It did not take me long to fall into the same trap as the majority of other social media users, I created the perfect online life. According to my Facebook, I always look good; pictures taken in ideal lighting, from the correct above-angle, while wearing cute clothes. My children are beyond perfect; they sit quietly next to each other with sweet smiles. They go on extravagant kid adventures and are constantly enjoying every aspect of their lives. Not to mention my husband, who of course is also perfect, smiling and supportive in every online post. Clearly, we float through life on a cloud singing “We are Family.” Oh yes, I am great at portraying this perfect life on social media. Which means, writing this blog acknowledging the “unexpected” in my perfect “ever after” is pushing me out of my online comfort zone. However, the goal in creating this blog and this community is to shatter the highlight reels and challenge the comparison trap. So I will share my own everyday stories, not hidden in perfection, but shaped through a lens of honesty, grace, and humor.
In the spirit of vulnerability, I could write several blog posts on this topic. This post is not designed to be a checklist of all the unexpected in my life because, trust me when I say, we do not have time for that. I also want to preface the remainder of this post by saying, there is a ton of happy in my ever after as well! The highlight reel that exists in my social media world also exists in reality, and I would not trade any of it. However, that doesn’t prevent the unexpected from happening or the perfect daydreams from sometimes being surprisingly off the mark. So, life is not an either-or, the happy or the unexpected, it is definitely both. This post is about the other less talked about side of life: the unexpected ever after.
It seems fitting to start by acknowledging the inspiration for our blog title and taking a look back at every childhood book and movie that ended in “happily ever after.” I am not going to go into a speech about these movies being unrealistic and setting me up for failure in love, because I never found these movies particularly realistic in the first place. I never had daydreams about eating a poisoned apple or losing my glass shoe. I suppose I occasionally daydreamed about having a talking pet fish and swimming around in the ocean, but I was pretty aware that it wouldn’t happen. Yes, I recognized the movies for what they were, fairy tales. However, they sure skewed my perspective of time. If I could make it to adulthood, my life would be perfect from that moment forward. I used to regularly daydream of adulthood and count down the days until I no longer had to be a kid. In my childhood journal, I literally had a count down until I could graduate high school, “only 2164 days to go” I would write. Do you know what happened when I became an adult? Bills. And dishes. And laundry. And work! A lot of work. And, I no longer get to sleep, which is potentially one of my top five favorite things. I do see how Disney may have struggled to sell a movie that ended in, “They lived happily ever after, except for the exhaustion, work, and financial stress.” But at least I would have been more prepared, right?
Speaking of adulthood, college was one of my first stops in the adulting journey. I loved college; I loved (and continue to love) learning! I thankfully found the right college fit for me, picked the right major, and made some lifelong friends. However, I am not sure I can say “thank you” to my liberal arts degree for spending four years convincing me that I would leave school and immediately save the world. Their optimism and faith in me was much appreciated…until I graduated and found out the world did not particularly want my saving. I began law school the fall immediately following graduation and found that the perspective of the world through the lens of lawyers was completely different than the social work lens that I brought to the table. The financial cost of attending law school began to weigh on me as I realized that I was setting myself up for a future of paperwork and bureaucracy. I made the rather impulsive decision to leave law school. Unlike a handful of my other impulsive decisions, this one turned out to be the right call, I was definitely created to be a social worker. That is the good news; the bad news is that soon after I started my first social work job, which was so full of burnout, unhealthy expectations, and intense ethical conflicts, that I began to question my ability to do any good in a world that was so set on showing me all of my limitations. It was incredibly difficult to leave college feeling as if I had found my calling and my purpose, only to have the daydreams shattered, twice. My social media was full of classmates enjoying graduate school and new social workers thriving in local non-profits. I felt broken, isolated, and extremely guilty. It wasn’t until I left the perfection found in the online world and began to have face-to-face conversations with family, friends, and colleagues did I realize that many of us were facing similar challenges; finding our place in the world was proving to be rather unexpected for many.
Speaking of forms of media that don’t tell the entire truth, I need to mention pre-baby pregnancy books. Small detail about me, I love to read! It is pretty much my only hobby, so when I was pregnant I read so many books about pregnancy, newborns, and parenting that I was convinced I was completely ready for my first baby. I had a beautiful nursery, full of adorable blankets and neatly folded onesies. I was definitely living the new baby dream, until he popped out after over 22 hours of intense labor with a healthy dose of colic and a scream that woke all the neighbors. The previously enjoyable weekly emails telling me about all of my baby’s milestones, and the pile of books telling me in 100 different ways that I was the luckiest person on earth to have this little bundle in my arms, did not help my postpartum depression. Instead, they fueled my crazy thoughts that if I was a better mother, my baby wouldn’t hate the world. If I was a better mother, he would be happy. He grew out of it, thankfully, and he is actually pretty darn awesome now. But, screaming baby was not part of my parenting daydream, that is for sure. (Expect more information on this topic in a future post, because there is a lot of mommy shaming around unhappy babies and that should not be the case.) I am thankful everyday for my healthy children, but if you are looking for a fellow mama who will not think less of you if your baby hates everything, and therefore you hate everything, and the “happiest days of your life” with your new baby feel like the worst, which is incredibly lonely, I’m right there with you. I am a mama who loves her babies, but also did not always like them, and I will not judge, not for one second.
As I said at the beginning of this article, this is not an exhaustive list of my unexpecteds. This is just the beginning, a couple of unexpected times in life that I most needed my friends and the connection that comes from authentic conversations. This is also what fueled my desire to start a blog on this topic, to create this space to fight the perfection daydream and embrace the unexpected reality.
Author: Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.