I was standing in our kitchen the other night with my husband, having one of those random conversations that happen after supper plates have landed in the sink and kids have scattered and half-empty cans of Coke sit on the counter and things are momentarily calm.

“Honey,” he said, responding to some comment I made about feeling like I’m not doing ‘this’ right, “you’ve never had anyone you know well do exactly what you’re trying to do—raise five kids and be the breadwinner (I hitched my wagon to a teacher, so take that line with a grain of salt) and travel for work and be married to a guy who’s gone half the year coaching. You can’t compare it to anything you know.” He shrugged. “We’re making this up as we go along.”

In my mind, he also added, “So, just freaking relax.” Apparently Brad does voice-overs for my subconscious.

Understand, his comments weren’t a pat on the back, a way of saying our situation is better or worse or more complicated or superior. At. All. We consider ourselves incredibly lucky (not blessed—Brad thinks that makes it sound like we’ve found favor with God and are being rewarded; I promise, for those of you who recognize through my blog posts the emotional-mess of a 90-pound dog we’re raising alongside the kids, we are, if anything, paying some sort of a penance), but it’s not lost on us that our day-to-day would be someone else’s sweaty nightmare. Gross, but legit.

His point simply was this: Our lives are different. Our situation is different. In the same vein, your life is different and your situation is different. And many times, what we read and see and hear—taken in totality—isn’t meant for our personal reality.

I Google my own life to death (“How to learn to wake up earlier” is my favorite search at 11:00 p.m.) I seek advice from magazine articles and blogs, and snoop the pages of Facebook friends for insight. I overanalyze comments and perceived backstories and imagine how other parents manage to live and work and stay in shape and shop and clean and organize their homes and show up on time (or early?!) and raise their kids so much better than I do.

It’s easy to get caught up in “I should” and “we should.” I should lift something heavier than a 3-year-old, repeatedly. We should plan date nights beyond our coffee table and take-out burritos. I should buy more organic and less Haribo (Best. Gummies. Ever.). We should have conversations about our children’s education that dig deeper than, “Have either of us practiced spelling words with the 1st grader this week? (Pause. Deep sigh.) OK, do we even know where the list is?”

That’s not to say that all of that reading and sharing and listening isn’t important; it is. Heck, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t feel those things mattered. Learning from others is how we get better and, in many cases, feel better (commiserating can be amazing therapy). But all that stuff you take in is only as applicable as your reality allows. Until folks are living in your house and sleeping in your bed (surrounded, perhaps, but any number of little people also sleeping in your bed) much of what you read and hear and imagine will help make “your life work” won’t work.

Brad (who isn’t nearly as wise as I’m making him sound, I swear) constantly says, “Jess, that’s not our reality” when I bring up an “I should” or “we should” statement. It’s super annoying. And occasionally it’s an excuse. But the majority of the time it’s just a fact that doesn’t jive with what I want.

And trying to force the issue, trying to make the square peg “shoulds” fit into my polygon world, only makes me nutty. Because there isn’t an exact search hit for “How to wake up early to run 6 miles when your activity tracker says you only sleep in 45 minute increments due to insomniac children.” Trust me, I’ve tried.

So, here’s where I am (at 10:00 p.m., trying desperately not to Google “How to stop procrastinating writing assignments”): Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening to the people you truly respect and admire. Then take all those bits and pieces that motivate and inspire and encourage you and place them together to fit your reality.

And let the rest be.

Because no one else has ever “done” your life. And we’re all making it up as we go along.

Jessica Rettig

Jessica Rettig lives, works and, after years of being told to do so (she has a sneaking suspicion it was to make other parents feel better about their own chaos), documents daily life (at Facebook.com/fivelittlelunatics) with her husband, Brad, five kids—Keaton Amelia (11), Hutton (6), Rustyn (5), Joey Michele (2) and the baby, Roosevelt-- and emotionally-challenged Weimaraner in Lincoln, Nebraska. She also tries to run away on a daily basis--usually four or five miles--but she always comes back.