Perfectly happy, boring, and average

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The other day I wrote a long rant post about how we are always being geared up to compete against each other. A small part of me (that admittedly grows larger if I am feeling a bit glum, stressed, or lost) really gets angry at the idea of being told what a successful life looks like, and gets cross to think of myself being herded along like a sheep, reaching out to grab what everyone else wants because that's what we're told to aim for. We are given a quite specific idea of what constitutes a successful, even beautiful, life - and a lot of those things dangle out of our reach, close enough to be in our face 24/7 but far away enough that we can't ever feel satisfied with what we have.

I guess I feel frustrated at the message told to women through various forms of media (some parenting magazines are particularly bad for this) - the idea that a successful woman is physically and mentally strong, smart, able to juggle career and motherhood and her own interests and hobbies, well-travelled, and is conventionally beautiful with a conventionally beautiful home and a conventionally beautiful family. Because although for a slim minority of people all these things are perfectly attainable, a lot of us end up tearing our hair out with stress trying to get it all. Because anything less feels like a failure.

All this is a horrible mess, of course.

But it doesn't just end with the rant. To end a rant with ... just the rant, means accepting it. I don't accept it. I don't accept that I have to live the rest of my days trying to attain what a load of advertising executives tell me I need in order to be accepted.

The more I feel dissatisfied with the Perfect Life and my own determination to have it, the more I realize that the whole idea of perfection is twisted in itself. We are told that we cannot allow ourselves to have an average life, that we have to have a life that is extraordinary, different, special: and yet, we are also told that we should be aiming for what everyone else in society wants - success, recognition, fame, fortune. If everyone is either trying to grab it or already have it, doesn't success, recognition, fame and fortune become average in itself? And so the bar becomes ever-higher. The rich become richer, the beautiful become more beautiful, the successful even more wildly successful.

It really started to get to me, the relentless self-centredness of it all, how ridiculous I am that I can't accept - and be fully happy and thankful for - the life God has given me, not everyone else, but me. Without straining to add a little extra for myself. 'Thank you God, for everything, but I would prefer everything plus a driving license, a mortgage, a second car and a couple of new sofas. Also if you could arrange it so that my hair doesn't do that weird sticking-up thing that would be great.'

It's never enough, is it? When we base our happiness on titles and the recognition of others, we will never ever have enough of it.

And that scares me. It scares me to think of how fragile happiness is, when it hangs on the thin thread of our own greatness.

I am not worth less because I am not climbing up a career ladder right now, just as I am not worth more because I stay at home with my child. I am not worth less because I'm not pursuing a degree or some kind of further study, just as I am not worth more because I go to a Bible study every week. I am not worth less because I am an introvert, just as I am not worth more because I sometimes enjoy reading instead of seeing other humans going out. I am not worth less because I have a damaged nerve in my face, just as I am not worth more because I have full use of my body. Do you see what I mean?

To say that achieving a perfectly beautiful, successful life does a disservice to the average. Average people have illnesses they struggle with day to day, or goals that they feel frustrated that they can't reach, or bills that they bite their lip at the thought of paying, or an addiction that they can't quite cut loose from, or moments in their past that haunt them, or things ahead of them that they are scared of, or relationships that are difficult, or insecurities they haven't overcome yet, or social issues that they can't get to grips with, or a to-do list that never gets done. Normal people have a mixture of these things, or sometimes even all of them going on at once. Normal people have Stuff That They Have to Deal With. And that's okay, isn't it?

I'd even argue that some of this stuff - the 'bad' stuff, the stuff that threatens to unravel the perfection we try to build around ourselves - is what keeps us human. What makes us relate to each other. What helps us to build empathy, courage, and commitment. To me, there is beauty in the every day, boring imperfections. And the more I start to realize that, the more the Perfect Life starts to look a little less shiny and a little more hollow.

