The viral post describing the “perfect” mom was everywhere. It was meant to make moms feel better about themselves, but for Mary Katherine Backstrom, it missed the mark.
It started when Jen Flint posted on Facebook about a scene she’d recently witnessed at the pool. She described a “young mama” who arrived with her “little daughter,” both in coordinated bathing suits. The mama, who had “perfect loose curls tied up in a coordinating scarf,” spoke on her phone for a few minutes while her daughter waited, then set up a towel, toys, and sunblock.
Then came the photo session. Flint wrote:
[A]fter finding just the right angle and the right light, Mama pulled out her tripod and took a few selfies with her daughter. Little One asked to get in the pool. Mama said wait and then posed her daughter in front the pool, then going in to the pool and then coming back out of the pool. Little one smiled big and said “cheese” like she’d done it a million times.
Then, the young mom let her daughter play in the pool while she spoke on the phone. She ignored several requests from the little girl to join her in the pool and, after about 10 minutes of calls, collected her daughter and left. Flint wrote:
I sat there thinking about what I’d witnessed for awhile afterwards. I imagined the photos she took being perfectly edited and posted to social media with a caption like “Pool time with my girly! #Makingmemories“.
Flint then went on to encourage moms who might see the “perfect” mom’s posts on social media (and feel like a failure by comparison) to remember that they are enough and that the perfection they see online is fake.
Flint’s words reached more people than she ever expected. The viral post amassed thousands of comments and more than 125,000 shares. But when Mary Katherine Backstrom saw it in her timeline, she felt a need to respond.
Backstrom, a writer who blogs at Mom Babble, didn’t feel inspired by the viral post. On the contrary, she felt frustrated. As Backstrom wrote on Facebook, “that post wrecked me. All summer long, I have been that mom.”
Last week some mama wrote a post that went insanely viral. Maybe you read it.She talked about her experience at a…
And she wasn’t the only one. Seeing the comments from other frustrated moms inspired Backstrom to write a response to the viral post.
She pointed out that the “perfect” mom’s actions were “told in the tone of a crime novel” even though it was hard to “figure out what the heck the crime was.” She also detected an element of judgment in the assumption that the mom was trying to Instagram her perfect life:
The idea behind the post (I guess) was that this Pinterest perfect mom was failing her children because she wasn’t in the pool. She was too worried about being on her phone, or looking too cute, or whatever else her selfish brain was so so preoccupied doing that she couldn’t fully focus on the fleetingly precious moments of her children swimming together at the public pool.
Therefore, she was a terrible mom and should serve as a warning to us all.
But as Backstrom explained, she has been that mom all summer. She takes her children to the pool after curling her hair, dressing “as cute as possible,” putting on lipstick, and wearing big sunglasses. She takes photos of her babies in the water and sometimes adds filters and hashtags. She sits there on the side, doesn’t go in the water, and has — on occasion — made them come out after only 10 minutes.
Now, however, she feels like when she does these things, she’ll also be “imagining the judgmental glare of other mothers on my back.” Backstrom asked:
What’s the point of shaming complete and total strangers? We never know what’s going on behind the scenes of other people’s lives, do we?
Because we can’t know what’s going on in others’ lives, Backstrom shared what’s going on in hers that makes her do the same things as the “perfect Mama” in the viral post:
I am wearing cute clothes because I had my boobs cut off due to breast cancer. The spacers under my skin are wonky and uncomfortable and make me feel like less of a woman. The make up and the clothes are literally the only things that give me some semblance of confidence and dignity.
She went on to explain that she takes so many pictures because it’s a victory to get out of the house and take two kids to the pool “when your chest looks like Frankenstein’s girlfriend.”
As for the 10-minute time limit, that’s because she isn’t supposed to be outside at all. Sweating is “bad for incisions.”
That’s also why she ignores her young children’s requests to get in the pool — not to mention that whining for mom is a primary form of communication for young children.
Of course, the “perfect mama” in the viral post didn’t necessarily have cancer, but that isn’t the only valid explanation for her actions. As Backstrom pointed out, she doesn’t really need one:
Maybe she has a job. Or an appointment. Maybe she is allergic to chlorine. MAYBE SHE HATES POOLS. Maybe this is the only time of day she gets to freaking relax and some mom blogger just put her on blast for snapping a cute picture of her kid and calling her sister out of state.
Or MAYBE I DUNNO Y’ALL … she doesn’t have a reason and doesn’t owe anyone an explanation for her parenting choices?
Backstrom suggested that it might be better for everyone to mind their own business because no mom should have to worry “if the next viral post on the internet is picking apart their family summer pool trip.”
As Backstrom explained to Dearly, it’s not a good sign when we’re too involved in watching and judging others:
“I’m just wondering how someone was busy enjoying their own kids if they were spending so much dang time watching another mom. Keep your eyes on the prize. Enjoy your family and mind your own beeswax. And if you have something to say about another mom, ask yourself these three questions: Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it necessary?”
If not, go back to your beach towel and sip your own dang slurpee.”
In her post, Backstrom joked about whacking the viral poster “with a pool noodle” for that tone of judgment. But what she really wants is for people to think before using another person’s life to teach a lesson. She told Dearly:
“If you would like to tell a story of how not to parent, use your own experiences. Don’t use a story of someone else you see out in public. You have no idea what her story is behind the 10 minutes you witnessed.”
Which is not to say that she disagrees with the idea that there are many ways to parent and no such thing as one “perfect” approach to motherhood:
“I want to tell other moms that it’s OK to let your kids swim without hovering (assuming they are safe and confident swimmers). It’s OK to have perfectly curled hair. It’s OK to be the Pinterest mom whose children wear matching bathing suits. It’s OK to be a hot mess. It’s OK to be anywhere on the spectrum of personalities that represent people, because all sorts of people become parents. We don’t all look or act the same, and we don’t all parent the same. That’s worth celebrating. Let’s not judge one another for being different.”
Backstrom stressed to Dearly that she wasn’t angry about Flint’s post. She just hopes that others can understand that judgment is judgment, even when applied to “perfect” moms:
“I know that this mother wasn’t trying to hurt feelings, even though she admittedly hurt mine. I did joke that I would like to whack her with a pool noodle, though. To be honest, I think we could all use a figurative whack every once in a while. Our words have power, and when we casually throw out judgmental stories, even when they are veiled as parental ‘encouragement’ they have the power to hurt others.”