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I was chatting yesterday with a friend that I hadn’t seen in awhile.
She had been on a long trip abroad with her son to help out a friend who was having some health issues. I’d followed her a bit on Facebook while she was gone. On her page I’d seen pictures of sandy beaches, walks in nature, and excursions to museums. I’d suppressed a bit of jealousy that I’d been solo parenting at home in Maryland rather than in an exotic location abroad.
When I saw my friend yesterday I said cheerfully, “it looks like your trip turned out to be amazing.” Her response:
“I only posted the good parts.”
She went on to tell about just how ill her friend was. The friend had been hospitalized during the visit. As a result, my friend had spent lots of time learning to navigate a foreign country with no guidance. She’d been caring for her own child and for her friend’s child with little to no assistance. The actual trip, which had looked idyllic online, sounded stressful, scary, and sad, punctuated by a few bright moments.
This was such an important reminder for me. I think we all know on a certain level that Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms aren’t a true representation of anyone’s life. Yet we look at those images and carefully chosen stories and start to feel bad about our own lives.
We start to compare our everyday reality against our social circle’s meticulously curated, practically perfect one.
As a result, our own lives look inadequate. How could they not? On Facebook, babies sleep through the night (unless you’re reading about them in a private/closed group or unless mom can write some funny anecdote about it or touching post about how it’s all totally worth it.) Meanwhile in real life, that same mom is crying with exhaustion while she gets up to rock the baby AGAIN.
On Instagram, all kids are potty trained at age two. We see that cute photo of so-and-so’s baby sitting on that adorable little potty reading a board book and giving a thumbs-up, but we never get the rest of the story. Meanwhile in real life, four years later, that kid is still in Pull-Ups at bedtime, but mom’s not showing us any pictures of that.
We sit scrolling, surrounded by imperfection and wondering how everyone else managed to get everything together. We feel worse and worse about our own lives as we compare our everyday reality with everyone else’s painstakingly designed perfection.
We forget that most of what we see is basically fake. It’s like that bowl of rice on the Uncle Ben’s commercial that has been meticulously arranged grain-by-grain with tweezers by a food stylist. Some of the elements are truthful, but they are displayed in an impossibly perfect light.
We begin to think we’re the only ones for whom life is messy—that we’re the only ones not living an Instagram-worthy life. So we fake it, too—sharing just enough of ourselves and our lives to impress others.
I urge everyone reading this to find someone with whom they can drop the facade. Don’t be afraid to reach out—to share the real stuff. Make sure you have somebody to talk to about your anxiety, or your sometimes shitty relationship with your husband, or the fact that you have regretted having children once or twice. You are not alone. You are human. Your feelings are valid and shared by many, many others.
I urge you too, to consider publicly sharing the stories behind those wonderful photos and pithy status updates to let the people who see them know what real life looks like.
I’ll start. This picture of my husband holding my oldest son to put the star on the tree is sweet, right? Here’s what you don’t see. Our lovely, live tree was hastily grabbed from a pile in the lot at Lowe’s hardware store. My husband and I argued before we left about whether we should choose the tree that day or wait until later in the week. Then, when we finally agreed that we wouldn’t be able to find another good time to get it, we and the kids got drenched grabbing our hardware store tree in the pouring rain.
Also not pictured from the same day? Me testing last year’s Christmas lights, taking an hour hanging them outside the house while I cursed a bit under my breath, then noticing half of the lights no longer worked.
We didn’t get a picture of me crying while I took all the lights down and threw them in the trash. We didn’t get a picture of me suppressing the urge to punch my husband in the face when he asked if I’d tested the lights before I put them up.
There are no photos of me drinking too much spiked eggnog or rehanging several of the ornaments the kids clumped together on the bottom of the tree. There’s no photo record of the fight between the boys that happened when the decision was made to let Cameron hang the star instead of Carson.
Was it a shit show? Kind of. That’s how we roll, I guess. Was it a wonderful afternoon? You bet. It was real life in an imperfect family. The picture doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Share your life. Warts and all. Especially the ugly stuff. We need to hear your stories to remind ourselves that we’re not crazy. If you’re suffering because your life doesn’t look like the ones you’re seeing pictured everywhere, find a tribe with whom you can get real. I promise all of our lives are just as messed up as yours.