Recently, I’ve been using social media more than usual. I’ve reconnected with old friends and am getting over my ridiculous fear of self-promotion to put my writing ‘out there’.
And I’m mostly enjoying being back online. There’s a humongous mums’ community – or rather, communitIES, as it’s too huge and diverse for it to be one – that can be supportive and useful.
Yet social media can sometimes be awful too – especially for those with large followings, who share their lives as a career or to help bolster their career.
A case or two in point: scrolling Instagram a while ago, I became aware of writer and spoken word artist Cash Carraway. Cash lives with her daughter in social housing and is making visible issues that don’t fit with Instagram’s nice aesthetic: food banks, homelessness, poverty.
Cash was the subject of an online witch hunt over the summer, when a thread on a popular mums’ forum agreed that Cash’s daughter SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN BORN if Cash knew she couldn’t afford to put a roof over her head.
Yes, really. Jesus.
Not on the same level, but still vicious, was criticism directed at blogger Hannah Gale a few weeks later over a piece she’d written, ’24 Hours in the Life of a Working Mum’, where she outlined how she juggles her workload – replying to emails, posting on Instagram – around looking after her baby.
The comments at the end of the post were along the lines of: ‘HOW CAN YOU CALL POSTING ON INSTAGRAM ‘WORK’? I THOUGHT THIS WAS A PARODY WHEN I FIRST READ IT. YOU ARE NOT IN THE REAL WORLD, TRY GOING OUT TO A PROPER JOB FOR 50 HOURS A WEEK.’
It was vitriol that came, mostly, from other mums, and – from what I can see – from a place of comparison.
It can be hard not to compare ourselves to others, I think. In motherhood, especially.
I do it frequently, even when I know I shouldn’t.
I’ve written before, in half-jest, about sizing up Ted’s ‘abilities’ against other kids’, which then leads to me questioning if what I’m doing is right. And then looking at what other mums are doing/not doing and wondering who’s doing it best (whatever ‘it’ is: feeding/weaning/playing etc).
I know it’s ridiculous.
But I know I’m not the only one.
Plenty has been written about the dangers of comparison in this age of social media, and how the ease in which we can peer into strangers’ lives can make us question our choices, damage our self-esteem, make us feel guilty that we’re not doing this or that with our kids.
It’s why there’s a (fabulous) lady I follow on Instagram, Lucy Sheridan, whose job is a ‘comparison coach’, trying to steer us away from the comparison trap with pep talks and inspirational quotes.
And why there are countless memes and blog posts telling us to protect ourselves from comparison and trying to make us feel better about our lives: ‘stay in your lane’ and ‘don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle’ (and comparing ‘middles’ can be a whole other can of worms).
But what about when our comparison makes us feel better by making someone else feel worse? When we compare ourselves to others whose lives we don’t aspire to; at least not that we’d admit to?
In the real world, this might be sizing up another woman at a playgroup and deciding not to speak to her because she’s breastfeeding her two-year old.
Online, it might be reading a blog or Instagram post we don’t agree with, and writing abuse disguised as a comment.
I think that’s the side of comparison that we need to pay more attention to.
I used to think of the people making awful online comments as hideous trolls: faceless, anonymous; probably men for some reason, typing abuse indiscriminately.
I’m assuming those types of trolls exist, and some will fit my unfounded assumption.
But trolls also come in the form of mums typing horrible things at other mums; not indiscriminately, but because they have a different viewpoint and they’re in a different situation.
Which ain’t great, is it?
I’m not comparing (ho ho) myself to Cash and Hannah, with their oodles of followers, but as someone who is just starting to ‘put herself out there’ again, the ugly side of comparison can make the thought of doing so quite scary.
It also substantiates the stereotype of mums being gossipy and judgemental, that we’re all just sat around waiting to add our 2p to the latest Mumsnet thread of outrage.
We all want the best for our families, and – at the risk of sounding like Pollyanna – shouldn’t there be a bit of solidarity in that, regardless of where we live, whether we work or not, how we work, how we feed/school/clothe our kids etc?
As I said at the start, there IS a lot of positivity online.
And comparison itself can be positive. It can give us ideas for trying new things, and can bind us; we can recognise similarities as well as differences. We can find a like-minded mum with another still-breastfeeding toddler and laugh. (Temporarily, at least.)
But when comparison leads to a mother being told that her child shouldn’t have been born? Well, there are no (nice) words, really, are there?
If solidarity is too Pollyanna, there must be a middle ground between that and tearing shreds from each other.
I’ve seen other mums promoting the line of ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say it’. Hopefully that will permeate, and soon.
Perhaps when we compare 2018 us to 2019 us, we’ll have made some progress.