You can't go online these days without a heavy dose of maternal perfection — images of artfully crafted non-GMO school lunches, unflappable patience at the playground, a living room fit for Pinterest.
"I can't take it anymore," said Rachel Blodgett, a 31-year-old mother of 3-year-old twins and a 1-year-old. "I'm just trying to stay on top of diapers."
These pressures circulate social media and saddle Blodgett with unnecessary worry: Where does she stand on the vaccination debate? What is the best baby carrier? Should she feed her kids Goldfish crackers?
Tired of being bombarded, women like her are fighting back against the utopian vision of motherhood fueled by Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. They're taking aim at the "good mother" myth by owning up — publicly — to their own maternal shortcomings. Instead of bragging about their straight-A students or their sleeping-through-the-night infants, they're flaunting their messy kitchens and admitting to drinking wine during play dates.
"I've had to compromise on issues I thought I never would," said Blodgett, of St. Anthony. "I've scrapped organic-dye-free everything in favor of just finding something that they'll eat without throwing veggie spears at me like lawn darts."
The topic has inspired an explosion of social media hashtags such as #badmom, #motheroftheyear and #mommyfail. Book titles include "Bad Mother" and "Go the [expletive] to Sleep," a profane bedtime fairy tale written for "parents who live in the real world." Confessions, or "mommy misdemeanors," can be found on www.scarymommy.com, a website that gets upward of 3 million page views a month and has 378,000 Twitter followers.
"The whole good mom/bad mom split has been around for a long time, but social media makes it so ever-present — it's in your face all the time," said Marti Erickson, owner and co-host of the Mom Enough website and podcast, and a retired developmental psychologist at the University of Minnesota.
In most cases, these bad moms (also known on social media as honest moms, naughty moms and slacker moms), aren't really bad moms at all. They're just fed up with the message that moms can have it all, and do it perfectly all the time.
"Mothers are trying to reconcile their multiple identities with the all-encompassing expectation of motherhood," said Wendy K.Z. Anderson, a lecturer in communication studies at the University of Minnesota who has done research in femininist media studies.
Rejecting the June Cleaver image, she said, "allows women to transcend this unattainable perfection."
Permission to be imperfect
Rachel Martin has seven children. While she loves them dearly, she skips words ("OK, paragraphs") in long books at bedtime and serves boxed macaroni and cheese for lunch some days.
"Facebook is the highlight reel and there's this constant appearance that everyone has it together all the time," said Martin, a 39-year-old who lives in St. Michael and writes about motherhood on her blog, www.findingjoy.net, and for the Huffington Post.
Despite Martin's mission to create a judgment-free site for mothers, she has been accused by readers of being a bad mom. That boxed mac and cheese? One woman was incensed that a mother would feed her children pasta with powdered cheese and then boast about it.
"So I wrote another post about how serving mac and cheese doesn't define motherhood," Martin said. "There are moms out there who'd do anything for boxed mac and cheese in their cabinet. The second we decide that mac and cheese is a definition of motherhood success, then we're not supporting each other as moms."
Millennials and Gen-X parents in particular are beginning to push back. Parents say they have realized that work-life balance can be an unrealistic goal, according to CEB Iconoculture research. The global market research and advisory firm's recent consumer insights report found that parents are redefining what it means to be an ideal parent; they're OK attending just some of the school field trips, and it's fine for the house to be tidy (on most days) but not immaculate.
That's music to Karlyn Coleman's ears. The 43-year-old south Minneapolis mom admitted in an essay she blogged for the Loft Literary Center that she doesn't enjoy watching her 15-year-old son's hockey games. "It's taboo to say that," Coleman said. "You get a look from the other moms."
Coleman prefers to use the time for herself to read, write or run errands.
"He doesn't need me there — he needs me to drop him off," she said. "No matter how much I yell or pray or wear rosary beads in the stands, I'm not going to make a difference if he wins or loses the game."
Helping or hurting?
More than 35,000 Instagram users follow the daily snapshots of Shaynah Dodge (@ruffledsnob), of Plymouth. Dodge, 30, started out as a style blogger and has since incorporated the lives and style of her three young boys into her posts. While most of her photos show a well-dressed family and a clean, curated home, Dodge says she tries to share the nitty-gritty moments, too.
But she only goes so far. Dodge has no interest in showing her followers a sink full of dishes or one of her kids' tantrums at Target.
"Like most people, my house is a little more messy on the other side of the camera," she admitted. "Who wants to see that, anyway?"
Despite the backlash against art-directed motherhood, the social networks where these idyllic images surface show no signs of slowing. There are an estimated 4.2 million mothers writing blogs in the United States, according to research firm eMarketer. And 42 percent of women who go online use Pinterest.
Erickson, of the Mom Enough website, said social media can be a double-edged sword: It allows us to connect with one another, but also can cause doubt and even depression when we're saturated with everyone's highlight reel.
"Mothers in the throes of the child-rearing years are very hungry for validation — for someone to pay attention to what they're doing and for the feeling of connection," Erickson said. "If they're confronted all the time with images of perfection that just aren't attainable, it can make them lose confidence. If mothers are depressed or on the brink of depression, that can certainly be a contributing factor to worsen their mental health."
As a stylist and freelance writer, Katie Dohman is no stranger to the curated side of mommy-blogging. But even this 34-year-old St. Paul mom admits she is guilty of letting social media's unrealistic expectations affect her.
"We are comparing ourselves to a voted-in popularity contest of the best of the Web. Don't get me wrong. I love Pinterest. But not at the expense of mental health," Dohman wrote on www.bloomablog.com. "We are not websites. We do not have teams of stylists in our everyday life. We are humans — mothers — trying to do the best we can."
Bloomington resident Katie Gross would appreciate that sentiment. The 33-year-old mother remembers the time she tried to mimic a "cute, simple craft" project from Pinterest that ended with her kids licking the markers.
"I love reading something that I can completely relate to and go, 'I am so happy that somebody else had as miserable yet wonderful day as I did.' " Gross said. "The blogs that show mothers as humans and not superheroes are exactly what our society needs right now."