I am many things – mother, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, employee, writer, Christian – and I’m trying to be good at all of them, but I’m not. It’s a juggling act, and no matter how hard I try, I can never quite keep all of the balls in the air; success in one area is gained at the expense of another. I once missed an important meeting at work because I left early to attend my son’s soccer game: mother-1, employee-0. Another day I had lunch with a friend but didn’t get any writing done: friend-1, writer-0.
If you looked at my personal Facebook page, you’d see pictures of me with my kids on holidays and vacations, looking happy and well dressed. You might see a picture of my son scoring a soccer goal, or my daughter holding up her honor roll certificate. You might read about my forthcoming book. According to my Facebook page, my family is thriving, and we’re all successful and having a great time. What you won’t find on my Facebook page is a list of the publishers and agents who have rejected my work. You won’t find a copy of my daughter’s blood work, indicating that she is still anemic thanks to Crohn’s disease-induced malabsorption. You won’t see anything there about my son’s challenges with algebra or the constant struggle for my ex-husband and me to get along as we co-parent our children. There is nothing on my Facebook page to indicate my loneliness or the fact that I spend many sleepless nights worrying about whether I am making the right decisions for my kids and my career, and whether or not I’ll have enough money to provide a decent life for us.
We all have struggles, and our inclination is to hide them. We don’t want anyone to see our weaknesses just as we don’t want anyone to see what we look like when we wake up. But we don’t help each other when we hide our pain and fears. We look at Facebook, and we think that everyone is more successful than we are, everyone is happier than we are, and everyone’s life is better than ours. This reinforces our insecurities and the feeling that we are somehow not enough, and that’s why our lives aren’t better.
When I talk to my friends, I discover that we’re not as different as Facebook would lead us to believe. Most of us wish that our bank accounts were a little bit bigger and our dress sizes were a little bit smaller. We all love our kids more than we love ourselves but we still feel like we’re failing them in some way; as if our struggle to provide what they need on a practical level is at war with our desire to just be with them. We’re all trying to be generous, but sometimes we buy something we don’t need instead of donating that extra money to charity, so we feel like we’re failing God, too.
Here’s the truth that I have not posted on my Facebook page: some days I’m an excellent mother and other days I let my son play too many video games so I can get some extra writing time. Some days I spend hours supportively listening to my friends and other days I’m so self-absorbed that I can’t be bothered to answer the phone. Some days I eat less than twenty carbs and sweat through an entire Jillian Michaels workout; other days I binge-watch Netflix while feasting on onion rings. Some days I pray for the people who have hurt me, and I genuinely want good things for them; other days I’m filled with bitterness for what they have taken from me, and I want to drive over them with my car, and then put it in reverse and drive over them again.
Even on my best days, I don’t measure up to the impossible standards that I’ve set for myself. My perfectionist nature is forever screaming “You should have tried harder! You should have done more! You should be better!” When she makes me feel like a lonely, overweight failure, I scroll through social media posts, and that makes me feel worse. I’m constantly comparing myself to either an unattainable version of me or an idealized version of everyone else. So how do I stop this madness, and make peace with the imperfect person that I am, and the imperfect life that I lead?
Grace. I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t just for everyone else. I have to extend it, but I get to keep some, too. I have to forgive, but in doing so, I am forgiven. And just as others forgive my imperfections, and God forgives my imperfections, I need to forgive them, too. I messed up today, and I’ll mess up tomorrow, but hopefully, I’ll at least make some new, more interesting mistakes. And when I do, God will look at me the way I look at my daughter, when she comes to me and confesses, “I ate gluten. I know my tummy’s going to hurt, I know I shouldn’t have, but I did it anyway.” When she does that, I wrap my arms around her, kiss the top of her head and say, “I understand, and I forgive you. Forgive yourself, let’s go get a heating pad for that tummy, and we’ll try to do better tomorrow.”
Do you feel like you are doing too many things to do them all well? How do you deal with feelings of inadequacy and find balance? Does social media make you feel better or worse?