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Besieged moms fight back against Pinterest perfection

Jen Mann
Jen Mann

I’m sorry … but June Cleaver was a lazy cow.

You’ll recall TV mom Mrs. Cleaver as being tall, slender, calm and always gorgeous by the time her boys and husband were ready to eat the full breakfast she’d cooked for them each morning.

But by today’s standards, so what that she vacuumed in heels? She didn’t go to the gym.

She never worked outside the home. I don’t think she was involved with PTA. She didn’t mow her own grass.

She didn’t even blog. Come on, June.

When “Leave It to Beaver” was on the air, Barbara Billingsley’s character was the gold standard for suburban moms, and for a long time TV provided a template for the “perfect” man, woman and child.

Before the invention of social media, what we knew of other people’s lives was largely limited to what could be witnessed out of the home, at stores and school events or at parties where the wife/mother probably sweated for hours beforehand to make things perfect.

Now, day or night, we browse the Facebook and Pinterest pages of hundreds of women and are more likely to look to them for what is expected of us than we are to a TV show.

But, says Jen Mann of Overland Park, “Right next to the amazing stuff posted on Pinterest or Facebook is a little pile of s*** you can’t see.”

Mann is the author of the book and blog of the same name, “People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges” (224 pages; Ballantine Books; $16). Meeting with a reporter for lunch at McDonald’s last week, her choice, she pointed out that women’s self-imposed expectations are still unreasonable and even harmful.

She’s not alone.

“Frankly, I feel really bad when I go on these sites,” says Karen Alpert, babysideburns.com blogger and author of “I Heart My Little A-Holes” (304 pages; William Morrow; $16.99).

In a phone interview from her Chicago home, she estimates that 99 percent of what people post on social media is positive — the glory moments — and seeing only others’ glory chips away at self-esteem.

So, rather than move away from trying to be the ideal made-for-TV mom, women have raised the bar on themselves and one another via social media postings.

To Lawrence resident Julie Dunlap, “Behind every perfectly baked cake on Pinterest is a mom who’s losing her s***.” These sites are “the perfect mom thing on steroids.”

Dunlap and her fellow University of Kansas alumna Sara Stotts of Chicago have co-written “MotherF*inghood: The Musical,” which comically depicts key moments in mothers’ lives that are anything but glorious. A new outlook on the “tedious, stressful and mundane,” Dunlap calls it.

The mother of four says that their musical doesn’t warrant more than a PG-13 rating and that the cussing isn’t gratuitous. “Some moms have better self-control than I have,” Dunlap acknowledges, “… but most moms you see have storms brewing in their heads.”

After one of their shows, an older woman approached Dunlap and Stotts to say that the musical had expressed what had been in her head for decades.

Mann worries about how hard it is for women to let go of unnecessary ideals that conspire to make their lives harder than they need to be. “You’re not going to hurt your kids if you give them a granola bar that isn’t all natural.”

Mann began her blog in April 2011 at her husband’s suggestion; he’d tired of listening to the running audio version. In December of that same year she wrote a post called “Overachieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies” that went viral, logging more than one million views in 24 hours.

Mann and Alpert both write what’s on their minds, which often involves raw language — they’re well-known for their frequent F-bombs.

But for Mann, the free language is part of “letting the veil down.” Moms simply aren’t saccharin beings who, contrary to what they might post on social media, go around thinking of themselves as “so blessed” 24/7.

And the F-word is Mann’s favorite word: “It can be any part of speech!”

Alpert is not potty-mouthed in real life — she says she has a potty pen. “My book is the scary, messy, disgusting, tortuous side of parenting.” She said she dialed up the foul language after her post “What NOT to F-ing buy my kids this holiday” went viral in 2012.

Alpert hadn’t posted too many F-bombs up until that point, but her new readers wrote to her, ecstatic that someone was writing what they were thinking. So Alpert, mother of two, let ’em fly and hasn’t looked back.

“People want to hear the truth,” Mann says, adding that she and other bloggers “are trying to air dirty laundry to make you feel better about yours.” Mann, who has two children, adds that she’s sure her laundry is the dirtiest.

Alpert goes so far as to include a list in her book that details how she’s worse than other moms.

“1. If the kids spill a little milk and I’m too lazy to get a paper towel, I wipe it up with my sleeve. Or my foot if I’m wearing a sock.

“13. When I find a Cheerio on the ground at home, if I don’t have pockets or a trash can, I just eat it. Provided it’s not mushy or covered in fuzz. Or one of those small, hard ones that was once in someone’s mouth.”

There’s certainly pressure on women to reach perfection when they don’t have children — right clothes, fit body, good hair — but having children forces a woman into social situations that she otherwise wouldn’t be in.

These are hardly the first writers to explore the madness of motherhood. Setting aside the late Erma Bombeck — “The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” — who got it done without a potty mouth, recent published titles include “Moms Who Drink and Swear,” “Sh*tty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us” and “Confessions of a Scary Mommy.”

Mann began working from home when her first child was a toddler. She felt that keeping him home with her was the right thing to do, until one day she saw how lonely he was without a peer group. That sent her straight into the jaws of women she wasn’t used to dealing with.

She did what a lot of moms do: She searched for a local playgroup. If you’ve never approached a moms’ group before, think of it as walking into a sorority house that has already completed that school year’s rush.

Mann asked to be a member of a playgroup that met on the day of the week she had free and was told that the group was full. “Red Group isn’t a place for newcomers. We’re very close, even our husbands are close. It’s a solid group. Orange Group is a better fit for you.”

But Orange Group met on an inconvenient day of the week. The mom, identified as the warden, said that the number of children per group had to be limited so that the little ones wouldn’t become overstimulated.

“She confirmed what I was thinking: Overstimulated my ass, this was all about the ‘right kind’ of moms. The Red Group was obviously the ‘cool moms.’ Suddenly I had no desire to be in the Red Group anymore.”

Some women would have run from the rejection and the exclusivity and not looked back, but Mann stuck to her guns and climbed the ladder of that organization until she was elected co-president. Once she had the power, she axed limits to the groups, opening them up to whomever would like to join.

And really, that’s what Mann, Alpert, Dunlap and Stotts are doing with their work: axing self-imposed, anxiety-inducing limits. They all agree that something has to give.

“OK, you know what I’m sick of?” Alpert writes, “I’m sick of moms trying to make other moms feel like s*** … Moms bragging. Moms being all Judgy McJudgy.”

Alpert suggests 15 new mom rules. Here are some highlights:

“5. OK, from here on out, once you own maternity pants, you are allowed to wear them forever without getting bad looks from other moms. Period.

“11. From now on, for every happy, smiley, wonderful picture you post on Facebook, you are required to post a more realistic picture of a moment when your child was acting like the devil’s spawn. Contrary to what you may believe, this will make people like you more, not less.

“15. From now on, you MUST MUST MUST support other moms. We are not in a competition. We are on the same team. And as dorky as it may sound, from this day forward, we will lift each other up and make all other moms feel better about the difficult job they are doing.”

Oh no! I was being all Judgy McJudgy with June Cleaver earlier and didn’t even know I was doing it. Sorry, June!

Onstage

Julie Dunlap and Sara Stotts’ “MotherF*ingHood: The Musical!” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Buffalo Room at Westport Flea Market, 817 Westport Road. For tickets and show information go to www.motherfinghood.com.

Author appearance

Jen Mann launches her book, “People I Want to Punch in the Throat,” at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Kansas City Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. RSVP at kclibrary.org or 816-701-3407.

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