Do you ever feel like your family relationships have two vastly different images, public and private? Hence you have a private life and a public life. For public you have the professional photos and posed social media posts that make everyone look good, wearing the best clothing, happy smiling faces, oozing with love, no problems here. Image is everything.
And then there are the everyday shots. Maybe you don’t even take photos of these. Clothes are worn or dirty. Natural roots and wrinkles are showing. People are NOT happy. Everyone is feeling stressed and tired. You can see the tension.
The problem here is that we tend to compare our private lives with the public images of others. And that can never be a positive comparison. It causes us to feel inadequate, less than. And if we are looking at family life, we are comparing parts of our life over which we have no control. We can influence our family members, but we can’t control them. The only person we can control is ourselves. Now we start beating ourselves up not only for our appearance and what we CAN control, but also for what other people in our family are doing, something we CAN’T control.
Family life is challenging. Messes are made and need to be cleaned up. Patience is tried. Tempers flare, even with the ones you love the most. We don’t always look “picture perfect” when we are at home. And we are not always at our best. Maybe we need to look for blessings and show appreciation rather than compare ourselves at our worst to another family at their best. Maybe we should recognize the beauty that exist in our private life as well as our public life.
I remember a professional family photo we took when our children were still all at home. It took so much energy to get them all in the same place, looking halfway presentable and holding still, that I was exhausted by the time the photographer snapped the camera. I had scolded my children so severely that there was a somber mood in the room when everyone finally settled down, looked at the camera and posed.
There may have been smiles on our faces, but we weren’t feeling it. And I had been so annoyed and stressed out that I never did enjoy looking at the photo after it had been processed and given to us. We have casual, unplanned snapshots of our children that conjure up much more pleasant memories. They were taken in times of love while having fun together. Being good is truly better than looking good.
Our children are grown now, and my husband and I are empty nesters. The noise, confusion, and stress of trying to “look good” as a mother are gone. I thought I had learned to appreciate my family, until a recent incident that reminded me, I still have much to learn.
I had professional shots taken with my husband of nearly 50 years. They reflected the love we have for one another. With the magic of modern-day photography, they even smoothed out the wrinkles and made us look a little younger.
I also recently went on a road trip with this same marvelous man who I would rather spend time with than anyone else. We drove many miles and shared unique experiences. And believe it or not, I actually thought of pushing him over the edge by the time we got to the Grand Canyon.
That’s right. My best friend, the man of my heart, had succeeded in pushing my buttons. And I am sure I had pushed his. Traffic did not run smoothly. Essential items had been left on the counter in the kitchen. Blame was being passed back and forth at an astounding rate. We got tired, irritated, and irritable. After several days together in the car we were beginning to feel that we were definitely seeing too much of each other.
Has this ever happened to you? Have you questioned the quality of your family life based on the worst-case scenario? Compared yourself in the most trying situation to that ideal image captured by a professional photographer? Or looked at another family and decided, based on their public image, that they had a much better life than you?
So, which one is the real picture? The professional public life image or the private life one? “Happily ever afters” are disrupted by the realities of life. Life is real. Life is raw. And it can take a beating on family relationships if you let it. You will have the exhilarating moments, the highs and near perfection, but more often you will have the steady upward climb that is family life. Both can be accurate portrayals at different times. Sometimes, you may even find that both can be true at the same time.
Family life is like a mountain hike. You start out with excitement and high hopes and then the trail gets steeper. There are more obstacles in the way. Everyone gets tired and cross and sometimes there isn’t enough food. But every now and then you come to a glorious view, and you feel rejuvenated. You bond with the people who have joined you in this adventure. You are reminded of the reasons you started a family. It somehow all becomes worth it.
How do you handle the rough times? How do you continue the climb? You use humor as a lubricant when life gets sticky. You focus on the beauty and the good times. And then you apply generous amounts of grace and forgiveness. You express the love and appreciation you feel for the members of your family. You accept that family life is a challenge, and you recommit to it.
That is what we did on this trip. We remembered the happy times we have had over the years. We even remembered the trials we’ve been through and that we made it through together. I would say it is the difficulties in life that have strengthened our relationship the most–health issues, unemployment, and uncertainty. We knew our love was stronger than our stress.
We both made it home safely. We still love each other. We have a deep appreciation of both our public life as well as our private life. And yes, we will go on another road trip.