Picture Perfect

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and I’m basking in the glow of having had our family together around the table. Like many, we missed getting to celebrate with our extended families. 2020 brought a more intimate gathering of “just us.” My husband and I sat with only our four, nearly all grown children. We laughed and ate ourselves silly.

And then, I did what so many other mothers did; I posted some pictures of my children on Facebook. They looked good! My children looked helpful, well-put-together, intelligent, hard-working, and nearly perfect. In fact, that’s exactly what one of the comments said, “It all looks perfect.”

Most of us have experienced looking at what we perceive to be the perfect pictures of perfect families on social media. It’s “a thing” now in our culture. Often it’s not done with the intentionality of trying to be perfect. We moms get the great picture snapped, and of course, we will post it compared to the picture of our teenage son slurping milk from his cereal bowl while wearing his stained workout T-shirt.

But for me, as a special needs mom, I argue with myself on a whole other level about posting great pictures of my special needs children. The argument in my head goes something like this, “This is such a great picture of my daughter. She looks so normal and typical. She looks like everyone else. But, is this an authentic representation of her? Is this an authentic representation of our special needs journey? The picture, taken of one second in time, looks great, but the hours and days often look nothing like the picture. Not even close. Will people even believe us when we say the days get long and can be very challenging? Yes, I know it doesn’t look like it from the pictures. And how do I encourage other special needs parents when it looks like I live in fairytale land? Most days, I live on the same block as they do and share many of their experiences. I want them to know I can relate and deeply understand.”

I want both. I want to see my daughter looking like everyone else. I want other people to see my daughter looking like everyone else. I also long for the understanding and connection that comes from people knowing the truth. And, in reality, the truth is in both parts. My daughter is beautiful. She is valuable. She brings us joy and makes us laugh. She can also pick at her face until it bleeds, and we have to use makeup to cover the scabs. She can talk to herself for hours and not a word of communication to others around her. She can scream in anger because we had to wash her hair. I can’t post pictures of these things. I shouldn’t post pictures of these things. Posting beautiful pictures of her is like telling only half a story. Some of the ongoing questions are, how do I best represent her? Where does honesty meet privacy? Where do my needs as her mom to be known and understood intersect with the telling of her story? And, what parts of our family story bring hope and encouragement to others?

Maybe some of my restless thoughts and reoccurring questions are familiar. If so, be encouraged. You are not alone. Just in the asking and wrestling, we add another chapter in our authentic stories.