Time for the Obligatory Back-To-School Photo

I’m standing in the Starbucks line in South Windermere scrolling through Facebook looking at all of the “obligatory first day of school pictures.” I find myself vacillating between “OMG I can’t believe that they have gotten to that grade already!” to at every photo making some kind of a comparison to myself that equates to my potential failing as a parent. For example “Look how put together their kids look vs mine,”  “look at their signs, did they do a family project?!” “Is that sign cross stitched?!” etc. This devaluation of myself happens so quickly that I’m not even aware of it until much later.

I did a picture too. I rushed my kids that morning, I made them smile and pose when they were tired and agitated. I created a moment in their special morning that wasn’t really about what they needed but about what I felt I needed to get done.  I’m not even sure why I felt I needed to do this. The right answer would be that I wanted to capture a milestone in my kid’s lives and share that with others, and partially that is true. However, the real story within me is more complex.

I did it for the same reason that I do other “obligatory” things like emotionally wrestle with my kids to wear certain clothes to family events or stress myself out finding acceptable gifts for the children that attend my kid’s birthday parties. I do it because that’s what is expected of me and I’m afraid of the judgment of others if I don’t. It seems that responding this way has become automatic now that I am a parent.

I don’t remember when I shifted to just doing what I’m “supposed” to do without having awareness or insight as to why I’m doing it, but something about my lack of autonomy in posting an ”obligatory” but harmless picture has made me take a pause.

I wonder about the cumulative effect of all of the small but expected things on the quality of my life. I find myself missing my inner adolescent that spent so much time not giving a crap what anyone thought and raged against the machine of anything that felt expected. How do I not lose that self in the journey of trying to be a better self for the human beings that I am now responsible for in this world?

Beth Matenaer was born and raised in West Ashley. She’s a licensed professional counselor in the Charleston area where she owns a private practice helping adults, children, adolescents, and families. But above all, she’s the loving mother of two young children.

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