Each culture presents its own version of what a picture perfect life looks like. These standards can be overwhelming, unreasonable, and feel unnatural. Parents and children find themselves being someone they are not and living lives they do not want.
Questioning The Image of The Perfect Family
Questioning the image of the ”perfect family” has been an endeavor for the last two hundred years. Ever since humanity could tell stories, paint family portraits, take photos, and project moving images there has been someone idealizing domestic, familial life.
At some point in history, gender roles were created to smooth out domestic roles to ensure familial survival. Projecting images of a family hierarchy that places the patriarch at the head of the family while undermining women’s role in family leadership and decision making has created harmful consequences throughout the world and it shows in human rights offenses.
Today, as young families are more educated, blended, and exposed to various cultural histories and experiences the dynamics and priorities of the family are shifting.
The images and expectations of an ideal family life are shifting, too.
Shattering The False Images of Parenting Perfection
Scroll on social media and you’ll find all sorts of parenting blogs, mommy blogs, and family blogs. Each promises their version of familial satisfaction:
Some parents consider exhorbitant wealth, expensive things, and luxury items as a sign of successful parenting.
Some parents consider being on trend and using all of the latest gadgets to show the new, modern family is important for preparing kids for the future.
Some parents want to present pretty, poised, and posed moments of the regal family, in perfectly curated happiness for the memories.
Some parents want to show how organized, healthy, and fit they are with their time, resources, and effort so their kids can survive.
Some parents consider that by living by a credo, religion, or philosophy is how to assure eternal salvation or moral success.
Some embrace the overwhelm, the mess, the wine and are not ashamed for blaming parenthood as the cause of the chaos they feel on the inside and simply want to get through the day.
None of these are bad. They’re all perfectly alright. It begs the question: Are they healthy? Probably not.
However, take away the blog and the social media posts and one thing is certain: all of us have lived our lives in a same or similar way at one point or another.
Because we are all trying to figure out parenthood for ourselves!
Creating Our Own Image of Happy Parenthood
We all have images of what a happy childhood should be. Unfortunately, we don’t have many images of what a happy parenthood should be.
So, what we do is use those images of a happy childhood and try to build our parenthood to fulfill the tall order of birthday parties, private school tuition, gadgets and toys, clothes, colleges, and vacations.
When I think of my parent’s parenthood, I think of the anxiety, depression, sadness, arguments, financial insecurity, confusion, overwhelm they felt and acted out. The images of my parents fighting over bills, infidelity, religion, morals, and so forth are not very encouraging.
However, I was saved by one image. It was an image that changed how I envisioned my own parenthood forever.
I was living in Reims, France In 2009. Franck and I were broke and jobless newlyweds living with his parents in their guest house for several months while he looked for a job. It was the time of the global economic crisis and we left the United States to give ourselves a shot in France. I was starting to meet people and I had just met a beautiful avocat (French for lawyer) named Vanessa through a French-American networking event. She took me under her wing and we had grown to be friends.
One day, I was walking through the streets of downtown Reims. The sun was just starting to go down. I saw Vanessa holding hands with her son and daughter, just barely around three and five years old at the time. She most likely picked them up from daycare on her way home from work. They were skipping their way home, with big, happy smiles. Vanessa, with her big head of curly hair, her bright eyes, and huge perfect smile stunned me. She was, in that moment, the happiest mother in the world. It was real and genuine. In that moment, it was Vanessa and her babies and nobody else . As I write this, she doesn’t even know I saw her that day. I kept this experience to, and perhaps, for myself.
I took a mental photo and I felt the joy of seeing these three in this timeless moment. I buried it in deep inside my heart.
When I went through postpartum depression and other seemingly crushing times in my life, I referenced that image and that feeling. I always turn to it when I don’t know what to do, or how to feel, or what to think while trying to be present for my children as a mother.
I felt that if I could simply just be available to my children and to be happy as best as I could, that was all we needed. That image never seems to fail me.
Mommy blogs, parenting blogs, and family blogs never interested me. I guess, personally, I never seen one that felt genuine. But that moment with Vanessa and her two babes was genuine and real. It was a gift that keeps on giving.
Create For Yourself The Image of Happy Parenthood
When we think about parenthood, we have to try for a moment to not look at it from the vantage point of childhood. Yes, we care about how we make our children feel and thus, we seem to look at things from their point of view. But what about the point of view of the happy parent? The parent that is present and joyful and spontaneous? Try to dwell on what that looks and feels like for a moment. What does it mean to have a happy parenthood?
Does it mean that the kids are in bed at the same time every night?
Does it mean that the kids have all the latest stuff?
Does it mean that the kids obey your every command and never make a mistake?
Does it mean that you and your kids can have a real conversation?
Does it mean that you can safely tell your children your fears and worries without filling them with dread and anxiety?
Does it mean that you can productively work through your own emotional, psychological, or financial challenges without feeling absent in their lives?
Will You Set Yourself Free From The Trap of Picture Perfect Parenting?
When you look back at the thousands of images you took of your children, you’ll only be left with how you feel.
Take some time to ponder how you feel now about parenthood and how you’d like that experience to feel like for you.
Ask yourself: How will I explain the experience of parenthood to my children?
Parenthood can be fun, rewarding, and deeply fulfilling. You get to choose how your experience will feel.