I have written before about judgment. About moms judging moms, teachers judging teachers, teachers judging moms, moms judging teachers, and on and on to infinity and beyond. I seem to encounter more judgment every day, but it’s possible that it has always been there and I just hadn’t been as sensitive to it, before my radar was primed and pointed. I’m sensitive to it now because I am understanding more about how toxic it can be, for everyone involved. Something that I have been observing lately is how there is an insidious dishonesty that creeps through interpersonal relationships as people try to avoid being judged. Have you observed this as well?
Fact: We cannot micromanage how others see us. But we try so hard to! We just can’t help ourselves. We exhaust ourselves jumping through hoops to present our very best face to the world. This seems to impact moms more than any other group of humans, apart from perhaps teenagers. Let’s take a moment to talk about teenagers. When I was studying development, I learned about the “imaginary audience” that is often exhibited in young adolescents. This is when teenagers live in a developmentally appropriate egocentric state wherein they truly feel that everyone is looking at them (judging them) all the time. This prompts the kind of self-conscious behavior and response that we consider to be uniquely “teenage” in our culture. Along with what’s known as “personal fable” (that is, believing that one is special and unique and no one else has ever felt or experienced what you have felt or experienced — think of how teenagers experience first love, as an example), the “imaginary audience” is known to be a natural part of the maturation process as individuals come to identify their place in the world. Generally, our worldview shifts as we mature and our “imaginary audience” shrinks to the background. As we grow up, we continuously expand our social understandings as our encounters with others diversify. The goal or standard expectation is that we come to think less of ourselves and more of others, in the natural continuum of being part of a wider culture. Over time, it is thought, we are able to be more ourselves, and attain a kind of acceptance and understanding.
I believe, without any support from developmental research, that our use of so-called “social media” is impacting our human development and perhaps causing us to linger in an “imaginary audience” state, or to return to one, because we have built a global audience for ourselves. We have a hard time turning our backs on it. We have to update our status and upload our photos and, in many cases, upgrade our true experience for one that may look better online. In many cases, we have plugged in with the worthwhile goal of forging meaningful connections with other people — to share our experiences with a network of moms, or caregivers, or like-minded individuals — but because of our heightened sense of “imaginary audience”, we rob ourselves of the opportunity for authentic connections and instead put forth a carefully edited version of reality. This carefully crafted version of ourselves is consumed by our network and contributes to influencing what they then share back.
Here is an example, from my real life: I have a friend who has two young children, a husband, a house, and pets. She does not work outside the home, but does some online work from time to time. She is a responsive, dedicated mom. She has a nanny who helps out a few times a week. Sometimes the nanny helps with both children while the mom does her online work. Sometimes the nanny does household tasks while the children nap. Sometimes the nanny cares for one child while the mom does something with the other (taking the older child to a class or spending special time with the infant while the older child is at the park). I think this is a great help for this mom. It’s wonderful that she is able to have this kind of help and support because all families need it. (Additionally, it’s wonderful for the nanny to be able to earn money in this flexible setting because she is helping to meet the needs of her own family.) My friend doesn’t tell people that she has a nanny. Clearly it’s not a universal secret because I know — and here I am blogging about it! — but when people who do not know her well ask the question, “How do you do it?!” she smiles and says things like, “I never sleep!” or, “I stopped showering!” or, “Moms are superheroes.”
Moms and dads are superheroes. They don’t even have to get out of their pajamas and leave the house to accomplish matters of huge importance. They’re stronger, smarter, more resilient, and more powerful than they will ever know. That said, they don’t have to be everything. They don’t have to be alone. They could do the world a great service simply by being real.
The incredible Rebecca Woolf has written about this subject far more eloquently than I am able to.
“So why has ‘nanny’ become such a loaded word? Why are we, as women, so reluctant to talk about the people we hire to help us so that we can do what we do? What are we afraid of? People thinking we CAN’T do it all?
“We fucking can’t.
“So what’s this big secret we’re trying to keep and who do we think we’re fooling?
“And what is it doing to people who read our blogs and books and pin our how-tos and think that all of these projects are being finished while children sit quietly on the sidelines with their hands in their laps.
“What is it doing to you?” – Girl’s Gone Child
We love it when people are real. Forget the “imaginary audience”, our real social media audience of friends and family members and half-strangers appreciate honesty and reality. It makes people feel good. Posting a photo of your bedhead? Your wrinkles? The huge mess in your family room? I’m “liking” it just on principle! Deep down, where it matters, I’m loving it. I’m feeling more connected to you than ever because you’re real, you’re human, you’re imperfect… like me.
I like pretty pictures as much as anyone, just like I enjoy a beautiful event or a flawless performance. But you know what I love? I love when mistakes happen that give you a brief glimpse of humanity, humility, and true grace. I love the behind-the-scenes look at things. I like to know that we’re all trying and failing and laughing and crying and carrying on. I really like honesty and I’m trying to live honestly so that I can do my very best for the other people in my life.
So you don’t tell people you have a nanny because you don’t want them to judge you. You think you know what they’re going to think or say and you want to head it off. You want to present a certain image of yourself because maybe that is who you think you ought to be or it’s who you want to be (I, for example, want to be the person with the house that is always company-ready, but I am actually the person who hates to dust and procrastinates on vacuuming). Meanwhile, your children are soaking in that message. Their “imaginary audience” is already watching their every move and they’re carefully measuring out doses of dishonesty to package the version of themselves they think others want.
What if we consciously decide to send out a message that what we really want is you. We’re not going to agree with everything you do and say, but we’re still going to accept that you’re someone worth knowing.