Some words demand our honesty. The word PERFECT, for instance, is something we know, without a shadow of a doubt, does not apply to us. Identifying ourselves, or anyone else for that matter, as perfect, would be a lie. We would also admit there are other near-perfect labels on the continuum we hope to deserve. Experienced, accomplished, and skillful are attractive attributes to own. When they represent us, our resumes are quick to point them out! Labels just short of perfect might be believable. However, there are a few labels, like humble, that are hard to claim for ourselves without our authenticity being questioned. When our family, friends, or co-workers attribute desirable labels to our character like compassionate, generous, or intentional, it confirms that we are really living out those qualities.
This is the case for our parenting as well. Realistically, we aren’t perfect parents and we know it. We are not perfectly in control, perfect in leading our families, or perfect in handling challenging situations with our sons and daughters. To label ourselves as perfect parents would be another perfect lie. But let’s admit it, we still long for the qualities on the moving-toward-perfection side of the continuum. A parent that is accomplished, compassionate, or intentional sounds pretty attractive. To look that way to others is even more appealing and, quite honestly, what we hope others will see. Let’s admit it, we tend to put our shiny side up, even if our reality is messy.
A friend recently shared her son’s first school picture. He is a positively adorable little guy with a twinkly grin that puts a smile on your face, too. In the photo, his amazing strawberry blond hair is all in place and he has that “clean and pressed” look in his pint-sized button down. I happen to know the picture doesn’t tell the whole story. In every day real life, digging in the dirt with his mini excavators is his favorite activity and Mom measures his fun by how dirty he gets, rather than by the sparkling smile in his school picture.
The truth is, we like presenting just the “clean and pressed” surface of our lives to others. I scanned the last two weeks on my Facebook account and have to say I had trouble finding anything that put family or parenting experiences in a negative light. Other than the “poopalooza” incident involving the Roomba automatic vacuum (look it up at your own risk), there were lots of posts on the edge of bragging, but nothing that would paint other’s lives the same color as my reality.
In a recent article for verywellfamily.com, Apryl Duncan states that social media has impacted our view of authentic parenting. We now live in a world that gives us a chance to screen how we represent our lives. “The best of the best about everyone’s children is now presented to you in a beautiful timeline, complete with pictures, right in your very own home,” says Duncan. We are being bombarded with incomplete pictures of family experiences. In the good, bad, and ugly world of parenting, the good ends up on Instagram and the bad and the ugly stay in hiding through conscious decisions not to share struggles in the public forum. Most of us stick to showing just the glossy side of life. We respond to posts with likes and comments but on the inside, we battle comparing our parenting to others, often to the point of labeling ourselves as failures. The “unofficial competition on social media to be the funniest, wittiest, most-amazing parent,” says Duncan, “turns us into moms and dads who gauge our parenting success based on other people’s likes, loves, favorites and re-tweets of our content,” creating an “everyone else is doing better than I am” mentality and unnecessary stress.
I am NOT suggesting we all start posting our failures on Facebook. The video of my family disaster that would go viral, as funny as it might be now, could be a source of shame or embarrassment for one of my dear ones. My social media presence needs to show consideration of my impact on others.
I AM suggesting there are things we can do to build our confidence as parents. Consider these ideas:
- LIMIT EXPOSURE. Recent research demonstrated that quitting Facebook raised people’s sense of happiness and contentment. I imagine limiting our social media exposure would also have a positive impact on our sense of success as parents. If you aren’t ready to delete your accounts, be intentional in guarding against comparisons.
- PRACTICE PARENTING SUCCESSES. Circle back to parenting habits you are already feeling great about…the encouragement text you send your student on Mondays…your plan to serve favorite meals for birthdays… your tradition of family dinner night…or your holiday service project as a family. Reinforcing your already-winning parenting habits is rewarding and builds family legacy.
- FOCUS ON PARENTING MOMENTS. Some are very good. Realistically others are in the bad/ugly category. Instead of seeing your parenting as one big experience to be weighed and graded, look at your view of the journey as a lifelong series of learning experiences for us and our children. The truth is, we learn from both the great and the terrible moments, there are no parenting report cards, and each stage of parenting provides new moments!
- USE SCRIPTURE TO HELP REFRAME REALITY. Post or memorize a scripture that focuses you on the reality of your human condition and Christ’s constant love. (Check out I John 1:7 to 2:1) Remember Jesus died for IMPERFECT you. You didn’t have to arrive at perfection first.
I AM suggesting we give up trying to be perfect or even look perfect. Instead, let’s aim for “When it’s tough, I keep trying.” We acknowledge we do our best work as parents when we let Jesus take the lead. We trust His promise that, like our students, we are a work in progress. We can be “confident in this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6, NASB). Let’s trade our efforts to look perfect for confidence that our perfect Lord is doing a good work in us, even when parenting is challenging.