It was one of those Facebook “timehop” photos that started this. It was a picture of my now-seven-year-old back when he was only two or three. He was looking cute, as two and three-year-olds do, big smile, squinty eyes and in the caption for the photo I had written “never mind that he needs a haircut.” Then current self, as if I reading the work of some stranger, took a second look at the picture. Now, since I raised the child and remember how his hair grew non-stop beginning at birth, I could tell he was probably due for a trim, but as a person, many years removed from my old self I thought, “why the heck did you write that?” And this wasn’t the only time, I know I’ve added “ignore the mess” to many photos and I’ve added, “ignore my laugh” to many videos. I’ve seen others do it too.
In fact, I’ve seen the apologies manifest in a more “don’t judge me” sort of tenor as well. Here’s little Johnny eating a piece of pizza and Mom felt the need to add “for a special occasion only.” Sometimes the captions include apologies for messy houses, messy hair, mismatched outfits, dirty faces, junk food, etc – all kid things that we know, in our right mind, are normal and not indicators of how well we are doing as parents.
And yet we apologize for them because we feel that the world (or at least our friends on social media) expect better from us. We expect that just because we once posted an article about “Why Your Kid Should Not Eat McDonalds” means we should never be spotted eating McDonalds. We’ve seen the blogs about screen time and so we’re embarrassed when that tablet shows up on the lap of our angel in an otherwise photogenic moment.
Listen, moms, here are some realizations I’ve come to since my life has spiraled out of control (i.e. since the birth of my second child), none of this matters! And really what we’re talking about here is the management to two types of critics:
- That friend who points these things out either because they are trying to be funny or they really are just snarking on you and, in which case, just own it. “Wow, I didn’t know you let your kids eat at McDonalds” just answer with “yep!” or not at all. Don’t feel the need to explain yourself, your parenting, or your decisions to these people. Just own it because we all know that a messy house does not make you a bad parent. So own it, laugh at it, and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and, sometimes, you just don’t have time to get to that stack of laundry and, sure, it might sit in the middle of the living room for a day or two.
- The second critic is much more difficult to silence. This is yourself and the judgments you think other people are making. When you add the caveat “ignore the messy hair” or “don’t mind that pile of laundry,” you are, in effect, telling all of us to notice. And who doesn’t have laundry? Who hasn’t had a day where they look at a child’s rat’s nest of overnight hair and decide to leave it because you weren’t planning on leaving the house anyway. We all do it. This critic, like a sniper, voices your insecurities with laser precision.
I am thrilled when I see pictures that show these moments because it reminds me that we’re all in the same boat and these pictures are real. I love messy backgrounds, laundry baskets, and dirty dishes because it helps remind me that I’m normal. This is the narrative we must force feed ourselves. We must stop posting pictures and then spending minutes analyzing what others might think. We are our own harshest critic and when we feed ourselves these imaginary judgments we are only fueling our own insecurities. The reality (that we really do know in our heart of hearts) is that parenting is hard, confusing, messy, and sometimes no fun at all and everyone has felt this way – whether they post on social media about it or not.
So Moms, I encourage you to stop apologizing. Own the fact that some days don’t look the way you imagined they would and that’s okay. We were all once young and energetic with sweeping statements and harsh opinions about the right and wrong way to raise our children. Now, however, we know that some days are about survival and few days look like a Pinterest post and that’s so very okay. Remind yourself that Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram feature only those moments that worked out, looked cute, and have been sharpened by a filter. They are fleeting and probably the reason that person posted it – a celebration of a moment when parenting was what we hoped it would be.
Finally, support one another. Share your stories of frustrations and failures. Don’t feel pressured to prove to Facebook that you know how to parent; we know you do, we’re your friends, and we’re rooting for you. And good friends will not only understand bad days, but will share their own as well. In fact, once a friend posted that she was feeling like the worst mom ever, so I wrote a Facebook post that said, “Let’s share moments of bad parenting to make her feel better” and the stories came out of the wood works and they were hilarious. In a few hours I had dozens of comments with stories ranging from, “that time I sent my kid to timeout and forgot about him for an hour,” to “that time I forgot to feed my daughter dinner,” to “that time I watched my son share his ice cream with the dog and I let it happen.” And I think I’ve decided that these are the real parenting moments. I think these are the things I will remember and laugh about when my kids are old and grown. I’m not sure I’ll remember that time we went to a function and everyone behaved perfectly and our outfits were coordinated. I imagine I’ll be much more apt to remember the time my son pulled down his pants in front of a room full of company and proceeded to do, as he called it “a wiener dance.” Sure my guests were horrified and imagined they were vowing to never let their own kids come over to play, but that’s probably not the case. And now, several years removed, that memory cracks me up and makes me want to hug my kid. We all have days with too much yelling, or too much screen time, or too much junk food. So let’s own this about parenting, share these moments too, and laugh about it because I worry that someday we’ll look back and wish we would have stopped trying so hard and, instead, would have just enjoyed it.