Once upon a time, I used to post whatever I was feeling straight to Facebook. I'd grasp for community every time I was struggling, and that led to a lot of social media oversharing. Then once I realized how unhappy it was making me to constantly complain, I started to only post the highlight reel from my life. Now I strive for balance, but what exactly does that mean? Facebook can be a great place to find community, but all too often the pressure to appear perfect actually isolates us. We want to put our best faces forward, and share the good parts of our lives, but usually that’s not the whole story.

We forgo posting honest Facebook status updates to post something that's more likable: a humblebrag about getting a promotion that we're totally "shocked" we've earned, a photo to commemorate an anniversary, a post to celebrate the birth or achievement of someone you love, an enviable check-in at a luxurious vacation destination. As a woman with kids, I try to show the bright, sunny, kids-always-smiling-always-laughing side of parenting. No one wants to hear about the bad days, right? No one wants to know that I haven't changed my shirt in four days and that I'm not totally sure if that's yogurt or spit-up in my hair. Then I thought: why?

The Experiment

Motherhood covers all the bases from good to bad to dirty to hilarious. I wondered what my Facebook feed would look like if I was brutally honest, day in and day out, about real motherhood - the wholly unglamourous side we so rarely share but live through daily. So I decided to post honest Facebook statuses for an entire week to see how people would react to the reality of motherhood unfiltered.

Day 1: Desperation

Gemma Hartley/Facebook

My first honest post happened to be on a day that was absolutely crazy. My daughter was finding any- and everything naughty and doing it. It’s not actually too out of the ordinary for her, but pooping in an empty tub was a new phenomenon. She’s a wild child in a difficult phase that I can’t wait for her to outgrow. My son was in a mood, and the dog had eaten a diaper (so gross, he does it all the time). When I was writing the post it seemed like a comedy of errors, which is sort of how my life is all the time. Once it was posted, however, it looked a lot more like a desperate cry for help.

The responses I received immediately were some variation of “oh, you poor thing” (literally, “poor thing/poor you” was used three times in the comments). I was encouraged by all the solidarity from moms. Many mama friends reached out with responses ranging from sympathy to encouragement to, “I’ve been there too.” Then one of my friends ended it all by saying “spankings for everyone.” No one wanted to touch on that taboo, though knowing the friend who posted it, I had a good laugh.

Even though the responses were well-meaning and nice, I was left feeling terrible for “complaining” so publicly about my family. I used to complain on Facebook a lot when I was depressed, because I was craving that solidarity and sympathy, but it always left me feeling worse than before. This post took me right back to that place of desperation. I was in a bad mood the rest of the day, and ended up getting in a stupid fight with my husband because I was feeling bad about myself. I was not off to a good start.

Day 2: Eating The Bear

Gemma HartleyFacebook

Sometimes my days are genuinely awesome. Even with the craziness of three kids, I’ll feel like I have it all under control. This was one of those days. I was feeling super productive: I got a bunch of work done in the morning, I cleaned the house, I even went through old toys to make a donation to Goodwill later in the day while also playing with the kids and tending to their needs. It was a rockstar mom day, and it felt good to shake off the funk.

A lot of the moms who had shown support on the first day “liked” my post, though none of them commented. All my comments of encouragement were from liberal arts middle/high school teachers from my old Christian school. Anyone else have an oddly close support group of middle school teachers? Just me? I’m weirdly OK with it.

Although I enjoy a good pat on the back as well as the next mom, posting about a stellar day felt almost as terrible as posting about my bad day. I felt like I was gloating, and in the same breath, trying to prove myself as a “good” mom after spilling my guts out the previous day. I was definitely starting to feel some overshare regret in a big way.

Day 3: Unbalanced

Gemma Hartley/Facebook

This was by far my best day as a mom, but simultaneously my worst day as a creative or housewife. It was one of those rare days I put aside the housework and my writing work to just play. We went outside, we wrote and illustrated a story, we made food together, we built Lego towers and read books. I sort of wished every day could be like this, but when the kids finally went to bed and the house was a disaster zone, I realized exactly why that couldn’t be.

A couple of my wisest and loveliest mama friends commented on how balance was overrated, and having those days where you put the kids first is really what motherhood is all about. As one friend put it, this day was the mom equivalent of “bros before hoes,” but “kids before dishes” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue quite as nice.

This was the first day I didn’t feel like I had a massive overshare by being “real” on Facebook. That’s probably because it was a more revelatory moment rather than a play by play of my day, but I couldn’t stand the thought of another “look how good I am at this motherhood thing” post.

