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Self-Identity and Image

Do You Inspire or Conspire?

Susan Ashby Mergler March 12, 2020
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Many years ago, not long after the birth of our beautiful firstborn, one of my husband’s co-workers came to visit us in our home, which at the time was also brand new. As she sat across from me, admiring the cooing baby girl in my arms that had just expanded our family, she began to tell me that while my home was nice and cute, hers was a much larger one in a more upscale neighborhood, adding that she understood that since I didn’t work, we couldn’t afford to live as she did.

Stunned, I sat there with a stupid smile on my face. Already shell shocked from bringing home a new baby who didn’t seem to come with instructions or the desire to self preserve by nursing, I had no comeback for what I assumed could only be a self promoting and very rude observation accidentally said out loud by a woman who happened to be my same age. Her words embarrassed me and stung for quite awhile after her visit. Not because I lived in a bad neighborhood or in a crappy house; quite the opposite, it was a lovely, modest home we had built throughout my pregnancy with a beautiful little lake out back that had a paddleboat, in a suburban neighborhood far from any crime.

I’ve thought back on this exchange periodically and can only surmise that she was trying to prove something to herself by putting down my decision to give up a career to follow my husband’s and to raise my family by staying at home. Whatever her motive, it was mean and unnecessary and I began to see a trend amongst other women, competing against instead of uplifting each other.

Her house was in fact much larger and while the blouse beneath her expensive business suit wasn’t drenched in newborn slobber and milk, her need to elevate herself above my situation left ugly stains that the toughest laundry detergent could never remove. And with this unexpected exchange began within me a decades long soul searching as to why we as women do this, even though now in the fast paced computer age barbs can be a bit more subtle and aimed less pointedly at a particular fellow female.

On any given day, on any social media platform, you can find post after post about how fantastic someone else’s life is. You know the ones that I’m talking about— the women with the perfectly God fearing children who achieve the moon in their careers while simultaneously attempting to solve world hunger. The wife whose husband surprises her with a sweet little sports car for her most recent milestone birthday and professes his undying devotion with diamonds and floral bouquets worthy of the royal wedding the rest of the time. The mom with the 80 hour work week career who can’t stop posting just how incredibly fulfilled and valued at the office she is while gushing how she never misses a child’s school or sporting event in the process. And for the younger gals—the ones who are sitting at home wondering when their Prince Charming will finally show up, if at all—those perfect insta stories of fairy tale proposals and over the top wedding venues that were capped off with fireworks at midnight, surely guaranteeing future posts of a perfect marriage and family home to come.

And there you sit, eyes glued to the screen with your hair unbrushed and house a wreck with the hand on the cuckoo clock pushing noon and all you can think of is how unfulfilled and bored you have become once those kiddos you stayed home to raise have somehow flown the nest. Or maybe one of those fledgling little birdies is still having trouble being 100% independent for a myriad of reasons. Or your resume is becoming outdated faster than the failed job interviews are piling up. At any rate, you my dear sister, linked in this life by our gender, posting your impossible perfection, are not helping anything.

Who do you think you inspire by constantly parading around your perfect life on the world wide web? Regardless of how much actual truth is behind your white picket fence post, do you think you do anyone a service by simply showing off? What might truly inspire and help one frazzled, depressed and overwhelmed soul out there to rethink her misery is quite the opposite of what you are sharing. And I use the word “sharing” with tongue in cheek because when we share, we typically are gifting someone else with our hard earned wisdom or abundance but this practice of only passing along the really good stuff is simply a sorry attempt at elevating yourself at the expense of those less fortunate than you.

Look at the warriors out there. The individuals who have had to overcome addictions, abuse or simply self-doubt. Follow their stories. Listen to them talk about their failures with their kids, as a spouse, in the workplace. Learn from them. Admire them. Cheer them on as they turn things around and find success out of the ashes and triumph out of the fight. Because you, my pretty little polished face, married to the world’s rock star hubby with the kids who saved it until marriage or never let alcohol or any illicit substance pass through their lips, have nothing to share with rest of us struggling to keep the train on the tracks.