***

The other day, I got to bedtime and just couldn't remember what I'd done that day. 'Baby brain' is extending to 'toddler brain' in our house. I didn't feel like I had achieved anything. So I decided, the next day, to Instagram everything. Just to remind myself later. It looked a bit like this:


Playing at 6 in the morning ...


Making toddler's breakfast ...


Making myself coffee ...


Applying concealer to the huge shadows under my eyes ...


Checkin' out polar bears at the garden centre ...


Unpacking groceries ...


Making toddler lunch ...


Cuddle break ...


Washing on...


'Come away from the TV! You'll get square eyes!'


Making dinner ...


Running a bath ...


Crackin' out the steam mop ...


Gazing at my loved ones ...


Bit of Xbox time.

There we are. Perfectly average. Perfectly normal. Nothing untoward happened, nothing amazing was achieved, I just looked after my cheeky daughter, spent time with my husband, and chatted to my Mum on the phone.

I am living.

So why the angst?

I think my problem is shared with nearly every other mother around me: what happens to my identity when I have kids? And another, shared with stay at home mothers: why should I feel like I am less of a person because I don't have an income? And one more, definitely felt by every other Mum around me: why do I feel so guilty all the time?!

Guilty because we don't spend enough time with our kids. Guilty because we are not 'contributing' to the workforce. Guilty because we aren't perfect.

Perfection. It's a sham, I tell you.

We are constantly striving for what we don't have. Again, 'perfection', whether in the things we own or in ourselves, is always, always out of reach. When, as mothers, we try to live up to the myth of the Perfect Woman, we'll always fall short, whether we're working, staying at home, or some combination of both.

***

I think (I will conclude in a moment, I promise) this is why I like blogging so much. Some blogs I read are like extensions of lifestyle magazines - beautiful, glossy, immaculate homes and lives and people - and actually, that's okay, in an escapist kind of way. But the blogs I really love are those that show a bit of toughness, a bit of grit. A bit of reality. In a society where a lot of people no longer live in close-knit family communities, we reach out for each other - because it's either that, or we start lifting up celebrities as examples to follow, and frankly if I read another magazine article about a celebrity mother who manages to juggle a fabulous career, glittering social life, charitable work, motherhood, and still manages to work out seven days a week, I might (hyperbole alert!) actually vomit.

I like it when people face up to the guilt they feel. I like it when people talk about how, actually, being sleep deprived is flipping hard and some days you want to burst into tears for no reason because you're so tired. I like it when people don't paper up the cracks in their lives in order to pretend everything is always 100% awesome (within reason: privacy is key here, obviously). Because I don't think the 'cracks' detract from how wonderful life actually is! You can still be thankful and praise God for your life whilst acknowledging that sometimes it's hard work.

Sometimes, I think the 'cracks' enhance the beautiful parts.

The cracks leave space, I think, for grace. For God.

I will finish off with two quotes, one from a book I am re-reading (and harping on about constantly), 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp:

'I am woman who speaks but one language, the language of the fall - discontentment and self-condemnation, the critical eye and the never satisfied.'

Er, yes, I know that feeling well.

And one from an email newsletter I get once a month, written by Priscilla Shirer:

'There is a sliver of imperfection – a shard of deficiency and inadequacy embedded into every good thing on earth. The seemingly perfect things of this world are all defective in some way...

... this was God’s answer – His deliberate response to the fall in Eden. He wove imperfection into every perfection so that all the earth contains would fall just shy of pure excellence. This way it could never be confused with or exchanged for Himself. He knew then that if we found complete wholeness in it we’d no longer have the steady, clear inner longing that is meant to point us to Him.

Frustration and dissatisfaction are our guides. They grab our hands and hearts and lead us toward God and eternity. It’s the imperfection embedded within the things we enjoy that makes us long for that which only He can give perfection, that actually is . . . well, perfect.'

In conclusion, give up on being the perfect woman. Sorry. It's just not for me.

Here's to not only accepting, but embracing imperfection ... and concentrating on where real Perfection can be found.

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