Wow. Just, wow. These people really know how to do this whole matching thing right! (Photo from Awkward Family photos)
Most of us get this when it comes to Christmas cards. I don’t think that any of us actually expect that our friends regularly take their broods into the woods and stand by streams while looking like they are heading to a wedding or getting ready to perform at a choral competition. We all can see that this was a staged event, and one that probably took a herculean effort to pull off: keeping all the kids in their clothing, keeping the clothing clean, keeping hair just so, managing to get everyone to make eye contact with the camera AND smile like it’s totally normal to stand with your family, all facing the same direction, smiling into the distance.
I think, though, many of us experience a bit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to social media. It’s really easy to be fooled into thinking that what we see, what we are presented, is the true representation of what is happening in someone’s life. The danger in this is when we start making comparisons. “She’s ALWAYS doing such fun stuff with her kids…” “Her dinners ALWAYS look so great. (and are gluten free, paleo, vegan, whole 30…)” “Her family is ALWAYS having so much fun…” Those statements could be great, but they aren’t if they are followed by an internal conjunction of, “unlike mine.”
My parents were in town last weekend. I love my parents. My children love my parents. My parents love my children. However, whenever they are in town, a weird phenomenon occurs where my kids magnify everything they do. Their joy is magnified! Hooray! Their sorrow is magnified! Not hooray. Their argumentativeness is magnified. Really not hooray. I don’t know what it is about having them in town, but it always adds a bit of craziness that I don’t feel like we need.
A couple years ago I bought the boys a ping pong table for Christmas. It wanes in usage, sometimes being left alone for months. Whenever my folks are in town, though, the ping pong table gets all sorts of use. One reason being that my mom, sweet as pie Grandma Chris, is a ping pong ninja! No one can beat her. Perhaps it was being raised in Taiwan, perhaps it was the secret ping pong lessons that she must’ve taken years ago. Whatever it is, Mom is awesome at ping pong. There might be a connection to the boys’ desire of beat their grandma in ping pong and that the boys have greatly improved their skills over the past few years. They’ve gotten so that they all can play legitimate ping pong games at this point.
I have competitive boys. Really, really competitive boys. I like to describe myself as quietly competitive; I enjoy a good competition, but I’m not willing to ruin a relationship over it, though given the chance, I will absolutely win. But I’m also totally OK with NOT winning. Just having fun is a win to me for most things. My boys subscribe to a slightly different theory. To them, second place is first loser. Each one of these boys is more or less this way. Yes, so in a game with four participants, only one of them will end up happy at the end. That’s a 25% success rate, and guess what! It’s not much fun.
Since the boys can now all play, what more is there to do than to figure out who is the best? It’s so much fun to figure out your ranking, destroy others in your way and become devastated if you don’t end up on top, right? Wrong. So the boys decided to have a family ping pong tournament. This sounded like a great idea- if all of the sudden all of the boys had turned into fantastic self-regulators. If not, though, this sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.
My brother and his wife were going to be staying with us on Saturday night. The boys wanted them to participate, too. We did a bit of a dry run on Friday night, practicing with a single elimination tournament. We talked about expectations. We talked about staying positive. We talked about how this WASN’T THE WORLD SERIES!!! We made posters for the competitors. We cheered for everyone! It was such an awesome moment of family togetherness.
Except it wasn’t.
I’m not going to single any of the kids out here. Even though I use pseudonyms for all of them, those who know us can easily figure out who is who from most context. Suffice it to say, competition got its claws in every one of the kids. I had kids slam down paddles and storm out of the room. I had boys yell, “Shut up!” to dear brothers. I had boys cry because they didn’t win.
That evening my mom and I were discussing Saturday’s BIG tournament. Very bluntly, we both thought it was a really stupid idea. If they couldn’t handle it today, what was going to make tomorrow any better? We talked about this with the boys. We voiced our concerns. They, each and every one of them, assured us that it would NOT end with people in tears, that everyone would be a great sport. We were not convinced.
And yet we let the tournament happen.
The pre-tournament was probably the best part of the entire thing, really. The boys made up a bracket. They made up posters to hold while they cheered for each other. There was a buzz, an electrical spark in the air that everyone could feel. The boys might term it as excitement and anticipation, but my mom and I probably would describe it more as dread and foreboding. Potato, potato. - Gosh- I’m hoping you are able to read that how it’s intended, /p^taito, p^tato/. You’re welcome.
When the actual tournament started, my dear sister in law got to face down Yellow. She was a good sport, joining the tournament knowing she wasn’t going to make it far. After 11 hard fought points, Yellow was victorious!!! My sister in law was a gracious loser. If only all matches could be so smooth.
When we got to the point that brothers were facing brothers or, really, any opponent they weren’t sure that they were going to be able to defeat, things got ugly. Amazingly, though I had been promised the best of behavior, people got mad. People cried. One child sobbed in his room at length after losing. One child was disqualified because he slammed his paddle down on the table in anger.
Through this all, I tried to document the tournament. I got adorable pictures of the boys cheering! I got pictures of them holding signs for the participants. We looked like we were having fun! I didn’t end up with a whole bunch of photos of the gang while they were throwing fits because they weren’t that cute. Even as I took the pictures, I had this idea in my head of what I would end up writing about because I knew that these would be wonderful social media pictures, but I knew that those pictures would not come close to really showing how that afternoon went.