You, well heeled wonder woman, who drives a car that costs what most people take out for a mortgage, proudly outfitting each of your 16 year olds with a new car, whether BMWs or personalized plated Wranglers, seem to have lost touch with reality and the fact that there are way more of us out here dealing with broken dreams, wrecked cars and possibly buried children. There are more of us on the other side of the white picket fence overthinking our parenting moves, and that just maybe, we didn’t make the tough decisions we needed to do with that difficult kid that sat beside us every single Sunday in the church pew yet simultaneously questioned the very existence of God. News flash, what your kid drives to school or the mere fact that Sally or Bobby actually have their very own set of keys, is not a public service announcement of your true value or worth.

To the pretty lady whose makeup is always flawlessly applied with a closet full of more designer seasonal trends than spandex and t-shirts, you remain oblivious that the self promotion of all you bring to the table in your workplace is not making the women who are struggling to find fulfilling employment feel inspired. Nor do you encourage the women who question daily their decision to walk away from the paycheck to exist in toddler or teenager squalor, leaving hubby to bear the brunt of tough financial times. These other women are downright depressed because you seem to have it all—autonomy, fat income, beautiful clothes and societal clout.

And from the amount of posts that chronicle every second of the Cinderella like proposals to the Four Seasons six figure weddings complete with multiple wedding gowns for ceremony and ball, it’s a wonder anyone attempts to propose anymore without adequate heads up so the soon to be fiancée is front and center with perfect manicure and paid photographer hidden in the crowd to capture nothing shy of a flawless storybook event when frankly, it should be one of the most intimate moments between a couple. And for those Cinderellas still waiting at the ball? Well, these dreadfully orchestrated and over the top events just add to their angst that their matrimony ship has sailed without them.

You see, we all fail. Yes, even those out there who have painted the most perfect picture of their everyday lives. But here’s where the difference comes. It takes nothing but a big fat ego and narcissistic indulgence to paint the perfect picture of life. However, it takes tremendous strength and indomitable courage to share the challenges and the ugly struggles that hopefully one day become the lessons that have been unwittingly thrust upon us.

Because if someone else can survive a tumultuous and abusive marriage then maybe that desperate momma just down the street, afraid for her life and that of her babies, can have the courage to leave the deadbeat man she once loved. If the stay-at-home mom who is missing pediatrician appointments and getting her 4 year old to soccer practice on the wrong day can publicly laugh about her parenting faux pas du jour, then maybe that woman working her butt off in the workplace, struggling to make ends meet and feeling incredibly guilty that she’s missing her second grader’s orchestra performance for a second time, can find some grace and self forgiveness because she is doing the absolute best she knows how, even if she knows she’s coming up short by the world’s standards.

Life unfolds differently for every single one of us. There is no law that says we must be married by 26. There is no guarantee or reason we should think that we all must be the first to crack through the corporate glass ceiling. There is no prize awaiting whichever side wins in the imagined race between the stay at homes versus the career moms. There is no rule or guidebook of how our life is supposed to play out. And here’s the catch: we all have some good and some really great moments. We also all have some bad and some really awful ones too. And nothing—let me repeat, nothing—and no one is perfect.

And here’s the added spiritual truth: even though we are created in God’s image, we are all perfectly imperfect. And unless we are Christ, we need to take the salon procured nails off the keyboard and think. Think before we type and post. Is what we are telling the social media world, and ourselves for that matter, inspiring to others in a way that might add a little levity or encouragement to someone else’s day? Or are we actually conspiring with our own needy but carefully hidden damaged psyche to make ourselves look and therefore feel better about our life at the expense of someone else? The choice is yours—conspire. Or inspire.

For more stories please visit www.middlelifemadness.com

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