By Alice Webb of Different Than Average
Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all of the other social media platforms I’m not cool enough to understand, it’s easy to get lost in a stream of constant connection. I’ve heard complaints about how inauthentic we all are online, how we create happy, thriving, successful personas. By selectively publishing all of the good stuff — the trophies and honor roll and perfectly coiffed prom pictures, the Instagram-worthy family dinners and the professional quality family photos with everyone matching and smiling and not pulling one another’s hair — we aren’t presenting a realistic portrait of our dysfunctional lives.
How are we supposed to compare ourselves? How are we supposed to realistically gauge our spot on the scale of loser to perfection if we aren’t hearing the whole ugly story?
The picture-perfect lives that we are accused of plastering on social media are supposedly creating an epidemic of anxiety. It’s something called the “compare and despair” factor, when comparing your “friends'” edited Himalayan vacation photos to your weekend spent attempting to reach the summit of Mount Laundry leave you feeling self-conscious and full of unsettling anxiety over how droll and meaningless your life is in comparison.
But most people aren’t posting pictures of their dirty laundry.
Today I posted a picture of a letter my daughter received in the mail, an invitation to join Phi Theta Kappa, the International Honor Society of the Two-Year College. Quite a feat considering she’s only 16. I’m proud. I wanted to brag, so I did… on social media.
I’m too proud to keep this all to myself.
Some would accuse me of polishing up my unrealistic persona of family perfection. I routinely post pictures of karate trophies and belt promotions, academic awards and happy children. I should be sorry that by actively choosing to leave out the day-to-day dirty laundry and family struggles — the teen angst and sibling rivalry, the dirty dishes, and the screamfest my two youngest got into over who was going to eat the last taquito — I’m not being authentic. I should feel sorry for the anxiety I may be causing others who scroll past my family’s successes.
I don’t post my little moments of family success because I’m trying to make other people feel bad. I’m not trying to prove that we are better than anyone else. I’m not trying to create a false persona or convince anyone that we are some sort of Stepford family. Nope.
I realize far too clearly that life isn’t perfect all of the time (especially my life). My own life experience has made me realize that tranquility, happiness, accomplishment, and pride happen in rare fleeting moments. They zip by faster than the laundry multiplies across my laundry room floor. And because those moments are so fleeting, surrounded on all sides by the frustration and struggles of everyday life — of homework and bills and yard work and the impossible task of six people living together but trying not to kill each other — I want to capture them and celebrate them.
So I post them to social media, because it’s one simple way for me to be proud, to capture single shining moments of joy and achievement, to hold them up and receive the applause of others who can recognize them for what they are. They are worthy of celebration, not because we are a picture-perfect family of over-achievers, but because those moments are so very rare, like precious gems. Each and every win, every single moment of harmony is sweeter because of all the more numerous moments of struggle and hardship.
Those trophies don’t just represent one moment of victory, but all of the hours of practice and training, the frustration and sweat and bruises. Those perfect vacation photos also represent months of scrimping to save, the hassle of coordinating six different schedules, and the heated arguments and hurt feelings in the car on the way there.
Sometimes you have to read between the lines to see the whole picture. The reality is always there, even if we aren’t blatantly parading our dirty laundry all over Facebook. There’s always more than we see, always an incredible backstory to every shining success announced on social media. Always. But those shining moments of success are what make all the other crappy stuff bearable.
I really don’t care if my family’s successes make anyone feel anxious and inadequate. Call me insensitive if you want, but I’m going to keep posting all of the good stuff — that’s what keeps me from feeling anxious and inadequate — even if it makes me look fake.
This post was originally featured on Different Than Average.
About Alice Webb
Alice Jones Webb is a homeschooling mom to four kids, a writer, bookworm, laundry sorter, black belt, nerd, free-thinker, obsessive recycler, closet goth, a bit of a rebel, but definitely not your typical soccer mom. You can usually find her buried under the laundry and also on her blog, Different Than Average, Facebook, and Twitter.