I’ve recently read a few articles urging people, particularly moms, to remember that social media is not real life, and that part is true. They then call out to share the ugly and imperfect as well, to stop trying to look like your life is flawless by taking 17 different selfies until you get the perfect one. This exhortation is usually followed by some hilarious and poignant example of how that mom did some parenting thing that was not perfect.
I cry hooey.
I know your life isn’t perfect. I know your kids cry and your dirty laundry piles up until you have to wear socks inside out.
I also know the reason I don’t share these things on my Facebook or Instagram isn’t because I’m trying to hide it or to try to look a certain way to the world.
It’s because I’m busy.
When I don’t cook I’m busy rummaging through the freezer. When my laundry is all dirty I’m busy coordinating with my husband who can do it next. When my son is crying because I make him hold my hand walking down the steps, I’m busy comforting him and trying to keep him from flinging himself down head first.
But when I finally relent and let him attempt our two front steps alone, and he does it, he does it all by himself, and he looks up at me and we’re bursting with pride and joy, that’s when I think: I want to share this with the world. That’s when I yank out my phone to snap a picture. Because that’s the moment I care to remember. It’s not that I’m trying to forget or cover up the crying that happened before. It’s that I want this grinning picture to be a bright spot in someone’s (usually Grandma’s) day.
Recently a friend posted an Instagram photo of her baby, round bright eyes turned upward, a perfect bright baby grin on her face. I know that they had just spent the weekend up and down all night, the baby’s fever spiking and receding, calling the doctor. It was a crappy weekend. Was she posting that picture to pretend it never happened?
No. It was a picture of sheer relief. It was the moment the worry finally receded enough to think, let’s share this with the world. Let’s show everyone we made it.
This phenomenon is not unique to parents, of course. Perfect hair, perfect vacations, perfect houses. These are the things posted in a Pinterest and Instagram world.
In one of my favorite pictures of myself, I am sitting in front of a castle in Italy, gazing into the hills, sunlight across my shoulders. According to my Facebook feed, I was having a glorious and picturesque time, and I was. A half hour later I was throwing up in a bush—it turns out twisty mountain bus rides and grappa don’t mix. Did I pause to take a picture? No. Because I was pretending everything was perfect? No. Because I was busy. Did my husband take a picture? No. He was busy holding my bag and worrying about what to do. Did he update his status to reflect what was happening? No. Because no one actually wants to know about that in real-time.
And so what happens to these crappy moments or the mediocre moments, which are far more numerous? For the most part, they are forgotten. The mildly crappy ones (like puking in a rosemary hedge in Italy) will become anecdotes to drag out later when they’re funny. The truly crappy ones, like struggling to understand what your melting-down toddler wants, or taking your baby’s temperature for the ninth time in a day, will fade into memory. And is that so terrible? Would anyone have more than one kid if those memories DIDN’T fade?
So, it is good to know that somewhere behind the scenes, the same crappy stuff is happening to everyone. We have blogs and forums to help us commiserate and learn how to help each other deal. But if you want to keep posting nothing but perfect pictures of your children, freshly washed and smiling and sitting still, or your new couch and perfectly clean house, or your fresh from the salon hair, go ahead. If you never want to use the hashtag #wokeuplikethis that’s OK. I don’t need to see your messy hair and dirty dishes.
I know they’re there.