The top three winners won dental floss. I really didn’t want anyone jealous over a prize, so I chose something so unenviable that I knew there wouldn’t be any hard feelings over the prizes. I, however, for the next two weeks couldn’t find any floss to use and had to go to the dentist hoping that my generous tournament sponsorship wouldn’t result in cavities for me. Thank God I got a zero cavity report!
I DID post those pictures. People DID think it looked like a fun event. People made comments about how much fun it looked (I guess that was true, it did LOOK fun, but it just wasn’t 100% fun, a lot of it was NOT fun). I posted those pics knowing that they were sending a certain message about our lives, but knowing that there was a lot behind those pics, more information that not everyone seeing those pictures would know. I did this on purpose. I did this BECAUSE I knew that people would think that the Ping Pong Tournament 2107 was a blast, when it really wasn’t. I did this because I knew that this is what happens every day on social media.
Every day when we look to see what’s going on around us with social media, we are bombarded with images. We scroll through our feeds and see what our friends and acquaintances are up to. We see images of fun outings. We see images of beautifully presented meals. We see images of happy, happy people and families. These images can be great. I love seeing my friends smile. But there is danger, real danger, in viewing so many of these images. We forget that these pictures are a snapshot- a brief moment caught in time. We also forget that the pictures are the ones that have been CHOSEN for us to see. Just as we know that an advertisement in a magazine has been edited, we need to remember that the pictures we see online have been edited, too. Maybe they haven’t been photo shopped, but they have been edited for content. What we see online does not always depict real life.
This is where the danger is. We forget this. We accept these beautiful, happy pictures as a measure of ALWAYS, not a measure of WHAT WAS RIGHT THEN, or even, WHAT WAS INTENDED FOR YOU TO THINK. We then, having the knowledge of our real day to day lives, begin to compare. We start to think about how OUR lives don’t look like THEIR lives. What we are forgetting is that THEIR lives hardly look 100% like that one happy picture. Everyone’s lives have bright spots, Facebook worthy moments, but everyone also experiences times that stink. We tend not to document those times with pictures. We really tend not to share those moments with others, but we all have them.
It’s hard to even write this, but I often hear, “Supermom…” I always deny this. What people are responding to is the sheer amount of children and busyness that ensues from having so many children and activities. Having four children does not make someone a supermom. It IS busy! To be sure! But when my friends with one or two kiddos make that remark, often followed with, “I could never do that…” or “how do you do that?” I want them to stop. I tell them to stop. I want them to stop because they have started comparing. Comparing never, never ever makes us happy. When we compare, we are trying to measure ourselves against others. While we might find someone who is worse than us at something, we are always going to find someone who is better than us.
Comparing breeds dissatisfaction. We feel badly about things that we don’t need to feel badly about. Life is already hard enough! We are already hard enough on ourselves, we don’t need to make it any harder!
To make matters worse, when we are comparing ourselves against things that we see on social media, we are not even comparing ourselves against real things!!! How is that OK???
Here’s a model comparison of real person vs. info seen on FB/IG.
We ate gluten free sourdough French toast with fresh raspberries (you remember the raspberries, right? We picked them yesterday. By hand. They’re organic. You were busy plunging the toilet, how did you miss it?) and my loving partner made me coffee and served it to me on our beautiful patio while angels sang.
Breakfast- My kids ate Pop Tarts and one of them finished off the milk, so no one had any milk to even use for cereal. Two kids totally fought over who was going to get to choose what was on TV and one of them ended up hitting the other. I yelled at both of them because I couldn’t totally figure out what was going on.
Social Media: I did yoga while I prepped for a week’s worth of healthy meals. I took more time with my wonderful partner (WHAT??? You don’t have a wonderful partner? Oh, dear, that’s very troubling…) who gave me a foot massage and remodeled my kitchen. He also surprised me with tickets to Hawaii, he’s just like that, and zested the lemons for the pound cake I made.
Real: My kids are still fighting. I found another moth in my pantry and yelled so loudly that the neighbors probably heard it. I found that we had both chips AND salsa and ate a big bowl. I gave my boy a hug and he hugged me back. I attempted to clean the kitchen, then had a boy come in and make a smoothie. I threatened to outlaw smoothies.
See??? It’s probably only 9:30 in the morning! How can you even compare? You can’t! None of what you see on social media is ever the 100% truth for 100% of their day. None. Real life can never compare to the edited, carefully selected social media images. But did you miss it? You might have. Read that last paragraph again. I gave my boy a hug and he hugged me back. Real life isn’t all bad at all. It’s real. It has stuff that is really bad, but it also has stuff that is really good. When we are busy comparing ourselves to others, we miss the really good stuff.
I don’t mean that all social media is bad. Not at all. And I don’t mean to disparage those who post beautiful, happy pictures. If your partner really did make you sourdough French toast with handpicked raspberries, count yourself lucky. But if you don’t have pictures like that because your day is hard. Or your week is hard. Or your year… know that what you’re seeing ISN’T 100% real. Know that we all go through hard times and it’s OK to be real. Just don’t compare. Our lives wax and wane in their level of difficulty. Evaluate yourself, but not against others. If you need to make a change, do, but don’t feel badly because what you see in your everyday life doesn’t look like what you see in others’ Instagram lives. Social media is the new Christmas card. Only the difference is you don’t get them mailed to you once as year, you receive these cards every time you look online to see what others are doing. If you must, open those cards, recognize what a huge effort went into creating those images for everyone to see, and get back to your real life. Really.
I cherish your comments! Just don't compare your comment to the comment of someone else! ;)