Hashtag Authenticity

Dear Best Friend:

Social media has made it easy to walk through my online existence believing that I am completely vulnerable and “authentic”, with no new news to share with you.

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One time, when I visited a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, she looked at me and said, “I know what’s going on with you because I look at your Facebook all the time”, and then she turned to my husband and said, “But I don’t know what you’ve been up to. Tell me.”

This made me sad. One, because my friend assumed my entire life and experience would be reflected accurately in my Facebook feed, and two, because she paid more attention to my husband than to me, but was my “friend”. At a time in our friendship when we hardly saw one another, she made it known that all that needed to be shared could actually be done so via the Internet. It made me wonder why we were getting together in person at all.

But doesn’t this happen in our brains sometimes? Perhaps less rude and obvious, but don’t we also do this—decide not to ask someone what’s really (like, really) been happening because we’ve seen their posts on social media? Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe someone asks us what we’ve been up to, and we go, “Don’t they follow my blog? Didn’t they see my Instagram stories? They should know that I recently got a new job. They should know that I’ve been struggling with anxiety. I posted it all over the Internet for everyone to see…”

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When I was in high school, I made my best friend because we shared a secret with one another. This grew our friendship deeper than most, I would say. The ability to share a secret with someone who feels safe, especially if that secret is also a shared struggle, is pretty successful at bonding two individuals together.

This was just as the social media boom was starting to form. Kids my age had things called MySpace pages and wrote in Live Journals or on Xanga accounts. They used AIM messenger. Some of us were invited by a way cooler college student to join Facebook a few years later. This was the start of it all—before smartphones and apps and hash tags, and way before emojis.

But despite the new lure to divulge myself from behind the protective barrier of a screen, I never shared my secret struggle with an eating disorder online. I only spoke about it in whispers to a select few, one of whom became my best friend for the time being.

Now, I can look up #eatingdisorder, or #recoveringbulimic, or #formeranorexic, and I get hit with a bunch of people sharing their vulnerable struggles on social media via posts, pictures, and articles. It’s the #MeToo generation, and there is so much good that comes from this.

But I also wonder if it’s made true, distinct, and deep friendships harder to come by.

Oh, I know kids are getting less socialized in the real person-to-person way that is necessary because of smartphones. But I am really just talking about the practice of sharing (or over-sharing?) via social media.

But isn’t this helpful? Isn’t this normalizing what used to be wrongly taboo? Isn’t this helping people feel less alone?

Absolutely.

I just think is a less valuable alternative to sharing a secret with a safe person, and thereby making a fast and long friendship that will impact far past the rush of getting 94 “likes”.

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Mind you, this is coming from a blogger. This is coming from someone who gets kinda personal via Instagram posts. This is also coming from someone who also “secretly” despises the concept of “building a platform” or “attracting a following”. Social media both enthralls me and disgusts me.

“Psychology shows that friendships are built through many factors—common interests, proximity, shared struggle, etc. But there is one thing that grows a friendship deeper than just about anything else: the sharing of secrets. There’s a bond that’s formed, almost instantly, when we share appropriately with people in our life who have invited us to do so.” –Allison Fallon

Up until this point, best friend, this hasn’t really sounded much like a letter. And that’s because it’s not. It’s a blog post. A personal letter to you, my best friend, wouldn’t be posted on the inter-webs for just anyone to see.

Some things just need to be kept just between us.

But I have to shake my head a little at myself when I don’t honestly answer and in-person “how are you?”, but then divulge my struggle with postpartum depression via Facebook.

And so, best friend, I want to say this to you: from here on out, I will not dodge that question with an easy answer, no matter how hurried I might be or how confused I might feel about how I really am doing. I will answer as honestly as possible. And I promise I won’t let you find out my innermost secrets and struggles via the Internet.

And you can do the same for me.

Deal?

Deal.

Much Love,

-Claire

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3 Things to Let Go of this Fall

3 things to let go of

These trees are about to show us how lovey it is to let the dead things go.” -Anonymous

I felt the cool wind rustling my wispy bangs and wondered why it was I always seemed to cut off my hair when any big life changes occurred.

It was September, and instead of preparing to go back to work as a high school teacher, I was sitting outside of a tiny cabin at a Catholic Hermitage retreat center. It was my last night there, and my last chance to contemplate this new step I was taking, or was it an old step that I simply wasn’t taking? I wasn’t sure what direction I was headed, only where I no longer was.

Looking up at the sky, I saw more stars than I normally could from my home in Chicago. A million tiny white sprinkles in a blue orb framed by the dark shadows of trees shedding their leaves. Out here, away from the smog of the city, the stars were clearer. I wanted more than the stars to be clearer. Silently I prayed that these swirling questions in my life would be answered. That things really would become clearer.

