Why you don’t need to be #livingyourbestlife

Family Posing For Selfie Next To Car Packed For Road Trip

There’s so much pressure on parents – particularly through social media – to have it all figured out. To have fun all the time. But is it real? Is it achievable? And if you can’t relate, does it mean you’re failing?

The weekend before last (on Saturday, to be precise), my wife suggested that the following morning we should all go out for a family breakfast. We had to return some baby clothes anyway (I know it’s a cliché, but they grow so quickly!), so why not make a nice morning out of it?

Something happens when you’re presented with a suggestion like this. It’s the conjuring up of an idyllic picture in your mind’s eye. The four of us sprawled across a booth. The zing of fresh orange juice and the aroma of coffee. There’s laughter. The invisible camera pans around the table, taking in Theo’s pain au chocolat, Fiona’s muesli and my bacon and eggs. Xanthe gurgles, smiling in her basinet. 

That picture lasts for about a tenth of the time it’s taken to read about it, and then the reality sinks in, as we ask ourselves: “Can we make this work?”

If you follow Career Dad on Instagram, you’ll see how it played out. Breakfast plans turned into brunch; brunch turned into lunch. Xanthe was in her third outfit by the time we left the house. Theo had to be handled by a top negotiator to make him realise that if he did indeed want to go out for food (he did), he had to understand that we needed to leave the house (he did not).

Hours later than we’d envisaged, we were in the car. That’s when I took this photo.

Why am I the only one smiling in it? Well, I couldn’t get all four of us in without it being the catalyst for a massive meltdown (from whom, I’ll leave that to you). So I only captured myself and Theo.

The reason he’s not smiling is because he’s too busy shouting at me, “I don’t want to be in the photo”… mainly because he’s tired from the negotiations, and from being awake for six hours already, despite the fact that it’s not even noon yet.

So again, why am I smiling in this picture? Simply because… this is family.

Well it’s mine, anyway. Things often don’t go according to the snapshot scene that appears in your mind’s eye. There are twists and turns, tantrums and outfit changes, “hangry” conversations, pleas and bargains to be negotiated.

But it’s real. And that’s why I capture these moments. There’s so much pressure on parents – particularly through social media – for us all to be #livingourbestlives. To have the kids looking at the camera and smiling. To always be involved in fun activities. To have it all figured out.

And if that’s you, great. I don’t want to take that away from you. But if that’s not you, that’s absolutely fine too.

Some days parenting is an absolute dream. I come home from work to be greeted by an excited face who wants to tell me about his day. Other times I’m honestly counting the minutes until bath and bed time. And then agreeing to do the bath in the morning. Then having a beer.

My point is: whatever your experience, it’s all okay. You don’t have to be #winning all the time.

Or even most of the time. I’m all too familiar with the pressures of expectation – particularly the ones we put on ourselves – and they can eat away at you. I’m so grateful that I sought help to work through some of my issues. Now I want to champion that opportunity for everyone. If I can help just one person to realise they aren’t failing, that’s my job done.

So sometimes I will be #livingmybestlife. Most of the time, though, I’ll be #livingmyreallife. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

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