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The concept of a “humblebrag,” a term coined by TV writer Harris Wittels (The Sarah Silverman Program, Parks and Recreation) to refer to a boast on Twitter that’s attempting to masquerade as self-deprecation, needs a subgenre for mothers. Because second to aspiring actors, who else is as desperate to get out the best message about themselves?
While a B-lister might tweet: “Trust me—you do not look your best when you have to get up at 3 a.m. to be on the Today show,” a mother will complain to a fellow parent: “It’s impossible to get Samson out of the house in the morning. All he wants to do is play piano.”
It’s tricky—she starts out hooking you with an everymom gripe about getting ready for school. But then you realize she just wants you to know that her son is a music prodigy.
These humblebrags come fast and furious on the playground, in PTA meetings and over the phone. It’s a continuation, 20 years after middle school, of the 7th-grade girl's lament: "Oh-my-god-it's-so-embarrassing-how-into-me-he-is!” Women are savvy. We know we can’t just come out and brag.
The humblebrag, as exemplified by a mother's version, may not only refer to her fabulous progeny, but also to her fabulous parenting. One such mom humblebrag: “I’m such a boring mom. All we do is stay around the house and craft.” Of course, the main message here is not that she thinks she’s a horrible mom; it’s that she thinks she’s an awesome potholder-making mom, and she knows you’ll think that, too.
Less artful humblebraggarts come out with, “Jackson is doing three sports this season; it’s going to run me ragged. But all of the coaches were counting on him to play.” The bottom line? My son is a highly in-demand athlete, and I'm helping him fulfill his dream. Yawn.
There’s so much that happens to a mother at home with a child that impresses her, but how on earth can she bring that impressiveness to light? And what about all those hard parenting choices she makes—about high fructose corn syrup, piano lessons and reading—that go unnoticed? Complaining about them is the only way to get credit for them.
My mother’s generation did unabashed boasting. “My son is skipping a grade,” one might say, followed by another: “Ellie qualified for the spelling bee finals.” There was no masquerade. But such shameless boasting doesn’t fly today. Today, that same mother might say, with a sigh, “I’m so exhausted. I’ve been up late every night this week helping Ellie study for the spelling bee finals. Shoot me.”