You know how social media is flooded with back to school photos this time of year? All parents must post at least one so that they don’t feel left out.
Just in case you missed it on Instagram, here is mine:
The kids are jumping for joy around here. Or at least they pretend to be for this traditional picture.
Lest you believe all went perfectly on that blessed morning, let me give you a rundown of what was really going on behind the scenes:
It all began when I picked up my phone and opened Instagram pretty much as soon as I woke up from a restful night’s sleep. I know I said I would not do that because waking up to a news feed that can quickly become a comparison trap is the not the best way to start my day. But sometimes I still do it.
At the top of my Instagram feed were beautiful photos depicting a spectacularly decorated back to school dinner from the night before. I thought of our back to school dinner which was void of decorations and consisted of pancakes. That’s it. Just pancakes. We didn’t even have any juice to go with them.
You know what my first thought of the day was?
“I am the most boring mom ever. I don’t even prepare a cool back to school dinner for my kids. And since we had pancakes last night, I guess we are eating cold cereal this morning. Lame. Lame. Lame.”
But I pushed that thought aside and got the kids moving, which is no small task after an unstructured summer full of late nights and late mornings.
I thought I would make up for my lack of creative execution by being extra nice and curling my girls’ hair. That is a big commitment, mind you. Elise’s hair is super thick and long, and it takes 30-40 minutes to curl, which is why I only do it on special occasions, of which this was one.
OK, so maybe I am not such a bad mom, after all. Look at those curls. (Insert pat on the back.)
While I was in the midst of curling wands and trying not to burn sweet faces and necks (ears don’t count), Jordan came into the bathroom in a panic with one not-so-simple question: “What time do I need to be at school?”
Well, let me just tell you that I had not even looked at the email from his school explaining any of that. He is nearly 18 years old, has attended the same school for five years now, and I expected him to know the drill and get himself there in time. The problem was that the school changed the drill, and I did not know since I failed to open the email. And Jordan is not on the email list that explains all of that stuff.
Let’s just say that he was late on his first day of school, thanks to his super organized mother who is always on the ball, especially at the beginning of the school year when there are a million things to remember.
I was feeling pretty much like a loser, so I went to Costco. Because that is where I fill my bucket (or basket). And $450 later, I was on my way home, listening to a podcast featuring one of my favorite food bloggers: Mel, from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. (If you are not familiar with her, you simply must check out her blog for the most delicious family friendly food ever.)
It was fun to listen to Mel talk about the joys and challenges of blogging and raising her five kids. (Hmmm…sounds familiar.) When asked how she balanced everything, she talked about how important systems and charts and routines were because they helped her to get everything done.
And I thought, “Lynnette, you stink at creating and maintaining systems. Really, why can’t you get it together? You would be so much more productive, and your kids would be so much better off if you would just have chore charts and weekly meal plans. Why is that so hard for you?”
Man alive, this was not turning out to be a good day.
The cold, harsh truth is that I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, and that does not always go so well. Ideas and big picture thinking are my strengths, not details and systems and plans. Chore charts work for approximately one day because I am not great at following through, no matter how cute the chart is. Weekly meal plans are always my intention, but sometimes they don’t materialize. Plus, I apparently need to work on reading my email and other logistical tasks.
And let’s not even talk about elaborately decorated dinners or I might start hyperventilating. Because I do not have an Instagram perfect life.
While social media and blogs can provide great inspiration, they can also provide an excellent place for comparison, where I occasionally emerge feeling bad about myself. They are a beautiful showcase of the talents, interests, and passions of the people who create them, which are not necessarily my talents.
I appreciate the expertise of others and am so grateful for the beauty that people bring to the world through their creations. But it is sometimes hard to feel confident in myself when I start to compare others’ strengths to my weaknesses.
So I have to take a step back and look at the big picture:
I may not always plan out my meals, but I do create some pretty delicious food using ingredients that I have on hand, prepared with a little creativity.
I may not throw elaborate dinners parties with decorations to boot, but I am awesome at inviting people over for impromptu and informal dinner gatherings. Casual and last-minute are where I shine.
I may not be crafty, but I can write.
I may not use chore charts for my kids, but I do require them to do chores, including, but not limited to, washing and folding their laundry, making their lunches, and staying on top of their homework without prodding. That has got to count for something.
I may not be great at planning the details of daily life, but I can easily see the skills that I need to teach my kids if I want them to be successful in the real world. And I work on that instruction a little at a time.
Real life is never quite as idyllic as social media makes it appear, so I’m going to try really hard not to allow what I see there to become a standard for comparison. Overcoming my shortcomings will likely take a lifetime, so I will keep working on them. But, in the meantime, I’m going to remember the good things that I do, regardless of whether or not they make it onto social media.
I invite you to join me. Together, let’s fight back against the mentality that we must all have an Instagram perfect life. Because that standard is rooted in fantasy, not reality. Reality is inherently messy and challenging, which allows us to grow in a way that perfection never could.
If you are up for it, use the comments section to tell me one thing that you do amazingly well. Then you will always have something to remind you of how awesome you are if you ever fall into the comparison trap. If you have a hard time coming up with something, ask a friend or family member to help you out. I guarantee you are incredible at something; probably many things.
Let us encourage each other to be real – to be fearlessly true to ourselves, imperfections and all. Who is in?
P.S. If you want to see more of the ins and outs of my real and imperfect life, you can follow me on Instagram. (It is my favorite social media channel.)