Titus 2'day, based on Titus 2:3-5, is my regular Tuesday installment where I share the great advice others have given me about parenting or about what I'm learning along the way.
I will never forget the day that my mom leaned forward over her steering wheel while driving my sister and me home from school and sighed. I have no idea why we were talking about boys and husbands, but I guess that's not a terribly uncommon topic with teenage girls. She said with all sincerity, "Sometimes I worry about how you girls will ever find a guy to marry as wonderful as your Daddy."
"Why, Mama?" I was a little caught off guard by this confession. Not that it surprised me; I'd certainly thought the same thing myself.
"Just...I feel bad for the boys you're going to compare to your dad. He's been doing this marriage and Daddy thing for a long time now. Try to remember that guys have to grow up a little and have to learn how to be great. I always knew your dad was wonderful, and would be even more wonderful someday. But try not to compare a 20-year-old to a 45-year-old."
Ok, so I don't remember exactly how she said it. But the gist was this: Your dad is amazing. (True!) Look for a guy who has traits like your amazing daddy. (Check!) But be gracious, because you can't compare a guy who has never been married to a guy who has been married for twenty-some-odd years. (Okay...)
She went on to say how much she'd always believed my dad, how she knew way-back-when that he was going to be even better someday than he was then as a college kid. She knew he was imperfect and always would be, but she believed in him and supported him through thick and thin. I've always remembered that advice, and I've always been thankful for the examples of my parents and their marriage. They are proof that hard work pays off and that love is an action.
I tucked that advice away in my heart and think about it often. My mom was right- it is hard sometimes not to compare your newlywed husband to your "oldlywed" dad who has had time to get good at being married. Like the first year my husband put together a Christmas stocking for me? Let's just say he asked my dad for advice the next year. In other words, when you've had a good example set for you and you have a strong basis for comparison, it's just hard not to compare sometimes. I also think that comparisons about basically everything in life are a part of womanly DNA.
Fast forward a few years, and enter new baby. Whoa, mama. Talk about comparisons.
I discovered early in my pregnancy that I had to be really, really careful about what I read about pregnancy and mothering and about where I went for advice. I found right away that the wonderful world of Web is just that- a web. A brilliant, alluring, sticky mess that can suck you in and pull you down before you even realize you're not coming up for air. For every wonderful bit of advice there are 1000 more bits, bits that are good, bits that are bad, bits that are confusing, bits that bite, bits that could even save your life. As a matter of fact, the only reason I knew something was wrong with me at the end of my pregnancy was that I'd happened to read a blog post about cholestasis somewhere along the line and the symptoms were imbedded in my brain. Talk about a bit of good!
I am thankful for the internet because we new moms have a wealth of information at our fingertips. Long and sometimes lonely days at home don't have to feel so lonely when you can chat with a friend on Facebook during a nap or read her blog. Friendships are forged and problems are solved and hearts are encouraged. All very, very good stuff.
But I feel like I'm seeing that new moms are second-guessing themselves and feeling inadequate more than I ever realized before. It took me only a few months of pregnancy to realize that I felt easily overwhelmed, over-loaded and insecure after reading blogs or articles or forums. All of that new-baby excitement, especially when you don't really have other friends with babies, makes it really easy to while away hours online. I would hop online feeling great, thinking I had it all under control and would get my baby fix reading reviews about strollers. Before I even knew what was happening, I'd be reading some blog post about some supplement that "everyone's taking" and I would panic because not only was I not taking the supplement, I had never heard of it. Why hadn't I heard about it? Am I already a bad mother because I don't subscribe to Vitamins for Pregnancy? Why didn't my doctor tell me this? Is my doctor a fake? Will my baby never go to college because her brain didn't develop because I didn't take this supplement that my fake doctor never told me about?!
Slow down, sister.
The comparisons were killing me. It was so easy for me to want to be perfect, to want to have it all together and to feel so lame so easily because someone else knew more or did more than me. So I stopped. I stopped reading a million books at once, ended the subscriptions to forums, and cut out blogs to read only the ones that felt encouraging.
