The Highlight Reel Isn’t the Real Deal

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“You’re such a great mom!” A compliment, one that I crave the most, slid into my direct messages after I shared a clip of my daughter and I making slime together.

“I always wished for a mom like you,” she continued. Her compliments warmed my heart. After all, I value my role and responsibility as a mother more than anything else; I have and will dedicate most of the decades of my life to mothering my children. But then I immediately thought, I don’t deserve that.

In Content

Devoting time to crafts doesn’t make me a good mom. She’s never seen me when my child asks the one-thousandth question way past bedtime, and I snap, “Be quiet and go to sleep…NOW!” She hasn’t witnessed the days when I get nonstop bad attitudes, and I think to myself, I’d rather just be alone. I don’t even like my kids very much today!

I thought back to when I shared a picture of my daughter and we were smiling and making bath bombs together. The photo was snapped in between what felt like the millionth time I had told my daughter “no”:

“No, we can’t put a water bubble in the middle of a bath bomb; it won’t work like that.”
“No, we can’t put gummy worms in them. No, mixing three or more colors will just make them brown.”
“No, we can’t add flour; that’s not an ingredient we need.”
“No, just follow the directions! No, no, no, noooooo!”

What I had initiated as an activity to bond with my daughter and make little gifts for her friend, had quickly turned into frustration for both of us and felt to me like I was squashing her sparks of curiosity and creativity. Anyone looking at the photo of us mixing up our bath bomb creations together that day, didn’t know everything else that happened before or after the moment in that photo.

I’m not trying to hide anything—I swear I’m not. When the baby won’t stop crying because he wants to be held so dinner starts to boil over or burn because I stopped to pick up the baby, then I snap at my daughter because she’s asking every 30 seconds for food, I never stop and think to myself in the middle of that chaos, I should grab my phone and take a video! But when I have a quiet moment to enjoy a cup of coffee on a rainy morning, I reach for my camera and think, I want to hold on to this memory. Suddenly, without my meaning to, my life is portrayed as much more glamorous or put-together than it actually is. I imagine that most people have similar habits to mine, and we’re all just sharing a glimpse of our reality: the highlight reels.

It’s not the norm to share your secrets or everything wrong in your life (and nobody likes to follow a chronic complainer, either!). But it’s so easy to forget that people have so much more happening when their phones aren’t recording. I have shared both the ups and downs of my journey through parenthood. I’ve deliberately shared the mistakes I’ve made while juggling my marriage, homeschooling, home keeping, working, and being a mother. Even still, most of my social media is our happy moments. My favorite things. The moments I want to remember in 10, 20, 80 years. Everything from big wins to the mundane, like family cuddles at bedtime, when the kids decide to give the dog a bubble bath, when we all make art together, or when we bake together.

That compliment made me ponder what other posts I’ve shared that may have been misleading. When I shared video snippets of my struggle to build our new furniture, or decorating tips when I redid the playroom, had I left someone wishing they had new things in their home? Because I have been there before, peeking in at someone else’s picture-perfect home and wondering if I would ever have that. No one could see our backstory in the quick updates. They didn’t know that we spent the first five years of our marriage saving money for things like new furniture or fun family outings. When I posted pretty pics of our vacation, I wonder now if someone was wishing they could swap places with me, like when I once wished to be able to afford a vacation in years past. I have even laughed that there is no end to the guilt I can impose on myself for comparing my own life to others’. When I’ve seen someone in a large, modern home, I have thought to myself, I’d love a home like that! Maybe I should be doing something that they’re doing. Contrary to that, I’ve also watched people live contently in tiny, minimalist homes and thought, I should have less stuff! I should live smaller and save more money.

What I did share:

My postpartum workout journey, progress that makes me proud.

What I didn’t share:

A ridiculous photo that I sent to my best friend of myself in a tummy wrap with loose skin bulging out of top and bottom, gauze underwear, and a saggy beige nursing bra. (I looked for the photo—I truly did! But I couldn’t find it.)

What I did share:

Photos of that time a friend taught me to bake homemade sourdough bread, which is much easier than I imagine it would be.

What I didn’t share:

That same evening, I completely lost track of time, and not even my Instant Pot could save dinner for me. Instead, we sat at the table snacking on a random smorgasbord of fruit, bread, yogurt, and lunch meat while trying to finish up school before bedtime.

Now, I don’t believe I should feel guilty about how I unintentionally make someone else feel, nor should anyone else. But, I am choosing to “expose” some of my behind-the-scenes moments, behind what makes that happy in my newsfeed, to remind you that the highlight reel, though honest, is not a full image of our reality.

And don’t let anyone’s Instagram feed tell you otherwise!

Yes, we all have the option of walking away from social media. But it’s hard, isn’t it?

When you move to a new city, it’s nice to stay in touch with the family you left behind and enjoy the peeks into their daily lives that they have on their profiles. When close friends join the military and are stationed all over the world, it’s fun to see what adventures they’re having in new cultures.

So instead of leaving, I’ve challenged myself to put mental checks in place. I try to remind myself that nobody is doing it all. Of course, most women are superwomen, but more than likely, they’re sharing all of their wins and hard-earned achievements with others in place of their low, or even mundane, average moments. My place is to celebrate with them and lift them up, not make myself feel unworthy for not having the same accomplishments as theirs.

Thank goodness we’re not all robots on the same walk of life, am I right?

Maybe other women really are all doing it better than I am, and you know what? That’s OK, too! Because I’m doing my best for my family, under our circumstances, and I haven’t heard any complaining. (Well, OK, there are complaints on almost every meal I make, but still… I think I am doing a pretty good job of holding down our fort.)

I like to keep these simple reminders in the forefront of my mind when I find myself reeling into an internet black hole.

  • Everyone is on a different path. I may not be traveling the world, building a successful career, or spending hours a week volunteering, but that’s OK. I chose to be a mom. I have been blessed with two children. This is the path I am on right now, and I can feel good about it.
  • Choose gratitude. It’s not about “having it all,” but rather being content with what I do have. 
  • Limit your time on social media. It may be hard, but we all know how good it is for us to unplug occasionally.
  • Congratulate and move on. If I feel inadequate when scrolling through highlights of others’ achievements, I try to reroute that energy into finding genuine happiness for their successes.
  • Count your blessings. Counting my blessings is one of the simplest yet most beneficial things I have challenged myself to do at least once a day. I started it with my daughter, when something that seemed small to me would overwhelm her and she would exclaim, “This day is all terrible now”! First, I validate her (my) feelings. Then we list some things we can be grateful for that day, or “count our blessings.” Soon, I find myself feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessings I have. It’s a wonderful brain/soul wash after being on social media.

What methods do you use for maintaining a healthy balance with social media?