Why I Hated, Then Loved, the Motherhood Facebook Challenge

by ParentCo. June 23, 2016

Remember that Motherhood Challenge on Facebook a while back?

Women were supposed to post pictures about how happy they were to be moms and then tag a few friends to do the same.

As someone who regularly writes about the flip side of blissful parenting, I didn’t like that the campaign promoted more of the same one-dimensional image: smiling, happy, shiny moms. Oh God, I thought, viral parenting gush, streams of peppy moms who post, “Look at my perfect family! And look at the BFF moms I tagged! They’re awesome too!”

Don’t we all brag enough about our kids on Facebook? Do we really need a cliquey "challenge" where some women get tagged and others are left to wonder, why not me?

"This bragging and tagging seems to have brought out the worst aspects of motherhood and social media,” said Jody Day, founder of the childless support network Gateway Women, “without any thought for how it might feel not to be tagged by a friend (whether you're a mother or not) and what it might be like for the childless amongst their Facebook friends to have their timelines flooded with even more cute pictures of motherhood and children than usual.”

In 1997 when I faced infertility I barely made it through friends' baby showers without breaking down. If social media had been around, the reminders from all angles would have sent me over the edge. Granted, everyone knows if they hang out on Facebook they've agreed to endure the digital scrapbooks of their friends' kids. But I doubt they expected to open their feed to an onslaught of smiling moms holding cherub babies with brag tags like #HappiestMomEver @LisaP@TaylorR@MadisonL. It’s time for social media to encourage other conversations about family life. That is, the day-to-day darkest and shittiest moments, the childless by choice or tragic circumstance, and the pain.

I genuinely like seeing my friends' Facebook pictures of Mommy and Me in matching Easter florals, I was that mom and I have about 25 albums and a photo-weary kid to prove it. But we do more to help the mother who beats herself up after another epic crappy day when we create campaigns about the hardest parts of parenting, when we also talk about our pain and ambivalence.

When my daughter was born I was overwhelmed with her inconsolable acid reflux-induced crying. At six weeks I fell into a serious soul-sucking postpartum depression. And although it was my choice to stay home when my daughter was nine months old, I never totally adapted. But according to most of my SAHM friends we were, they often implied, the lucky ones – so the hard stuff really shouldn’t really matter.

If I hadn't vented through my writing, to my non-judgy friends and in online forums, I would have spent even more time sobbing in a fetal ball.

So at first swipe I thought the Motherhood Challenge was the Super Bowl of over-the-top superficial parent gush.

But the more I thought about it, except for tagging other mothers which seems too cliquey and clubby, the more I decided I needed to lighten up, a lot. Feel-good parenting campaigns aren’t about hurting anyone. Feel-good parenting campaigns are an easy way for moms to fist pump surviving one of the hardest-as-hell jobs. Everyone deserves to post their Best of Family Life (in tolerable doses) and they shouldn’t have to apologize. I have plenty of childless friends who post pictures of their animals, exotic kid-free travel and gourmet foodie art.

That’s their family life and I love seeing it.

If people don’t want to endure Facebook feeds that bore them or hurt too much they can scroll on. But as I said, the problem I had with the Motherhood Challenge is it only promoted one side. “Awesome" just isn’t the norm for plenty of parents who regularly feel kicked in the ass. Childbirth is often the opposite of "beautiful.” Postpartum depression can hang on for months. Sex drives and vaginas don’t just magically spring back. And plenty of mothers temporarily – but quite literally – hate their toddlers.

So I’d like to see some gritty hashtags go viral on Facebook. How about: “WhatIHateAboutMotherhood,” #ChildlessByChoice, #GrievingABaby, #StillTryingToConceive.

Maybe the haters and trolls would have a field day. Or maybe the haters and trolls would be pummeled into silence by the thousands of brave, honest discussions mothers would bring into the mainstream on Facebook. I’d like to think confessional hashtags would turn Facebook into what it should be by now, a national forum where more people feel comfortable posting all sides of family: the sad, ambivalent, and scared; the childless, the grieving, and the rarely represented, not just #HappyBlessedMom.

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