It was then that I noticed the trees. These giants above me, stretching towards the clear sky, their branches shaking in the wind while their roots stood firm. And their leaves were swirling all around me, making the stars even clearer as they did so. They didn’t hold on, grasping for what once was but never could be again. They knew it in their bones; now was the season to let the dead things go.

Stars peeked out behind where those leaves had once been, and precious light shown through what once was. I also had to let the dead things go. Not just of who I was or what my career used to be, but of all the unfulfilled hopes and expectations that I had for my life. It was no use holding onto them. They were blocking the light. They were blocking clarity…

It’s been almost four years since I quit my job and let go of all the expectation I had for my life as an inner city teacher. I now have a new life and things are much clearer, at least when it comes to most things. But I am finding that now is still the season to let go.

This fall, here are 3 things I want to let go of–let go, and never look back–let go, and let the light shine down brighter–let go, and know that I can practice minimalism, even in my own needs…

1- The Need to Look Good

We’ve all done it– slipped on the ice in the parking lot and immediately looked around to see if anyone noticed, all the while silently praying that no one did. We have this desire to always look composed and like we’ve got it all together. As a woman, I have often felt the pressure to look a certain way and maintain a certain image so as to “look good”.

But what if I let that all go? What if I didn’t need to look good every moment of the day? Would the shame of tired and eyes and messy hair at the 3:30pm trip to the grocery store go away? Would I feel freed up to wear what’s comfortable rather than what’s cute? Would I stop comparing my lack of makeup skills to that of my friend at MOPS? Would I stop obsessing over my skin and eyelashes and weird postpartum hair loss/regrowth?

And what about the need to look good, as in to look composed, smart, funny, and morally “good”? If I let that go, would I feel less embarrassed when I misspell a word in a text message (yes, even despite autocorrect)? Would I be unafraid to ask a question about a word I don’t know in my Bible study class? Would I cease to feel insecure when I’m out with my husband at a party where all of his actor friends are discussing the shows and films they’ve worked on? Would I stop feeling like a failure when I hurt someone’s feelings by accident and simply seek forgiveness and genuinely try to make it right?

The need to look good can never be met.

The beauty of youth fades, bodies change, and lack of sleep or time to shower while caring for a newborn… well, it happens. I don’t always have to look good.

Instagram isn’t real life. I make mistakes. I am not always hilarious nor do I always understand the jokes of those who actually are hilarious. What I consider a successful day in my life isn’t what everyone else may consider success at all. My house will get messy. I’ll forget to put my daughter’s sippy-cup or wipes or her bib in the diaper bag and then I won’t look like a “good mom”. Yes, I will sometimes look silly and dumb. Sometimes I actually am silly and dumb. But that’s okay.

I want to let go of the need to look good so I can focus on what is already good in my life. Trying to be perceived a certain way is never fulfilling or fun. I want to let it go.

2- The Need to Feel Good

I began my journey towards minimalism in part because I realized that comfort had become an idol in certain areas of my life. I wanted to feel good rather than do the hard things. Sometimes I wouldn’t even do the very things I actually wanted to, because they would require some sacrifice or suffering. Can you relate?

No one enjoys suffering, and it is human nature to avoid it. But sacrifice is necessary to achieve our goals and make progress in our own character, families, relationships, careers, and lives at large.

The need to feel good is actually extremely temporary. It’s the need to own modern conveniences and comforts that make us feel like we’re worthwhile, even though “stuff” can never define who we are. It’s the need to relieve stress with retail therapy, which only lasts as long as it takes to remove the price tag. It’s the need to be comfortable and have an “easy” lifestyle that is actually wasteful and irresponsible in the long run. It’s the need to play it “safe” and not go the extra mile for someone, even if that someone is our own selves.

Mandy Arioto of MOPS International recently said this: “We resist the suffering we need to do to get what we want, but then we stuffer just the same.” This is exactly what happens when the need to feel good outweighs our deepest desires, hopes, goals, and convictions. We cannot accomplish much of anything if we refuse to feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and press into the hard feelings of life.

And this is why I’m letting go of the need to feel good. It’s overrated.

3- The Need to Be Right

If Facebook has taught me anything, it is that the human brain is trained to seek out information that we agree with–that makes us right. The articles that I and my friends, family, and acquaintances all post on social media are rarely objective. The news we tend to watch is probably the same. It all has a slant to it which we are already inclined to agree with.

I want to let go of the need to be right. I want to approach people and places and news articles and conversations with curiosity, not assumption. I want to be open to other people’s opinions and when I disagree, because sometimes I genuinely will, I want to be okay with that person thinking I’m wrong. I want to let go of the need to defend my case, to explain myself, to feebly attempt to control the way I am perceived by other people.

