Mac and I go to story time at our local library each week, and there are a huge range of parents and children there.
You’ve got your breastfeeding-until-the-age-of-5 kids and their mamas. These joyful women are perfectly content to whip out a boob in the middle of “Open Them, Shut Them.” More power to ‘em.
You’ve got the dad who brought the kids and is panicking because he has no idea what the hell he’s doing
You’ve got stay-at-home dad who has a total grip on parenting andis, as only stay at home dads can, ripping the top off a squeeze-y fruit thing with his teeth while also holding his kid by the collar of his shirt so he won’t escape.
But the one that always gets me is Perfect Mom.
Perfect Mom is there in leggings that look like they’ve just come out fresh from the laundry (AKA, un-stained and lint free) and cute tennis shoes. Her children have, and I am not exaggerating, EVERY hair in place. Adorable pigtails or brushed straight down, in coordinated and also somehow deeply stylish outfits. Perfect Mom’s little girl has cuter clothes than I do. Perfect Mom’s children are well-behaved; involved at the right times and subservient and docile at others.
I find myself resenting Perfect Mom. Even when Mac is dressed in his best and I’m feeling pretty cute myself, my confidence is deflated like a big balloon upon seeing her come into the room. She is the silver bullet to my good day. And if I’m struggling, dragging in with a son his in his laundry day mismatched clothes and my unwashed hair? Even worse.
There are any number of think pieces online to make me feel better about myself when comparing my own parenting to Perfect Mom. They’re called something along the lines of, “An Open Letter To A New Mom: Embrace Your Filthy Children, Leave The Dishes in the Sink, Be In the Moment, and Roll Around in the Floor With Them, Quick, Before They Go To College! YOLO!”
But something about the way we’ve all leaned into reassuring each other that messy is okay (because it is) has overcorrected the sentiment to the point that we’re almost demonizing people who appear to have it together. And that’s not great, either.
That’s the thing about parenting in the Internet Age. We all have these sparkly, incredible, remember-it-for-the-rest-of-your-life moments. And we all have moments where we’re pulled over on the side of the interstate with our child’s explosive poop diaper in our hands, having had to take off our own shorts because those, too, are covered in poop, and wear a swaddle as a sarong for the rest of the road trip. Just…you know. For example.
But - what if we were just as eager to jump on board to celebrate the pretty moments as we were to commiserate in the filthy ones? I am always ready to throw my arms around the “relatable” or “real” or “unfiltered” moments (because sometimes it seems we get so few of them, especially on Instagram), but what if I challenged myself by embracing people’s Pinterest-perfection with an equal amount of love and enthusiasm? Because you know how hard it was to throw that birthday party your friend with a 2-year-old just Instagrammed? Even if it was a small one? REAL HARD. Holy shit, who knew how hard?! It’s a CHILD’S BIRTHDAY. A million moving parts.
When I see a photo of a child roughly my son’s age in a perfectly curated monogrammed outfit, I feel a pang of guilt or jealousy - ESPECIALLY if I’m seeing that photo whilst sitting across from my own booger-covered one year old, in a diaper, who’s recently slung banana onto the wall behind his high chair and is looking at me as if to say, “Yeah, so?” Again, just for example.
On the flip side, when I post a photo of Mac looking put together and recently bathed, I want everyone to see and celebrate how freaking cute he is. LAUD HIM, PEOPLE OF INSTAGRAM!
I liken it to this: when I’m the driving, I hate pedestrians.
When I’m crossing on foot, I hate the drivers.
I want everyone to be with me wherever I am any given moment. Because if everyone is with me, that means I don’t have to compare. That means I can’t be wrong. And that’s the real, get-to-the-root-of-the-problem truth: if everyone’s on my team, there’s no judgment either way.
There’s no reason that someone trying hard to polish up their kids and displaying something they worked hard for and feel proud of should make us feel bad about ourselves (she said to herself in the mirror). Working through those twinges of inadequacy is something might take me a lifetime, but something I also suspect might make me a better mom.
So here’s my promise to you (you, too, Perfect Mom): I’ll celebrate the moments you want to put on Instagram without snark, and tell you I’ve been there in your messiest (because I either have or will soon). If I see you looking great with your beautiful children, I will beam you invisible rays of congratulations instead of using your put-together-ness as an indictment of my own mess. Everybody’s doing their best, right? Whatever state you and your kids are in at any given moment, you’ve got me on your team (unless you are an anti-vaxxer, in which case, stay tuned for my blog post on vaccinations coming up in a couple weeks).
Comparison as parents threatens to tear us apart, throwing up walls and creating tiers of excellence where there are none. We’re all striving in this together.
Let’s keep rooting for each other, on all our days, perfect and otherwise.