Pretty, Gritty, Real: How to Read Blogs

I started blogging almost ten years ago, when most of the mommy blogs I came across were glossy, prettified, carefully arranged tableaux of home life.  I was absolutely drowning; but the worst trial the other moms suffered, it seemed, was the occasional oopsie of spilled juice or mismatched socks.  It was all studio portraits of scrubbed and beaming toddlers clutching a hand-sewed duck stuffed with lavender grown in the herb garden outside ye olde cottage door.  I read these blogs obsessively, and came away hating the other moms and hating myself.

Hallie Lord of Moxie Wife recently opened up a discussion about how we present our lives online:  how to avoid negativity without drifting into fantasy.  It's bad for you to wallow in negativity; but it's just as unhealthy to turn your homelife into a glossy brochure for Lovin' Every Minute of It.  It is, as Hallie points out, a fallen world.  Nobody is lovin' every minute of anything.

The comment box yielded some enlightening responses, though.  Charlotte of Waltzing Matilda, says that she has been accused of writing one of those impossibly pretty blogs -- the kind that makes other moms want to jump off a cliff in despair, because their lives don't match up.  She was, she said, incredibly hurt to hear that her presentation was construed as some kind of beautified lie designed to make other women feel bad.  She says,

I started blogging as therapy ... I was depressed and in the beginning of dealing with an anxiety disorder that I still battle today. All I could see around me was the ugly, the frustrating, the irritating, the four kids under the age of 6 and I felt like I had no power to change it or do anything to make it better. Blogging made me look for the beautiful. It made me seek out the cute things my kids said and did, not focus on the crying and the wiping. It forced me to look outside of myself to see the lovely things that were around me but I couldn’t see because I was too busy worrying about how I felt today, that moment, that second. And as I came out of that funk, I made more of an effort to find the beautiful things to post about hoping to inspire someone else to see the beautiful in their life, someone who was maybe in the same kind of funk.

That had never occurred to me.  When I realized that a pretty blog had a bad effect on me, I concluded that they were written either by moms with impossibly charmed lives, or by liars.  I shook the pixie dust off my feet and slogged off to build something that seemed to me more "real."

But here was a revelation:  many of these pretty blogs are written by moms whose lives looked very much like mine -- but whose method of dealing with their struggles was radically different.  Most moms do struggle.  Some of us are relieved and invigorated when we hear about other people's struggles; but some of us, like Charlotte, feel even more bogged down.  "[T]here are those of us who need to not focus on the struggling so much," she says, "Because if we do, we will be consumed by it."

It's not about what's in the blog.  It's about how we respond to it.

You may think this is just a women's issue.   And it's true that men are far less likely to sink into self-loathing because they're failing to live up to some stranger's life (I once heard a woman in the craft aisle of Target whimper to her grown son, "I just feel like I'm failing Christmas!" and he looked at her as if to say, "You're failing something, lady . . .); and men are far less likely to seek relief by telling everyone everything, whether good or bad.   But there is something that men and women need to hear, if they spend time online:

You can just stop reading, you know.  Or just read something else.  It's in your control.

Take a good look at what happens to your state of mind if you check out this blog or that website or so-and-so's Facebook or Twitter or Instagram persona.  Is something having a bad effect on you?  Every time you read a certain author, does it make you feel inadequate or self-righteous, discouraged or contemptuous?  Do you spend the rest of the afternoon criticizing yourself or other people?   Then just skip it -- or look elsewhere.

This is not an invitation to stop challenging yourself, or an excuse to abandon self-improvement.  But by the time you're, say, thirty, you ought to have a pretty good idea of how your mind works.  You should be self-aware enough to understand what things motivate you to do better, and which things make you spiral into envy, anger, self-loathing, contempt, or any other besetting sin.

If you do fall into sin when you read someone, it doesn't really matter if it's their fault or yours.  Any time I read the words of Josemaria Escriva, I feel like punching someone.  Now, if I had this reaction to the words of all the saints, I'd be in big trouble.  But I don't.  When I read Francis de Sales, I feel like going to confession and then doing something nice for my family.  Opus Dei has transformed many a life; but for me, it's an occasion of sin. 

Know thyself!  Take control!  It's a big world, and one of the few parts you can actually do something about is deciding where to spend your time.