Being an Enneagram Type One, this is especially challenging for me. Type Ones are always seeking out what is good and right and true in the world, which is positively noble. But we also have an insatiable desire to be right and also, to be perceived by everyone else as right.

Being in relationship is messy. People misunderstand one another. Apologies are necessary. Some conflicts cannot be reconciled. Agreeing to disagree rarely comes peacefully or easily. But being in relationship with people who think differently than I do is more important than being right and needing to express all of the reasons why I am.

This will be humbling, but if my “One Word” for the year has taught me anything, it’s that I cannot hope to keep stumbling towards wholeness without letting go of some things. 

So let’s start with these three.

This is Our Call: On Writing, Social Media, Shame, and Mommy-Blogging

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I am a blogger. I am a mother. But I don’t really consider myself a so-called “mommy-blogger”.

My writing includes my experience as a mother, but does not revolve around it.

Also, I’m not about to tell you how to mother your kids.

Do I have opinions? Yes, and I almost always think I’m right–who doesn’t? But that’s not what my writing is about.

My writing is about my personal journey towards minimalism. My hope is that my writing serves and encourages you as you simplify life and invest in the stuff that truly matters (like mothering your kiddos the way you feel called to, for instance).

Sometimes my motherhood and my minimalism collide– in fact, they often do. And sometimes I’ll write about how what I’m doing as a mommy is helping me become more free and more focused on my current calling rather than what’s “comfortable”. But my hope and prayer is that this blog can be a place for all kinds of men and women at different walks in life– not just moms who use a specific kind of feeding/diapering/sleeping method that I personally subscribe to (or am just trying out–let’s be real).

Another huge reason why I’m not a “mommy-blogger” is because I am not comfortable with making my kids too much a part of my online presence. Their stories and their images are precious and private to me, and so I am very choosy about how I share them with the world. I also feel it is part of respecting my children’s self-agency and personal privacy to keep them off of social media at large until they can choose to share what they wish with whom they wish.

That’s my preference. I totally understand it’s not for everyone. I also totally get if my preference frustrates some people (as I know it may). And I very graciously tell those people that my choice isn’t an evaluation of their choice, and also: “tough– this is my call”.

I think all of us mommies, bloggers or not, could afford say this to some people in our lives: “tough–this is my call”.

I began this post by stating that I don’t consider myself a “mommy-blogger”, but I should clarify that this is not meant to shame any bloggers or mommies that do. This label has gotten a bag rap in recent years, not because bloggers are out there shaming other moms, but because we as moms experience a ton of shame already.

I think people in general experience a ton of shame, but moms especially. We are constantly and frantically trying to figure out what we are doing as care-takers of our children amidst the crashing tidal waves of their growth and development. We are drowning, even if our Instagram accounts look like we’re all smiles and Starbucks and cute mom-buns.

The Internet and social media can make motherhood seem even harder. Because we are constantly comparing our lives to other people’s, and also, overwhelmed with more information and opinions than we could even sift through, we tend to doubt ourselves and constantly wonder if we are “doing this right”. It makes us crazy–even crazier than we already feel trying to raise tiny humans.

While I don’t consider myself a mommy-blogger, I do understand why there are so many out there.

Being a mom is all-consuming and sometimes can feel utterly isolating, even in the sea of information and “connections” online. Your mind is constantly reeling about whether to use a pacifier, or how to get your 4-month-old past this awful sleep regression, or if choosing to co-sleep is an amazing way to bond with your baby or if it’s the lead cause of SIDS. And that’s just the “newborn” phase.

I can see why many moms turn to writing and seeking an online community to share and learn and reach out. And while social media and the Internet at large can sometimes make things harder, it also can be a lifeline in other instances.

We must remember that not all “mommy-sharing” is or is meant to be “mommy-shaming”. In fact, I think most moms are coming from a place of trying to be helpful by simply sharing their experience.

But it can be easy to forget that other people’s choices aren’t evaluations of our own choices.

What we as mommies (and as people in general, really) have to continually remind ourselves is that the way we choose to live our life is our call.

Just because one mom writes a post about cloth diapering doesn’t mean you should feel bad about buying Huggies.

Just because one mom balances a full-time job and raising her 5 kids doesn’t mean you are any less for being a stay-at-home mom of 1.

Just because one mom documents in her natural birth experience on Instagram doesn’t mean your C-section was any less natural.

Just because one mom posts articles about the necessity of vaccines for all kids doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t dare voice any questions about what the CDC recommends.

Just because one mom proudly breastfeeds until her daughter is 3 doesn’t mean you should feel shame about weaning at 12 months.

And just because you disagree with these mommies doesn’t mean that they are wrong or bad or should be ashamed.

This is their call too.