Toxic messaging encourages you to identify with the collective rather than your true self and family values. – Lori Beth Auldridge
It’s time to call a spade a spade. There are societal messages about motherhood that are toxic to moms. Some people have told me they don’t like the word “toxic” to describe my thoughts on this, but to me, that’s what these messages are—toxic.
But that doesn’t mean we have to accept them or embrace them. What we can do is learn about them—and ourselves!—while we dismantle them and step back into our power as mothers.
In this episode I’ll share 5 lenses I put on when analyzing messaging for moms, what makes a message toxic, what we can do, as well as messages I’d like to see normalized in our motherhood culture…messages that support & resources mothers.
5 Lenses I Put on When Analyzing Messaging for Moms:
1. The “vs.” Lens. Anything that pits moms against each other and creates a divide. (i.e. breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, public school vs. homeschool, politics, etc.) “vs.” creates a point of comparison and judgement and turns us away from what’s best for us and our family.
2. Ask the Question: “Is this an ad campaign?” Is someone trying to offer advice or are they trying to sell you something? This includes “big name” blogs (you’d be surprised who owns them! Do a quick online search!) The biggest example of an ad campaign turned toxic message is Mommy Wine Culture. In my opinion, it’s surpassed the tipping point and encourages moms to have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and openly blame most problems on their kids. There are many adults who are recovering from this type of abusive childhood and now our culture is celebrating it and encouraging it. (Books mentioned: Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitacker and We are the Luckiest by Laura McKowen)
3. The Mindset Lens: Are memes that give you a two second chuckle at the expense of loved ones worth the poison they inject into your head and heart? Mindset matters. (i.e. the meme that says “What fresh hell awaits me today?”) Discomfort, struggles, and “negative” emotions can act as a clue to who we really are and what we really need. We can find support and strength in others when we need help with growing and maintaining a healthy, positive mindset. Prayer and gratitude have been transformative in my mindset. You are never alone.
(Podcast mentioned: Episode 62: The Power of Prayer with Speaker & Author Chrystal Hurst)
4. Ask the Question: “Does this put my kids down?” Anything message that paints our kids as jerks is—at it’s core—toxic. (i.e. terrible twos, threenager, all teens are horrible, etc). If you go into an age or stage with the bias that it will be terrible, guess what? It’s going to be terrible. We don’t have to stay in the hard moments. They will come—we also have an active role in all moments in our life (the highs and the lows). There is information out there that says all ages are terrible—there are also resources and support that share the joy and fun of each of those stages, too.
5. Unspoken unrealistic Expectations. Dropping the perfection messaging. Things like “it has to be perfect all the time or it’s crap.” All of nothing. (Infant Sleep Example) Infant sleep is the perfect example. Anything other than the baby sleeping through the night in their crib in another room and mom getting a full 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep = crap. Well, by that standard, every single night will be crap. (Homeschool Example) Some parents who are new to homeschool hold an unspoken expectation that every day will look like their child sitting at the table or desk perfectly completing the worksheets doing them without complaint or opinion in a timely, focused fashion with 100% accurate answers and anything other than picture perfect happiness is crap…then the homeschool will be crap.
What Makes Messages Toxic:
Anything that disempowers moms. Mommy wine culture is a powerful example of this. It impairs you, messes with your body, sleeping, and mood. And makes you reliant on escapism and a substance. It disempowers you and keeps you from finding out what’s really bothering you, what you really need help with, and removes your motivation and ability to find resources that can support you in your parenting, womanhood, and life.
Anything that pits moms against each other. Mommy wars is a construct. It’s like we were never encouraged to mature past middle school when we were trying to figure out what friendship and social hierarchy looks like and where we fall in it.
Anything that poisons your mindset and keeps you in a negative spiral. I’m not saying you have to get all Pollyanna with inspirational quotes, but if you’re only taking in the mainstream messaging of “You’re tired. You’re a hot mess. You never get to shower. Your kids are in your way and ruining your life. You only get to drink cold coffee that you wish was hot. You do everything and no one else ever helps ever.” Anything that paints your life as something other than you want it to be—pay attention to that kind of messaging. My happiness (and the happiness of many of my close friends and podcast guests!) comes from OPTING OUT of mainstream messaging about what life and motherhood is “supposed” to look like. Our thoughts become our actions, our actions become our life.
Anything that encourages you to identify with the collective instead of aligning with yourself. Aligning our actions and values—not what society tells us we should laugh at and align with in order to be “cool,” but our actual family values. I want to have a close relationship with my husband, so I don’t share all the memes that say I do it all by myself (I don’t), or ones that paint men as idiots (they aren’t), or ones that say kids are jerks and to blame for everything (they aren’t). I saw a huge mom account online post a “f these kids” meme one day and the next post “perhaps if tearful boys were comforted instead of shamed, there wouldn’t be so many angry men struggling to empathize with emotions.” Um, what? So comforting crying boys helps men grow up not confused and confident in their emotions, but saying “f these kids” and saying their natural child behavior is the reason you drink doesn’t negatively affect their confidence and ability to deal with emotions in a healthy way? I’m not buying it.
It all comes down to connection. Moms want to feel heard and understood. They want to be seen as the whole woman they are. Kids want to feel connected, too. They want to be seen for who they really are, too. We want to feel connected to our friends, our family, our home, the world around us. But we aren’t going to find connection in messages that take away our power, feed us impossible expectations, leave us impaired and physically and emotionally whacked out, or drive a wedge between us and the ones we love.
What We Can Do:
1. Stop sharing these memes and messages. It’s as simple as that when it comes to social media.
2. Pay attention to what you’re allowing in your life and why. Do you just need a laugh? To feel understood?
3. Use your frustrations, worry, anything that we are sold as “negative” emotions as clues to get to know yourself and your needs. Yelling all the time? Instead of finding comfort and understanding in memes that say “when you ask nicely 20 times and it doesn’t get done then you yell and they ask you why you’re always yelling” –if you can identify with that message, use that as a clue. If that’s you, it’s clear—there is a communication breakdown. There are resources out there that help with communication breakdown. Tools and resources and parenting support that can show you different ways of asking, talking, and working with your kids instead of seeing them as against you
Messaging I’d Rather See Normalized in Motherhood:
1. Ups & downs
2. That we are all different
3. Aligning your actions and values
4. Knowing yourself
5. The power of mindset
6. Mental health awareness
7. Parenting resources & support
8. No one and nothing is perfect and that standard doesn’t exist
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Blossom & Root: Today’s episode of Elevating Motherhood is sponsored by Blossom & Root a nature-based, Charlotte Mason inspired homeschool curriculum company that has been gently guiding and supporting families for years! This thoughtful, age appropriate curriculum begins at the preschool level with options through elementary grades–with more grade levels being released each year.
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