Social media has become one of our main windows into others’ lives as we’ve isolated ourselves this past year during the pandemic. We’ve seen the car parades, the road trips, the masked outings, and all the activities people have decided are safe for their families. It’s easy, though, to let it become a funhouse mirror, reflecting distorted images back of our own worries about our decisions and projections about how other people are handling a challenging time.

Where I used to dream of big European vacations (where the kids would sleep the whole plane ride and never whine or be jet-lagged obviously), I now dream of roaming Target with a coffee in hand while my kids are at preschool. I dream of going back to normal life.

But it’s hard to tell if and how the world around us is getting back to normal when we are trying to stay away from each other. We are looking to the social media world to see how our acquaintances are handling the pandemic as it unfolds and for signs that the world is still going round.

But we can’t trust what we see on social media – and we can’t trust ourselves to see it clearly. We already know we’re looking at someone else’s highlight reel — the happiest, most exciting moments of their lives. But we’re also viewing it through all of our own insecurities and fears. Every post I see goes through the filter of the sacrifices I’m making to do what I think is best for my family, the anxiety I feel about whether we’re making the right choices, the desire to do things I used to take for granted, the guilt I feel for the things I’m not doing with my kids.

I see the back-to-school posts, and I’m jealous that those moms get to send their kids to be with peers and teachers. But that feeling doesn’t take into account whether they had the option to keep their kids home or how scared they might be about it.

I see the photos of date nights, and I resent that they have their relationship all figured out and know how to make time for just the two of them. But I’m not seeing the arguments over division of labor or how tired they both are or how they haven’t had a date in 6 months.

I see the moms teaching happy kids new skills, and I worry my kids are falling behind because I don’t have the patience and motivation to plan lessons for them. But I don’t understand those moms’ own concerns about their children’s growth or how they feel like they’re failing in so many other areas.

There’s nothing sinister behind our desire to post the positive. It’s fun, it’s how we’d like to remember this time in our lives, and frankly, we need to celebrate every win we get. But the truth is that we are all struggling, sometimes in really big obvious ways and sometimes in a million tiny ways that won’t make it onto our Instagram grid. Behind every social media post is a string of tantrums, uneaten dinners, fights with a husband, tough decisions, sleepless nights, and maybe even COVID diagnoses that people are afraid to share.

So if you see a selfie of me holding my 2-year-old in my arms, don’t think that I’ve figured out how to make the most of every second I have with her. Know that I maybe just had to cook a whole dinner one-handed because she was screaming to be held, by me and me alone.

If you see a photo of my kids happy at a park, don’t think it’s because I’ve planned our day so well. Know that we probably watched too much TV and then were all so grumpy that we just had to get out of the house before we spent the rest of the day yelling at each other.

If you see a picture of my kids doing an educational activity with butcher paper and dot stickers, don’t think they quietly taught themselves the alphabet for 30 minutes while I drank hot coffee. Know that they probably dumped out toy baskets while I set the activity up and then participated for exactly how long it took me to take the photo.

It’s easy to find the chaos and frustration in your own house and think it’s because of your own failings, or assume that you’re the only one struggling to make the best decisions right now. Go ahead and assume the worst is happening at my house too, because it probably is. And go ahead and assume that I’m doing the best I can, because I probably am. If you picture what’s really going on in the moments surrounding each Facebook and Instagram post, you might feel a little more compassion toward everyone — including yourself.

Photo Credit :: Jessica Rockowitz Photography

Bethany Farnsworth is a human jungle gym, napkin, and personal shopper to her kids Peter, 4, and Lydia, 2. She met her husband at Baylor and moved from Waco to Houston to Dallas before finally settling in Austin in October 2019. She loves podcasts, iced coffee, uninterrupted bathroom time, traveling, coming home after traveling, and spending too much time planning activities that hold her kids' attention for 30 seconds. On a good weekend, you'll find her and her crew on a hiking trail or at a brewery -- you'll recognize them by the table full of toys and snacks. Read more at @austinwithkids or @bethanyfarns on Instagram.

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