There’s this person who I know is the real me, the one I see when I wake up every morning and look into the mirror, eyes crusted with sleep that never feels adequate, an uninspired expression on her face.
Then there’s this other person, someone I like to call my edited self. It’s the person who emerges each day from the debris, scars and gray hairs artfully hidden, smoothing her expression into a pleasant facade. This is my public persona, the being who interacts with the outside world.
I’m not totally sure why, but since joining the ranks of motherhood, I’ve felt a particular pull to present myself as a happier, more successful and better-adjusted person than the one who actually exists behind closed doors. This has been bothering me lately, so I feel compelled to come clean. Here are some of the differences between my edited self and my real self:
My edited self extols the virtues of a healthy and varied diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables and exotic grains I can’t pronounce. My real self survives some days on a diet that’s 80 percent chocolate, coffee and whatever cookies I can get my hands on.
My edited self diligently peruses articles on peaceful parenting and declares to anyone within earshot that I will always strive to use these modern methods with my kids. My real self rapidly loses patience when my child is having a temper tantrum, my voice shaking with anger and sounding anything but peaceful.
My edited self smiles and chats easily when meeting other parents in my children’s social circle, from the playground to school to a birthday party. My real self feels awkward, embarrassed and out of place amongst these moms who are undoubtedly cooler than me, as if I’m back in high school sporting frizzy hair and the wrong clothes, trying to sit at the popular kids’ table.
My edited self has a pragmatic attitude toward germs and remains stoic when my kid eats a gummy bear off the gymnasium floor or tries the lick the walls at the pediatrician’s office. My real self panics quietly and starts Googling worst-case medical scenarios, going down a rabbit hole reserved only for the truly paranoid.
My edited self gives the impression that I’ve adjusted well to losing my mom. My real self wishes desperately that she was still around to mother me and knows that no matter how many years go by, I’ll never “get over it.”
My edited self has a fulfilling, rewarding and busy life outside of being a parent. My real self flounders daily with how to pick up the pieces of the person I was before children and wonders what identity I’ll have left as my kids grow older and more independent.
My edited self engages in plenty of outwardly enriching activities with my kids, from library story time to music to arts and crafts. My real self often isn’t truly present during family time and has a rather appalling addiction to checking my phone, computer and to-do list.
My edited self is quick to counsel friends to go easy on themselves and not ruminate over perceived parenting missteps. But when it comes to accepting my own mistakes, my real self is critical and judgmental and prone to emotional hangovers.
While it seems easier and more socially acceptable to navigate the world as an upgraded and improved version of myself, I’m realizing that we lose something important when we keep our true selves safely tucked away, the flaws and awkwardness and emotional meltdowns banished to a dark and solitary closet. We’re all in this parenting thing together, and the more we can connect with each other instead of keeping each other at a friendly but safe arm’s length, the more we’ll realize that everyone is facing their own unique challenges.
We all need support and understanding, both of which are easier to give and receive as our real selves. No matter how we may differ, we all love our kids and can’t imagine life without them. And that’s something that will always be real.