I’ve been so emotional since I saw the sonogram.
Not my sonogram. Lauren Conrad’s. There it was, on New Year’s Day, somehow looking classier than other sonograms—I mean, the phrase “svelte baby” has never entered my head before—pressed against a background of distressed wood by her perfectly polished thumbnail.
I’d like to say my first thought was: I’m so happy for her! That was my second thought. My first thought was: Her mom-related Instagrams are going to make me look so, so bad.
I am a longtime fan of Conrad, dating back to the days of the Kristen v. LC battle for Stephen’s heart. I will flip a table on anyone who tries to tell me she’s not down to earth. But the thing I love most about her—her ability to make everything prettier—is the same thing that makes me feel like boiled crap. I can see it now, her photo feed in nine months: hand-milled baby food garnished with sprigs of rosemary, fiddle leaf fig tree in the nursery, an infant wardrobe in line with Conrad’s quest to dip the whole world in blush.
I can see it now, her photo feed in nine months: hand-milled baby food garnished with sprigs of rosemary, fiddle leaf fig tree in the nursery.
Why am I so concerned? Because I imagine that Conrad will soon be the poster mom for a trend that messes with my head on a daily basis: Instagram parents who make life with kids look—there is no other way to put this—casually glam. You know who I’m talking about. Those various interchangeable shiny-haired bloggers from cute Southern towns and Midwestern cities. Jessica Alba, whose children evidently never mess with her throw pillows and always smile for the camera on Easter. Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper—though, really, I should know better than to check out the Instagram of the kind of supernatural goddess who can bring four kids to a construction site without having to go to the ER afterwards.
But it’s real moms, too. We all know at least one mom whose ‘grams treat the reality of childrearing the same way Donald Trump treats climate change: refuse to acknowledge it, then distract everyone with gold accents.
I want to speak directly now to the women who aren’t sure they want to have children but who think that those snaps of birdhouse-crafting days with little Oliver and Isabella make the gig look fun. We all know this mom from spin class, right? Her children give off a vibe so sophisticated, the waiter probably asks them to taste the wine at dinner. And she’s always got peonies in the background of her shots—like peonies aren’t even the point. They’re just there, because she made them a priority. Here’s what I want to tell you, childless women: THIS IS PROPAGANDA. IT WILL NOT BE LIKE THIS. THERE WILL BE SPILLS AND POOP, SO MUCH POOP, AND THE LAUNDRY WILL NEVER END BUT SOMEHOW YOUR OWN CLOTHES WILL NEVER BE CLEAN.
The comparative pressures of parenting are nothing new, of course. Before there was Instagram, there was a Facebook, and before there was Facebook there were countless IRL zones for competitive assessment: the play group, the playground, the school play, the athletic field. I have no doubt that, 30,000 years ago, there was always that one mom scratching out hieroglyphics of her kid’s farmers-market-themed first birthday party on the cave wall. Instagram appeals to an age-old instinct to give yourself credit for a job well done—or a job that’s half-well-done but totally salvageable via the Clarendon filter.
But these photos represent selective truth-telling at its most damaging. Scrolling through tidy little squares of parenting wins is the last thing I can take on a day when I’ve been failing on the hour, every hour, and sometimes there are so many hours. It seems like every time one of my children bonks his head, Peony Mom has just uploaded a shot of Oliver and Isabella behaving at yoga, refinishing a dresser or fashioning immaculate flower crowns.
So why do we do this? I say “we” because, while I may not be that Stepford spin class mom, I too am always eager to reach for the camera when one small corner of my home looks briefly photogenic. A good example: the day I made the pie.
This pie, by the way, not unlike a pie Conrad herself made once. Look at the pie. It isn’t burned. It didn’t spill over. Those are pastry stars. It looks good, doesn’t it?
Now I’ll tell you what you would have seen if I turned around and took the picture in the other direction: every bowl and spoon I own strewn across the counters and floor. A dog licking them incessantly, despite me snapping at her. And a glaze-eyed toddler watching the same episode of Sesame Street for the second time on the most beautiful day of summer as I shuffled around the kitchen, muttering Whisk where’s the goddamn whisk.
This is what I need to remind myself to imagine when other moms’ pristine pics make me feel bad: There is always more outside the frame, so don’t mistake what’s in it for the whole picture. I know why I posted that pie—I needed to capture one small, shining success to make myself feel better about the chaos that reigns 23.5/7 in here. I think a lot of moms probably feel the same way I do; we’re not showing off. We’re showing ourselves that it’s not all spilled milk and mayhem. That’s a good thing, as long as we remember to look at everyone else’s shots the way we look at our own. They’re rarities, run through a filter.
I’m comforted by that. Also, the fact that Lauren Conrad can fill that baby’s room with all the fiddle leaf figs she wants—it’s still gonna crap itself up good someday. Blowouts remain the great equalizer.
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