We cruise through Instagram and Facebook seeing all these adorable kids in their crisp new clothes holding a beautiful back-to-school sign that their mom stayed up until midnight hand-chalking. In part we do it for friends and family, to be sure. But part of the thought is that maybe they will want to see this someday, or someday I am not going to remember to tell them all about it. I guess it is a sort of photo-journaling the history of the child’s upbringing. But what was really behind the scenes of the picture?
The picture in my head when I see those pictures goes something like this: a mom, perfectly prepared for the day, getting up early before the children to make sure everything is prepared. She quietly pads into each child’s perfectly neat and organized bedroom, gently waking each child with a sweet morning song and softly reminds them of the clothes that were laid out the night before. “Sweetheart, it’s the first day of school. After you’re dressed, please come down for breakfast. Mommy made pancakes with bacon, fresh berries, hand squeezed orange juice and real whipped cream. Please don’t be late; we have to take the first day of school pictures.” All is perfect and happy, everything goes as planned. After smiling and beautiful pictures, they are on their way to the bus. That may last in our house for a day or two, maybe a week.
Then it is life as usual. Panicked, running around because we slept through the alarm, I run down to scrounge some cereal out of the cabinets … oops, we have no milk. “Well, kids, just eat it dry.” As I am convincing one child to eat the dry cereal, another comes down the stair with no pants, exclaims “I have no pants!” with great conviction (despite owning too many pants to actually fit in the drawers). I run to the clothes dryer (rather than back up to the bedroom, because who knows what will go sideways among the three of them if I’m gone out of sight), and fish out some wrinkled pants that did not get folded after yesterday’s laundry. “But mom they are all wrinkly!” That’s ok, the wrinkles will fall out. What’s the big deal? Perfectly ironed clothes are overrated anyway. Then I look over and the child eating has dribbled juice down the front of his shirt. The thought does for a moment cross my mind to grab another clean shirt, but that would mean even more laundry for me later … so it’s wet napkin time. Someone is protesting eating, someone has lost their library book and someone needs their hair braided as I am yelling at everyone to finish up, get their clothes on or they are going to be late. Yup, we’re back in our groove.
Yesterday I was reminiscing with a mom about the handmade baby food we used to make and the perfectly organized folder for each child with teacher communication, activities, ideas for the child … and remembering how stressful it was striving to be the perfect mom.
I want to be the perfect Instagram/Facebook/Pinterest mom. But I never really was one of those kids that always colored inside the lines, why would that change now? Not only was I raised with ideals of perfectionism geared around external realities (which my sister always achieved and I often did not), I also tend to get caught up in the pictures of perfection I see on social media. It’s very easy for me to mistake pictures of a perfect life for truth. The truth is nobody is that perfect; the pictures may look perfect, but you never know what’s behind those pictures. Is it struggle, fighting, harsh words and criticism? All working so hard to make it look perfect on the outside. That is the truth I grew up in that … and my soul still wars against it.
I find when I stay up too late to chalk out the perfect sign, bake the perfect birthday cake, iron the clothes with military creases, wear myself thin cooking the perfect “clean meals” and making sure the house is perfect in every way, I judge myself mercilessly as less of a mom and a wife. I get frustrated, grumpy and mean, frustrated that the kids won’t toe the line or that my husband won’t help me to achieve the “perfect” external life I get so caught up in creating. I have to remind myself it is the smile, the warm touch, the words of encouragement, the peaceful demeanor, the laughs, and the wisdom of communicating gently and lovingly and carefully. These are the things that will build my children into heathy adults with healthy relationships and help to stabilize my marriage for the road we will travel together when the kids are no longer under our roof.
Yes, my kids may have wrinkles and stains on their clothes, they may be holding their fingers up in the pictures to symbolize their upcoming grade. They may have odd unhealthy items in their lunch and homework that looks like it was pulled from the trash can (it may have been). They may not have cleats for the first day of soccer or a clean car (for us it’s a good day when Chick Fil A wrappers don’t fall out of the car in the carpool line). I may be embarrassed of those things for a moment, or a lot of moments. But then the Lord brings me back to the reality of what is important. Like when I get a note from the camp counselor saying our child has been put in charge of new camper assimilation because they are so kind and caring and make the lonely kids feel less alone, or when I get a note that said my child stood up to the “cool kids” and cared for the odd man out. I am reminded that a peaceful mommy, grounded in the Word of God, is what they need and will benefit them the most for the long haul. I do have to remind myself of this over and over again, because when the outside is right in front of me all the time I so often forget to see the inside.