Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

In the last 72 hours since the airing of my post, Facebook’s “Disappearing Mothers”: The New Form of Women’s Self-Effacement?, I’ve heard a lot, learned a lot, and, been surprised and even flabbergasted, thanks to those of you who weighed in with your opinions.

The question I posed (for those of you just tuning in) was this: if it is indeed true that more mothers than fathers are posting profile pictures on Facebook that, in place of themselves, solely depict their children, what does this mean?; does it suggest, or can it suggest, a disappearance or “self-effacement” of sorts by women, at least during their child-rearing years?

Here is what I by and large heard from you:

– That I’m reading too much into the reasons people choose certain profile pictures over others, and that women who post their children in their profile picture (without appearing in the picture themselves) have all sorts of reasons for doing so, or, alternatively, have only one reason for doing so, which is “just” to connect with others

– That you, like me, would not replace your own profile picture with one of your kids (although you and I were very much in the minority, within this readership at least)

– That women can be feminists and post their children in their profile picture

– That there’s at least reason to ask why, if a woman would not post (in place of herself) a picture taken solely of her husband, she would be so quick to post only her children- and, by implication, why questioning a woman’s choice to do this very thing is, in turn, breaking some sort of unspoken, sacrosanct etiquette

– That the more personal, purely social dimension of Facebook makes posting one’s children in one’s profile picture acceptable or appropriate

-That I may be making a false assumption in thinking that women are more prone than men to posting pictures of their children in place of themselves

– That posting one’s children in one’s profile picture means one is heavily involved in their lives, or has a special needs child, which does not equate with “self-effacement”

– That you don’t feel apologetic for letting your children be the center of your life

– That this topic was simultaneously frivolous and interesting

– That mothering is neither frumpy nor sexy (hmm)

– That you think people who, like Roiphe (and now me, as one guilty by some very slim association) are being “selfish” to make our assertions (I’m curious, by way of follow-up, whether this sort of judgment would be as quickly dished out to a man?)

Here’s what I learned, thanks to you:

– That if something as seemingly “frivolous” as a discussion about the motivations behind why we women post our children in our profile picture can amuse, engage, provoke and even infuriate you, while all the while generating a conversation about life and God, then a book about bumper stickers can, too (which relieves me greatly, since my greatest fear about writing Grace Sticks: The Bumper Sticker Gospel for Restless Souls, is that it will be just frivolity and nothing more!)

– That you care a whole lot about the nature of your identity as women, mothers, people of faith and Facebook users

– Two of you kindly pointed me in the direction of resources that speak to two dynamics fiercely at play in this conversation, namely, the mommy and parenting wars.  Fellow saint and sinner Olivia recommended this helpful article as a way of inviting some deeper exploration of the impact of the “child-centric” (for lack of a better term) approach to parenting that seems to have stolen the show in parenting circles over the past few decades (at least where I live).  Saint and sinner Megan steered me towards a lighthearted but eye-opening entree into the mommy wars and the reasons behind it, with an article that invents a new acronym to embody the deep fault lines we mothers erect for ourselves- MLS (“Mommies I’d Like To Slap”).

Here’s what surprised and even flabbergasted me:

– That readers flocked to this topic, lighting up my live feed with the same intensity of today’s midday rainstorm and leaving often deeply impassioned responses- so much so that apparently The Washington Post Social Reader republished my article on their site yesterday (a shout-out of “thank you” to fellow saint and sinner Megan for letting me know this)

– That at least one person (which probably means there were more of you) found my comments personally offensive and understood me to be saying (presumably because she was missing in a lovely profile picture of her two graceful children) that I was condemning her as a bad mother and a bad Christian (*certainly not my intent whatsoever!)

– That a number of you concluded, based on what Roiphe and I wrote, that we could not be mothers, and one of you went so far as to conclude I could not be the mother of a special needs child (when in fact I am)

– That those of you most “invisible” on your profile pictures were also the ones most vocal about your views, which were (not surprisingly) most strongly in opposition to my article


The other day someone who was hurting called.  She said she had my picture in front of her.  I grimaced: I knew exactly which one it was.  The rather unbecoming, Polaroid mug shot of a bespectacled, new chaplain grinning back at the camera on orientation day, accompanied by this chaplain’s cell phone number, now hovers over copiers, next to fire extinguishers and besides vending machines in companies across greater Atlanta.  Ugh.

The woman told me about her problems.  She told me how the only thing keeping her from killing herself was the knowledge that she was her son’s only living parent now.  She couldn’t do that to her son, she said- but it helped to be able to talk to someone she could trust, because she hadn’t told anyone about just how overwhelmed she had been feeling.

And then, with a sigh of relief, “You don’t know what I look like,” but I have your picture here, and it gives me a real connection,” she said.

All sorts of images parade for our attention each and every day.  We mothers, of all people, know this.  While standing in the check-out line at the grocery store or waiting on a prescription for a sick child, we can momentarily reflect on the faces and bodies we don’t have, however perfectly sculpted or air-brushed they might be.

But do these artificial images offer connection? Are they approachable?  Can we intuit behind these faces a human being with her own unique personality?  Can we trace the beginning crease marks that with age tell a bit of her story? Is the first impression we have actually of her- or is it of an ethereal presence behind her son’s first lost tooth or her daughter’s first-place win at the state fair’s pie-eating contest?

We mothers are so very different, unique, and beautiful.  Each in our own way.  Each as God has made us.

Our voices don’t come disembodied.  They come with bodies- and with faces.  All sorts of faces.  Tired ones.  Made-up ones. Smiling ones.  Pensive ones.

We can connect with one another and our world in a way that is far more palpable or meaningful than any magazine cut-out could.

Even on Facebook.  Even with a simple profile picture.

And, if the hard, unglamorous work of motherhood often goes on invisibly and behind the scenes- in doctor’s appointments, at teacher conferences, changing diapers, cleaning up spills, or with hot tears rolling down our cheeks- we don’t have to be invisible.

If we mothers can use our voices- and over the past few days you have proved you can- we can show our faces, too.

They go together, after all.

(Question: Is this topic becoming wearisome?  Please just say so if it is!!)







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