Day 4: The Lonely Post

Gemma Hartley/Facebook

After my husband took my son camping for the day and night, I was left alone with my daughter and the baby. Having two kids when you’re used to having three seems so easy. There was no fighting, the demands were slightly less constant, and I felt like I could breathe. On the same note, however, having half of the household gone left me feeling lonely. So I put out feelers on Facebook to find someone willing to drink wine with me when the kids were in bed. Unfortunately there were no takers, hence the lonely “dinner and wine for one” post while fighting the bedtime battle.

Then of course, there were no comments. There were a few likes, because people are rightly enthusiastic about wine drinking. However, it was the Facebook equivalent of crickets chirping. No one wants to acknowledge the lonely young mom eating alone while her kids cry. That’s just uncomfortable.

I didn’t think this post would be so sad until it was out there in the world, and I was watching the sparse “likes” come in while I huddled over a screen-lit plate of chimichangas. I finished off that bottle of wine alone, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

Day 5: Free Babysitter

Gemma Hartley/Facebook

My mom decided to come up and spend the weekend with us, and for the first time since my youngest was born, my husband and I went out to dinner alone. We also went to the grocery store alone. We went wine shopping alone. We took full advantage of my mother, and only felt slightly ashamed. It was glorious. I bought ice cream at Walmart and didn’t even have to nervously hide it underneath other items in the cart and quickly move it onto the conveyor belt while creating a diversion.

This post got a whole bunch of likes and some mamas commenting with some variation of “here here!” On the one hand, I would like to think people were genuinely happy for my good fortune, but on the other hand I think this post’s popularity had to do with the fact that I was giving credit where credit was due. Date night is only possible if you’re shelling out a whole bunch of money, or you’ve got the world’s best free babysitter. Hashtag truth, indeed.

Posting about taking advantage of my mom was a nice “real” swap with the usual “date night”-captioned photo. When you have three kids, getting away is a miracle, and that miracle ain’t happening without Nana. While posting it so bluntly made me feel like a crappy daughter, sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

Day 6: First Day of School

Gemma Hartley/Facebook

The first day of school happened to fall on one of my “real” Facebook experiment days. I was feeling so overwhelmed the whole day, it was hard to put it all into words. I really just wanted to post a photo of my son and say I was proud and be done with it. Putting my feelings in a post seemed impossible, but I tried to capture some small sliver of the big emotions I was battling through on such a huge milestone day.

This post received overwhelming support and “likes” in comparison to the rest of my experiment posts. Friends without kids commented on how cute my son was. Moms in the same boat commisserated. Moms who had been there years ago offered solace and encouragement. It was a big milestone and everyone shared in the celebration.

I was so glad I put myself out there for this post. I felt like it helped me come to terms with all the emotions I was feeling, and being so vulnerable helped draw together the widest community. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone on a day like this. It was something most mothers go through, and they all survive. One older mom told me, “They will always be more ready than you.” I have a feeling that wisdom will follow me for a long time.

Day 7: Bueller? Anyone?

Gemma Hartley/Facebook

After the emotionally overwhelming first day of school came another, less iconic, second day of school. I was still adjusting emotionally and somehow packing a lunch in the morning seemed to be a Herculean task for me. I was starting to feel like the start of the school year was undoing my entire routine, and I was turning into an unkempt, disheveled mess in a hurry.

Unfortunately for me, no one cared. This post garnished even fewer “likes” than the lonely chimichanga post. After so much overshare in such a short time period, I think everyone was over me. I couldn’t blame them. I was over my constant posting too.

I felt drained and agitated from all the overshare. This post wasn’t anything particularly personal or vulnerable but the cumulative effect of the week had taken its toll on me. Plus, my ice cream had melted. I was done.

Did I Like Being Honest On Facebook?

It didn’t matter whether I was sharing the highs or the lows, because sharing too honestly on social media left me feeling uncomfortable. It wasn’t only the vulnerability (though that was certainly part of it), but also the fact that I hadn’t fully digested what had happened when I was posting about it. Despite being an open book, I appreciate having the time to process my emotions before putting myself out there in such an honest way.

I found it funny that this place where I came to find community and an outlet left me feeling so isolated by the end of this experiment. As moms, I think we often use social media in hopes of finding a place of acceptance. In reality though, we often filter ourselves to the point where what we are sharing is hardly reflective of real life. While it may have been refreshing for those on the other side of the screen to see how imperfect my life as a mother really was, it certainly wasn’t worth the way it made me feel. I try to find a balance between the highlight reel and the constant complaining, but putting it all out there all the time is definitely not for me.

Images Courtesy of Gemma Hartley (8)