You see, everything online has to be taken with a grain of salt. First of all, people put advice out there because they've done something before. They have experience. They know what they are doing, or at least know what worked for them. In other words, I am the "newlywed" and they are the "oldlyweds." I can't compare myself at all to someone who has already been working at this mom thing for so long! I also realized that I have a tendency to compare myself and my mothering to my own mother. I should be doing that; after all, she set a great example. But my frame of reference for my mother's mothering doesn't start until I was old enough to remember and notice it, at oh, nine or so. By the time I can remember how my mom parented, she would have already been parenting for nine years! She would have raised two kids out of the baby years already, along with countless daycare kids. How on earth can I compare myself to that?
Second of all, people put their best selves online. We should! After all, blogs are really just electronic scrap books. If you put time and energy into making a beautiful scrap book, would you put in the family picture where Billy's eyes are closed and Aunt Thelma looks like she just threw up in her mouth and the baby is screaming and Grandpa is rolling his eyes? Nope. You're going to find the two pictures that have the most people smiling in them and then you're going to use PhotoMerge and put the two together so that everyone is smiling, even though none of them were ever smiling at the same time in the first place. Why? Because you want to remember the best of the people you love and you want to take pride in your beautiful book.
My mom used to laughingly tell the story of the woman who sat down in her living room after a long day in her favorite chair. She'd cleaned the whole house and sat there for a moment surveying her lovely home. Her favorite flowers bloomed in a vase on the table and she smiled lovingly at her favorite family pictures hanging neatly on the wall. She loved the cheery yellow paint on her walls and thought how fresh her just-vacuumed carpet looked. She thought to herself, "I sure do love my beautiful home."
She picked up her coffee and a copy of Better Homes and Gardens. There on the front read, "Yellow's out, Blue is in!" She eyed her walls with dismay and started flipping the pages. Beautiful hardwood floors gleamed on every page and bright white rooms sparkled before her eyes. Suddenly her carpets looked so dingy and she noticed how out of date her favorite chair looked. She put down the magazine and thought to herself, "I sure do hate this ugly dump!"
We're still doing the same thing today, except now it's with blogs and Pinterest. I find I have to examine and reexamine my heart every time I open my web browser. I ask myself things like, "Is this encouraging, or is it discouraging? Am I getting ideas, or being overwhelmed by creating and unnecessary and undoable task list? Am I learning something new, or am I comparing myself and finding faults that aren't actually there?"
One of our table leaders at MOPS today told us that a wise woman once told her, "Don't compare your inside to someone else's outside." I love the internet. I love blogs and I love blogging. I love getting ideas from Pinterest and photography inspiration from my friends. I am so constantly encouraged by the great ideas and wonderful words I read online, especially about mother and home making. But what we see online is the outside. We see what people choose to show. If I get a knot in my stomach while I'm browsing the web that starts saying to me, "You'll never be that good. You're not that creative. You'll never be that good at parenting, " well, I know I have to walk away. Shut the computer. Smell my sweet baby's head while she's sleeping. Call a friend. Wipe down my kitchen cabinets so that they shine like a magazine and feel good about them. Smile at pictures on my walls and be thankful for what I'm good at and accept that I will never, ever be perfect at everything because no one is. Because I can't compare my inside to someone else's outside.
I'm thankful for blogging because we get to show our bests and laugh about our worsts. I like to think that my outside here on my blog is transparent enough to see to my inside, to see my love for my family and my heart for others and the joy I take in being a mother. I love that Kelle Hampton refers to the good in life as her "unicorns." But I think she knows just as well as every other woman out there that every unicorn in life is being chased by a troll. Or five. Trolls are ugly and awful though and unicorns are cute and I want to remember my unicorns. I want to beat the trolls down with the unicorn's horn and I want to laugh about it, and then I want to write about it here because I want to remember it and want it to make someone else smile.
So when you're surfing the internet, remember that it is totally normal and totally okay to be imperfect. Remember that every beautiful little blog and every well-placed bit of advice is imperfect, too. In fact, our imperfections are a blessing! Who wants to hang out with someone who thinks she's perfect? Who wants to be raised by a perfect mom? Not me, thankyouverymuch! If we are going to compare, I hope it's to convict ourselves of areas in our lives where we truly need to change or grow, not to feel insecure about doing the best with what we've got and feeling like it's not cutting it when it really is.
Everyone is good at something, and for each part of life that someone is making beautiful you can be certain there's another that is equal parts ugly. That's ok! We can encourage each other in our beautiful parts and help each other out with the ugly parts, knowing full well that we'll always be imperfect but we're going to get better and better with each passing day.
"Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." Hebrews 3:13