My day went from bad to worse because of a bumper sticker. Yes, a bumper sticker.
I was carting my four kids to my daughter’s drum practice. We’d just come from home where I’d dealt with a fourth-day-in-a-row tantrum from my child with special needs. Children with ADHD can go from zero to 60 in five hot seconds when they’re told no to doing something they’re fixated on. And it’s not pretty. A tantrum can affect every member of the family.
After we loaded up in the van, I turned on the kids’ favorite movie soundtrack, trying to lure them into a better mood. Meanwhile, I was taking deep breaths and trying not to listen to the voice in my head telling me I was failing at this mommy gig.
And that’s when I saw the damn bumper sticker stuck to the back window of the minivan idling at the stop light in front of me. It proclaimed, in bold yellow letters, “Proud mom of a child on the honor roll.”
Talk about a punch to the gut. I felt my frustration brimming, to the point where it was threatening to spill over. I was on the verge of tears and heard my toddler, who sits diagonally behind me, ask, “Mommy, what’s wrong?”
“I’m OK, baby,” I told her, turning into the teacher’s driveway. But I was lying. I wasn’t OK, nor am I ever OK with braggy parents.
I acknowledge that every parent deserves to celebrate their child and every child should celebrate themselves. I don’t want anyone to feel that they need to take it down a notch just to avoid offending parents like me—parents of children who have special needs or parents of kids who are considered “average.” I’m not that fragile. Other parents do not have to censor their joy for my sake.
However, there’s a fine line between celebrating our kids and bragging about them.
A 15-second scroll through my social media feed renders a slew of look-how-great-my-kid-is-today posts. Lucas got a perfect attendance award. Maddie got a soccer trophy. Marcus and Taylor volunteered at the food pantry yesterday. Lane had a blast at his Pinterest-perfect fifth birthday party—including close-up shots of the five-star-restaurant-worthy food and HGTV-style decorations.
The social media photos are edited AF. You know what I’m talking about. The lighting, the color saturation, the cropping, the soft focus—it’s beyond.
Here’s what gets me. The kids don’t know their photos are on social media. They don’t care if their mom’s neighbor’s sister sees it and drops a smiley emoji. Hell, the kid has never even met the neighbor, much less knows who her sister is.
The more moms I talk to, the more I realize that most of us aren’t the braggy types. Thankfully. This is usually because we’re dealing with some legit day-to-day struggles that wouldn’t look so intriguing on social media. We’re just trying to make it.
My truth is that parenting a child with special needs is really damn hard, every single day. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s my honor to be my kid’s mom. I’m relentless and committed. But there’s no vacation from the struggles. My child’s accomplishments happen in baby steps, not giant strides. More often than not, we’re in “one step forward, two steps back” mode.
To put it bluntly, there’s no cake and confetti, award ceremony, or photo in the town newspaper for the kid who managed to keep their head above water.
And then there are parents who have the average or just-barely-making-it kid. There’s no certificate for keeping-your-shit-together-at-school-today or earning-a-C-on-your-spelling-test. Where are the Most Improved awards? Positive attitude, kindness, inclusion, and empathy certificates?
And I have one really important question. Where are the awards for everyday, keeping-it-real, no filter parents?
For example, I think I deserve a bumper sticker that says, “I didn’t break down at my child’s IEP meeting today!” Maybe the parent of the average kid who kindly invited the new kid to sit at the lunch table that afternoon should get a venti latte gift certificate. Good parenting? Yes.
I know. Comparison truly is the thief of joy. Which is why I shut out as much braggy nonsense as I can. I try to avoid comparison by unfollowing all the showy accounts that trigger me. I’ve taken personal responsibility for my own peace. I’m not friends with braggy moms—because I can’t stand being bombarded with their gooey, polished stories and photos.
But the images and words still creep into my life from time to time, usually on my weakest, I’m-trying-not-to-lose-my-shit days. Then I am left feeling bombarded, disheartened, and suffocated. The worst is when I sense the bragsters tampering with my unfounded belief that I’m incapable and insufficient as a mom.
Listen. We all love our kids to pieces. I am not ashamed to say that I’m pretty sure I have the greatest children on the planet. However, I’m not going to spend my days trying to superficially promote my children in order to bring down others. Not happening.
My kids are allowed to make mistakes, get average grades, need accommodations, and have bad days. And I’m allowed to be the mom who sports the messy top knot, who cries in her minivan, who drinks lukewarm coffee, and who cheers for her kids no matter how minor that accomplishment looks to outsiders.
I call that #Winning.