I was flipping through Instagram trying to numb my brain for a quick sec, like we all do. I’d had a long day of running around, and I was tired of thinking and didn’t want to tackle what the next day had in store quite yet. Sometimes seeing pretty colours and pretty people helps break up the stresses we have and makes us momentarily feel better. But sometimes it doesn’t make us feel better at all.
I follow a fair amount of moms, mostly famous ones, either from being in movies and tv shows, or self-made famous from parenting blogs that have taken off. And I was a little disgruntled at not seeing enough reality when it came to parenting small children. The ugly parts. The span of everyday hours where it’s really hard, where you’re getting things thrown at your head and you’re cleaning up tiny bits of oatmeal that are seemingly everywhere and you feel like you might lose it this time and take off to Timbuktu if only they had a Sephora there. Most of these moms on Instagram have really funny-cute stories about their “threenagers” and mischievous four year olds doing “exasperating” things like demanding that their sandwiches be cut into dinosaur shapes, or bursting into tears because the moon went away for the day. Really? Those are your tough days? Sounds pretty sweet to me. Mine bit my literal butt cheek through my sweats yesterday and let me tell you, it was anything but cute.
This made me take a good look at my own Instagram feed though, and I realized that I was guilty of depicting the mostly nice stuff, too. We all want to look nice and look like we’ve got it together. Who wants to see the ugly stuff, right? The reality, the stickiness and ickiness of parenting that doesn’t look good no matter how much you FaceTune it. Well, I want to see the ugly stuff. And not having it on my own feed bothered me. I don’t exactly want to splay out pictures of my kid having an epic temper tantrum for all the world to see because I’m pretty sure he won’t appreciate that when he’s older. And no one needs to see me first thing in the morning when I’ve been up several times in the night and look the Crypt Keeper. But I also don’t want to sugar coat the process of parenting and have you believe I’m living the sweet life over here in the pumpkin patch while you’re at home crying your eyes out. I know how it feels to see a picture perfect photo of a family in white sweaters all smiley and cuddled up on a park bench when your kid has decided to turn into the exorcist for the day, and it can really make your heart sink.
Parenting is a strangely isolating experience. Even if you have lots of parent friends to commiserate with, we all have our own unique set of problems with raising our children once we’re behind closed doors. And worse, these not-so-little everyday issues start to dredge up the shit we all have from our own childhoods, giving you no choice but to shine a light on your triggers and somehow learn not to repeat the same mistakes. It’s hard. It’s emotional. It’s energy-depleting and wildly frustrating. The highs are wonderful, and we’re just so in love with our kids that we forget that they’ve got it in them to totally flip the switch and explode, so when they do, our nervous systems can sometimes go into overdrive.
I was on a walk the other day with my little guy in the forest. We’re lucky enough to live close to some beautiful trails, and the sun was shining through the big old pines and I was watching him navigate the trail, both of us happy as clams. But he was tired. So was I. He started to get a little testy, and then he smacked me in the back, full-force, right there on the trail. I spun around in shock, mostly at how this perfect moment could be ruined so quickly, all of my natural instincts wanting to blame this tiny person for wrecking the perfect walk I had envisioned for the two of us. I told him through gritted teeth not to hit for what felt like the hundredth time, and kept walking up the trail, essentially ignoring him. This is when he really lost it, screaming his head off, startling people nearby, yanking on my arms and my jacket and wailing for me to pick all 40 pounds of him up and carry him for the 15 minute walk back to the car. (The ignoring technique apparently does not work in our household, so crossing that one off the list for good). It was awful. But it was normal. Once we got home, of course his tantrum had dissipated and he was back to his jolly little self, like life had just gone on. Because it had. I was the one that was frayed and fragile and rummaging in the drawer for a corkscrew.
Maybe you’ve got yourself an angel child and you don’t deal with things like this. Seriously, I know those kids really do exist, because I’ve met them (hi Jane, my sweet niece, I love you). But maybe you’re just like me and you’re dealing with a spirited little spitfire of a person who’s trying to learn to navigate their own big feelings, and you find yourself in scenarios like this from time to time. Well, I’m doing my civic duty here in telling you that you’re not alone. No matter what Instagram tells you, everyone’s in the shit (except for the parents of the angel children who, lets face it, will probably be teenagers from hell to make up for it. Good luck, guys!), we’ve all got our hands full, we’re all gritting our teeth in the parking lot, and we all gotta just have a good cry once in a while. Some days are just going to be tough, no matter what kind of intentions we start off with and no matter how many super green smoothies we make. Life is tricky on its own, let alone with teeny tyrants trying to run the show. The trick is not to beat yourself up about it. And that’s WAY easier said than done. I’m a perfectionist, so when things don’t go according to plan, I have a tendency to unravel. But I know that about myself. I’m learning to pause in those moments where my alarm bells start to ring and I try to take a deep breath. “This isn’t an emergency” is one of my favourite new mantras. My sister-in-law’s is, “I’m the parent. She’s the child.” I’m also a big fan of, “He’s just a tiny little caveman psychopath.” Whatever works to snap you back to the reality that This Too Shall Pass, and all it is is a moment. We try our best. We keep going. And eventually they’ll grow up and away one day. And then we’ll only remember the good stuff anyway, or at least we’ll have learned to laugh hard about the bad stuff.
So if you’re feeling our old pal Self Doubt creeping in, tell him to take a hike because you’re not alone and you don’t suck at this. Practice some self-love. Order in. Make the other parts of the day that you CAN control as easy as possible. And maybe log off Instagram for a bit. Those pretty pictures aren’t going anywhere.