I was scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning and came across a story on the ABC News site that caught my eye.
After the birth of her fifth child, Roseann Hall decided to do a photography project on the often ‘unseen’ side of parenting – the mess, the tantrums, the food smeared everywhere, the moments of stress and tension and of the ways new mothers coped with them.
After Roseann had her fifth child and again found herself scrolling through photos that didn’t reflect her experience, she decided to use her skills as a photographer to capture something more authentic.ABC Radio Brisbane
Hall’s images instantly took me back to my early mothering days and I began to wonder if any of them would have been worth sharing on social media. I highly doubt it.
I have recollections of constant mess: of food-smeared surfaces, of unmade beds and unwashed washing, of piles of unironed clothes and of floors strewn with toys and clothes and the debris of life.
None of it was social media worthy. None of it was worth sharing to a wider audience. But for many of us with young children it was normal. It wasn’t pretty that’s for sure, and mothers and mothers-in-law and aunts and grandmothers would sometimes step in, a working bee would be organised and the house would shine.
For a day.
And then the inevitable inertia and overwhelm of being a mother would take over – the monotony, the everyday struggle, the sameness, the mundane decision-making (should I do the ironing first or the vacuuming?), the inevitability of mundanity. Nothing to look forward to but more mess, more washing, more cleaning, more ironing, more vacuuming, more dusting … the finger run along the mantlepiece when he came home for lunch to see if it was dust free.
It never was.
Mothering has been happening for thousands (and thousands) of years, and while, I imagine, no two mothers’ experiences have been the same across those years, how did we come to decide that ‘normal’ is a tiny box that only some people fit in? And who decides what’s in that box?
How have we come to the point of looking at others’ lives and deciding that their life is “normal” while ours isn’t? Or that their life is different and somehow that means better?
In the ABC article, Divna Haslam, a clinical psychologist and family researcher at the University of Queensland claimed that “we should all normalise all the aspects of parenting, not just the pretty ones.”
When did we stop normalising the unpretty aspects of parenting? Does any mother of young children imagine, when she sees images of others’ lives, that they don’t have unpretty moments as well? That their two-year old doesn’t have temper tantrums that can last for hours? That their toddler, being introduced to a new food, doesn’t spit it out or wipe it over every surface they can find? That their three year old hasn’t ever picked up a crayon and drawn all over the walls with it?
Have we really become that naive?
Maybe it isn’t about that. Maybe it’s not naivety at all. Maybe it’s the visuals and the access to other people’s lives we’ve only experienced in the last 10 years or so.
Social media, the thing that’s allowed us to connect in ways we’d never been able to before its invention, has maybe also caused us to unconnect from reality. We see others’ unreal images and imagine they determine the reality of someone’s life. The totality of their life.
But do we really think we’re the only ones with children who make unreasonable demands in the supermarket at the tops of their voices? That we’re the only ones with children who refuse to get into their car seat? That our newborn is the only one who doesn’t sleep through the night? That our two-year old is the only one to have a temper tantrum in the main street, requiring us to carry them – kicking and screaming up – under one arm while trying to wrangle their trike with the other? That our four-year old is the only one who swears like a trooper when Grandma walks through the door, that our eleven-year old is the only one who verbally baits his sister till she’s in a paroxym of frustration?
It’s sad if we have. But we don’t have to, and I know that may be easier said than done, particularly from my vantage point. We know – in the very core of our being – that the vast majority of little children will be unreasonable at least some time before they’re five. And while we might not want to post images of those moments on social media, let’s not forget what sits behind the cheery images of happy-looking kids and the ‘perfect’ settings in which they live.
If you’re looking at others’ lives on social media, imagine the corner of the room you can’t see, full of life’s debris – the clothes that moments earlier where all over the couch, the bowl from breakfast the child threw on the floor, the toys they’ve been told to put away a million times but never do.
Think of the “perfect” images that appear on social media as museum or gallery pieces. They might be tightly curated images of a life, but they don’t represent reality.