It takes an iron grip on your self-esteem these days to fend off the constant stream of messages that say we should be skinnier, more organized, more active, craft more stuff, exercise more, cook better, shop cheaper, make our children do more, and above all, be happier.
Those messages always increase at the first of the year, probably to capture our attention just when we're being guilted into thinking up resolutions for the new year.
Among the worst are the weight loss ads. We're subjected to people playing beach volleyball in skinny splendor, flaunting air-brushed abs, and displaying "before" and "after" photos of two different people.
It's tough to resist the desire to drop 20 pounds so you can fit into your skinny jeans again. Never mind that you chase four kids through the day, keep an entire household running and are the designated plate cleaner-upper.
You just end up thinking about how good you used to look in those skinny jeans, and depressed because you can't get into them.
And what about all those clever people out there who make something out of nothing and want you to buy their books and products so you can too. Confessing to a room full of women that you've never tried to make a single Martha Stewart creation won't gain you any admiring glances. (I know this from experience). All you might hear is someone's pitying voice beg, "Not even one?"
Because no matter what we might say about not wanting to do that kind of thing, we secretly do. We want to weave just one set of placemats from specially prepared sea grasses or set down a perfect salmon souffle before the family or grow just one flawless, crossbred, striped rutabaga in our garden. It's a kind of check-it-off-the-list moment we long for when we can say we actually did something rather exotic and special and Martha-approved.
And then there are the rich and famous people whose lives make our own look so mundane. Most of our families are made up of ordinary folks for whom the tabloids would be hard pressed to write even a single story, much less churn out weekly, sometimes even daily, reports of all our comings and goings, our successes and failures, our latest and greatest traumas, tragedies and triumphs.
And wardrobes. Nope, we're just average folks trying to do our best with what we have, trying to get by, trying to keep our families happy, our marriages intact, our incomes exceeding our expenditures and our heads above water.
This simpler way of angst-less living seems dull and boring in comparison, and leaves us wondering once in a while what it would be like to have the media want to write endlessly about every move we make.
Another instant guilt trip surfaces from stories about moms who excessively push their young children to do and be more. This is a problem because apparently while your kids are outside running around or at the computer playing games, someone else's kid has been doing homework for the past four hours, meaning she's almost halfway through her daily studies.
The message here is that someday she'll be a CEO, and your kids will be sorting mail. The other message is if you didn't play Beethoven for them in the womb, they're already behind. And if you didn't sign them up for private school before they were born, you've condemned them to a lifetime of miserable ignorance and failure.
And as for your own education, you can't spend an hour watching TV without being reminded that watching TV isn't what life is about, and that you need to call for a free academic counseling session to find out how you can get your degree to success in as little as nine months. And if you don't, you'll remain sedentarily in front of the TV while the folks on the screen will leap from classroom to jobs as medical assistants, computer programmers, office managers, and more.
In other words, you're a schmuck and they are not.
All these messages, plus a lot more, could make us end up feeling worthless. Unless we focus less on what we're not, and more on what we are. Try that, and your resolution could sound something like this: I resolve to be content with the way I am. I will make no commitments that involve skinny jeans, rutabagas or guilt. I plan to spend this year focusing on the good I do, the things I do well, and the value of me. I keep a clean ceiling; that ought to be enough. My kids are great just the way they are, my relationships are fine, and my body will get me through another year just the way it is. I plan to be happy about my life, and if I manage to improve anything in it this year, well, that's just frosting on the cake."
There now. Enjoy your guilt-free year. It will likely be one of your best yet.
You may contact Louise Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.