Several years ago a good friend passed along Dr. Madeline Levine’s book, The Price of Privilege (Harper Collins, 2006) and since then, I admittedly have not read it even though we talk about it all the time. After she mentioned it for the millionth time a few weeks ago, I decided to get started on it. Not because I’m looking for a parenting book, and not because I feel as though I’m failing as a parent (hardly), but because I’m interested in this crazy phenomenon I’m seeing all around me and I think the two are connected.
What’s this phenomenon, you ask? Simple. Real and authentic people/parents/moms (in particular) are starting to disappear.
With the days of Facebook as the new way to socialize — and let’s face it, show off — and Pinterest, and Instagram, and Flickr and what-have-you (yes, I use all of these) more and more I’m finding that people are presenting the best selves or possibly their imagined selves. Their perfect self. The modern day June Cleaver. Back in September I wrote about my slow departure from Facebook because I was exhausted from the nonsense of it all. Then this week I saw another mom feel the same way and explain it more eloquently than I did. As Rachel Marie Martin so solidly addresses on her blog Finding Joy, there seems to be a shortage of authentic moms. Somewhere in the last few decades people stopped being real and everyone is feeling they have to be better, do better, and show better than their neighbor.
But at what cost?
Personal sanity, for one. Who really has the time to be perfect? Who really has the time and money to have a perfect house that’s perfectly clean, perfectly decorated and perfectly organized? What are we giving up when we give up our authentic selves? And as Rachel points out in her blog, when moms keep up the allusion of perfection, all they are doing is isolating themselves and actually disconnecting from their neighbors, other moms and themselves.
Here’s what my 16-month old’s room looks like most days of the week. And this is when I’m trying to get it clean and organized (which only happens once a week, if I’m lucky…).
Not only does striving for perfection take a toll on the parents, but it takes a toll on our children.
Seven years ago Dr. Levine wrote about the consequences the perfection toll has on our kids — and the consequences are alarming. Not only is the culture of inauthenticity unmanageable for parents, particularly mothers, but it’s also completely unmanageable for their children. What Dr. Levine saw in her patients – and after extensive research, nation-wide – was a “lack of the basic foundation of psychological development: an authentic sense of self.”
While Dr. Levine focuses her studies on the more affluent adolescent population (her client base of Marin County) I would venture to say that seven years later in 2013 we are seeing this protrude even to the less privileged population with the help of the Internet. And please don’t think that the only ones affected are the girls, it’s the boys too.
What can we do about this?
- Take a break. For starters, we can take a break from Facebook. Loads of people are starting to use it less (I think the latest stat was at 60-something %), so I highly doubt you’ll miss anything.
- Stop the auto-pilot. If stopping your social usage isn’t realistic then consider how you use it. Start to be real. However, if complaining about your day, the jerk in the parking lot (like my day yesterday) or the puke that landed on your sweatshirt again (like my month has been) isn’t something you’d like to share with your 500+ friends, then give your good friend a call and let her know that you need a shoulder to vent on. For the sake of your self, don’t pretent you’re growing flowers in a snowstorm.
- Borrow that cup of sugar. For centuries families have lived in tribes and it was always the village raising the kids. Families helped each other — they offered help and gave help freely. It was the norm. If you run out of milk or sugar, don’t hesitate to knock on your neighbor’s door and ask to borrow some. Even if you have to go to a few houses, someone is bound to have some to spare, and they’ll likely be happy to help and connect. Dr. Levine found that the simple action of asking a neighbor for a cup of sugar actually had profound negative effects on children. The children read this as pressure to be perfect and never have to ask for help — even if it was just a cup of sugar.
- Offer a helping hand. If you see an elderly person who needs help at getting an item off a shelf at the store, or a mom who has her hands full with her kids and she dropped something, stop to help them out. These are all teaching moments for the little ones by your side. And even if your little one isn’t there, this is a solid auto-pilot move to start implementing now. Not only do you get to help someone who’s not expecting it, but you also get a little feel-good boost to boot.
Be aware. Be conscious. Be authentic. Be the real you.
Being authentic is a win-win situation. By foregoing the allusion of perfection (believe me, it’s a complete allusion), you can alleviate and let go of the stress on yourself and model a behavior for your children that will have lasting and profound effects.
I have to admit, this has been a challenge for me. For anyone who knows me, I am slightly OCD and need to have a clean house, amazing meals, a glorious garden, pin-worthy hair, blemish-free skin, and a rockin’ MILF bod. But this is me in my dreams (sans the MILF bod, obviously). Let’s face the facts: I have two hairy dogs (don’t let anyone tell you Goldendoodles don’t shed), a 16-month old son, a husband who works 60-miles from home, a constant disaster of a closet/pantry/laundry room/bathroom cabinet/basement and less and less time to get to the gym or take care of myself the way I did pre-kid.
But I do have family, I do have amazing neighbors, and the best friends a mom could ever ask for — and I don’t hesitate asking for help when I need it.