The Illusion of Perfect Life

When we were all young mothers, one of my pals phoned me sounding blue. It turned out her life wasn’t what she believed it was supposed to be. She adored her little 18-month-old son almost to distraction and was trying very hard to be the perfect wife with perfect husband, the perfect mother with the perfect son. She felt she was failing, because her life wasn’t all coming together “just so.” Her son, a biddable, gorgeous little kid, wasn’t expressing the tiniest interest in the potty. “But the magazines say…”

It seems she and her son were not lining up with the magazines. And because she subscribed to a lot of them and watched all the “experts” on television, she was being constantly barraged by these five-minute images and ideas that — while meant to be encouraging — were communicating to her neither she nor her son were up-to-snuff.

I told her to stop reading the magazines and to turn off the television: “these articles and ads are idealized. Those people writing to the editors and ‘sharing” their wonderful five-line lives are sending snapshots of a perfect moment; they aren’t writing about the kid finding a marker and using it to draw on the furniture, because they don’t want to ‘share’ that — they want to share a victory lap that says, ‘look, we had 15 minutes that have met the ideal!'”

I urged her to take her cue from her son. “Is he happy? Is he laughing and playing and engaging with the world? Then you’re doing good!”

We both sighed a little in relief to hear me say it. Buster, a few months older than her son, wasn’t interested in the potty yet, either. His interest at that point was writing on furniture and climbing out of shopping carts until I had to buy a harness to keep him in. And yet people would constantly remark that the child exuded “joy.” And he really did.

Still, we were fretful, imperfect mothers with less-than-perfect children, with husbands who also missed the mark. You’ll note, Buster was a “French Artiste” one Halloween specifically because he would not stop writing and drawing on the house.

Elizabeth Duffy’s column at The Constant Convert
says this stuff can kill you, if you let it!:

Real life is not so simple. Conflicts can go on for days. Kids have infinite amounts of energy. Walker Percy calls the moment of returning to real life from the dream state, “reentry.” You’ve made it through the worst, but now you have to keep on going. How will you do it?

Either you will go on another rotation, picking up the book again, finding a new distraction, or you will get down to the brass tacks of suffering.

If you read Christian blogs, or more likely, if you write one, you might find yourself under intense pressure to be happy all the time. You know the secret to life, after all. You’ve found Jesus! The only thing left to do is share Him with others.

And the best way to do this, one might think, is to prove that God makes you happy: ignore the blue mood. Pray harder. Preemptively change aspects of your life that cause you consternation, so you can be a more authentic witness of God’s word. And above all, do not write about the fight you had with your husband, or the check you failed to write for your tithe. Don’t write about your children’s vicious tendencies or your own neurosis.

Read it all. It’s real-life and it’s really good.

Pat Gohn has 41 Words to help with our imperfect lives.

Lisa Mladinich points out that, hey, marriage is over-idealized, too!

And for Halloween, don’t miss Marcia’s thoughtful, harrowing column that can only inspire gratitude for one’s life and health.

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About Elizabeth Scalia