The other day I unloaded over the phone to one of my close friends. Fights I’d been having with my husband, frustration with my toddler’s independent/insolent streak, work and other personal challenges. I spilled all the tea, basically.
“Wow, that does not sound good,” my friend finally said. “But at least your life looks great on Insta.”
I laughed, because it was true. But I can’t stop thinking about how strange that is.
You can see the stunning field of wildflowers I posted on Instagram, not the argument we had in the car on the way home. You see my son frolicking on a trail, not the no-nap wildebeest who stomped through the house later.
It made me think about how often I open the Instagram app and gaze at the images from moms I don’t know.
They’re lean and fit, wearing gauzy dresses as they bathe their pudgy, adorable babies in farmhouse sinks. They live in minimalist houses with toys made out of wood. They cook healthy, sensible but whimsical-looking lunches (plus the occasional ice cream cone for #FriYay). They take long walks along a foggy beach with their hot partners, their babies snoozing contentedly in natural-fiber carriers. Even their “Whoops! We made a mess baking cookies!” posts are cozy and inviting.
I have a messy, imperfect life, but these moms have “lifestyles.”
I know that things aren’t perfect for these families. I mean, I know that on a rational level. The things on Instagram are carefully curated images, designed to show a small sliver of someone’s life. There’s no complete picture.
It’s easy to forget that when I scroll through the feed, though, longing for a clean house with gleaming hardwood floors or a baby who coos instead of screams. It’s easy to want what they have. Heck, even jealousy feels authentic and meaningful when you’re looking at mamas who exude wellness and inspiration. (Once I closed the app on my phone, growling, “I want a smoothie bowl in a Mason jar with granola on top! I want to make things that are healthy for me!” So if jealousy motivates you to do things that are good for you, what could be wrong with that?)
But I still look at their profiles and wonder if the perfect lifestyle is just one #vanlife journey away.
So what’s the solution? I don’t think weaning myself from social media is the answer. I’ve written before about the connections I’ve cultivated through these platforms, and I believe the good far outweighs the bad. Besides, I really like to look at pretty photos. Instagram still feels like a haven on the Internet, even if it comes with a hefty side dish of envy.
I think I just need to remember what my friend taught me: It’s possible for both the flowers and the fights to coexist. I know that from my own experience.
People are complicated. Our lives as mothers are complex and multifaceted, and there are as many ways to raise a family as there are families. (Some do it in flowy linen dresses; I do it in old tee-shirts and yoga pants.) And while a picture might say 1,000 words, our realities consist of entire libraries. It’s not necessarily a fabrication to only reveal one chapter at a time.
And here’s the other thing: I still want to spend my days frolicking through flowers with my son. Even if it never ends up on Insta.