glasses.

    I remember growing up around the same time as your kids (haha, I'm like a baby here), and I remember the endless trends that you had to keep up with if you wanted to be Cool. Stuff was EVERYWHERE. All these "90s kids" posts come from these things. And if you were like me, and very poor with a single working mom trying to start from the bottom with getting her degree, you didn't get any of those things unless they ended up in the thrift store first. There was no simple living then, either. And you had status from what you bought, or what your parents did with you. You couldn't share it far and wide like today, but if you were that odd man out who didn't do those things that all your neighbors seemed to be doing then you also didn't have access to the support you needed to know that you weren't alone.

    I think, therefore, that we need to stop with trying to say that social media is the one behind this pressure. It's people. It's looking over at your neighbor, whether that's next door or next blog over, and picking at their life. It's getting jealous, or bizarrely offended, that they are doing things "perfectly." It's getting defensive about not doing everything they are, and saying that they're probably doing it for the attention, or pitying them because they obviously are too focused on getting the perfect Instagram picture than being a great parent. It's defining great parenting as whatever you believe, and applying it to someone else who may have an entirely different take. The internet makes it easier, but it's the people behind it that makes it unpleasant. I think we should celebrate the fact that we get to connect with people we'd never meet otherwise, and remind ourselves that as long as we're happy with what we're doing, that's what matters. And if we aren't happy...well, maybe it was good that we see someone else doing it, because now we can approach them and ask, "How can I do this, too?"

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    1. Hi Athena

      Yes. I get what you're saying, and as the days have passed since I wrote this (I assume you're referring to my post, and not the one I linked to in HuffPost? Or I might have read your comment in the wrong way...), I've received many, many reminders about how it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops raising my 90's babies.

      Like I told someone else, I think I may be looking back on the recent past while wearing rose-colored bifocals.

      Yes, there was TONS of pressure on each generation of moms. Pressure comes in all sorts of forms: neighbors, in-laws, religious stuff, etc. I agree that jealousy, defensiveness and insecurity play a large role in how "pressure" is defined. And yes, of course, social media is not capable of anything other than providing a stage; you are absolutely right that people are behind this pressure.

      I still think, though, that this latest crew of parents faces a bit more pressure than those of previous generations. The bonus is, they also have so much MORE of everything else: the best technology, the ability to reach out for help or friendship and receive it from anywhere in the world almost instantly and oh my God, all of the resources that are available.

      I love, love to hear from people who see things from an entirely different angle. You are indeed a baby here, and the fact that you took the time to read my old lady blustering and then left such a thoughtful and wise comment means the world to me. Old dogs can certainly learn new tricks...or so I hope.

      Thanks for offering this perspective, and for doing so with such intelligence and civility. You've given me much to think about.

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  13. Thanks for your reply! I don't feel judged by your posts! No worries there;) I enjoy your blog and am a fellow former preschool teacher! I agree with you that its easy to get sucked in by all the social media hype.. And its super hard to remember that old adage " comparison is the thief of joy ." its just been an over kill lately of the your screwing it up big time parenting blog posts.. And the huff post magical one rubbed me the wrong way. You are a great writer and I enjoy your blog regularly. Take care and I look forward to reading more :)

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    1. Oh, Jessica. Thank you for your kind words.

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  14. I think your question about whether some of these projects would be happening without the chance to post the results is a VERY fair one. Of course I say that as someone who is not remotely crafty. My handwriting is not even legible.

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    1. Ha! You and me both. Last year, when we lost power for 5 days in that huge summer storm, I got the brilliant idea to write in a notebook, like the olden days. OMG. I could barely read it.

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  15. "There wasn't a HuffPost that reminded me every single day about 'The 10 Things You Should Never Say To Your Kids Unless You Want To Ruin Their Lives'"

    ... You know I wrote a post on this, right? There IS pressure. Okay so it's not as if there wasn't any pressure back then, and it's a different kind of pressure today, but holy cow, with social media it really is re-freaking-lentless. Seriously you're gonna give me a list of crap I'm "NEVER" to say to my kids? NOPE. A big fat NOPE to that. ;)

    Great article, and civil, thoughtful comments. Love it all. =)

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    1. Yes, of course I know...your post was in my mind as I read Bunmi's essay, and as I wrote this one.

      And thank you for this: "it's a different kind of pressure today". Because that's my point, exactly! It seems to be such an oppressive kind of pressure, too. Almost as though you guys (you younger moms) can't escape it. It's everywhere.

      Thank you for adding another thoughtful comment to this lovely collection, and for reading :)

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  16. This post rocked in every single way. I was nodding my head to SO MANY points that I must have looked like a bobblehead while reading it. (Without the scary skinny body, though, because I don't have that.)

    Even though I have two little ones -- ages 2.5 years and 6 months, I more your speed: I only recently joined FB -- only to create a fan page for my blog, and I don't use my personal page. Our children's births were also never put on FB and were announced via phone.

    I don't care to -- and will never be -- the most Pinteresting Mom. I am the mom who will cut an apple in half, have the kids paint with it, and happily call it a day.

    I have always had somewhat of an aversion to social media. Yes, I use it, and there is no way around it.(I love me some Jill Smokler, too!) But I think what has somewhat shaped me is the fact that, while I've written professionally for nearly a decade, I only recently took a serious stab at blogging, so the vast majority of my work was off line. With my blog, though, I have since experienced a shift. But make no mistake, I will never be the person who lives on social media. It just isn't me.

    Thank you for this post; it was spot on.

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    1. Thank you SO MUCH. I love the fact that young moms, just like you, are on the same page. That's such a good thing.

      Just like you, my relationship with social media really heated up after I began seeing blogging as a stepping stone to a writing career, instead of just free therapy. I loathe having to update my blog's facebook page, and every time someone "unlikes" that page I actually feel a little sad, like, "Why did you leave? I promise I'll try to be funnier!". (see how emotionally crippled I'd be if I had wee babies now??)

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read, and comment here. :)

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  17. I loved this! I recently found your blog and have been wildly entertained while reading through your posts. Thanks for sharing your writing with us:)

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    1. Awww...thanks Melissa. That's so nice of you to say! Thanks for being here.

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