I wore the same dress everyday for 3 months and no one noticed, (and how that's related to parenting)
I recently completed the Wool& Hundred Day challenge. You wear a Wool& wool blend dress for 100 days in a row. It’s about sustainability (yes, I appreciate the irony that you have to buy a new dress to complete the challenge about sustainability) and longevity and simplifying. If you do the challenge for 100 days and send in photos, the company gives you a $100 gift certificate.
Because it’s a wool blend, it doesn’t absorb odors and you can wear it multiple times before washing. I was skeptical, but if there are two things I love it’s competitions and free things, so I was willing to try it. No, it wasn’t scratchy like I thought it would be. Yes, I really wore it every day. They recommend you wear it for a full 8 hours every day, but some days I didn't. I washed it about once a week and spot cleaned it as needed. No, it really didn’t smell. I have a sensitive nose, so I was surprised.
Yes, I took pictures most days. Some I’m at home, some I’m at my office, some I’m in the car. Many are at terrible angles with bad lighting. At least one includes me feeding chickens, one in a literal pig sty, and several I’m nearly asleep in bed. Some show my dirty mirror or piles of laundry in the background. I wore it plain. I added jackets. I added shirts. I wore it as a skirt. I wore it as a tank. I wore it under things and on top of things. I wore it with my Dolly Parton tees and my Dolly Parton leggings. I wore it with wedges and sneakers and boots and flats and sandals.
It’s not that no one noticed, but almost no one noticed. Even my husband who sees me get dressed every. single. day. didn’t notice until day 52. Fifty two! And all he said was “you in a black dress mood this week, hon?” This week? More like the past 6 weeks. None of my clients mentioned it. None of my colleagues noticed it. Two of my colleagues who knew I was doing it asked "is this the dress?" even though they'd already seen it day in and day out. My own mother asked when I was going to start the challenge when I'd been wearing it daily for a week already. A client at my office said with embarrassment "Oh, I ran into you last night and today I'm wearing the same thing because I didn't think I'd see anyone who I saw yesterday!" I hadn't noticed, and she of course didn't notice I was in the same thing either. It was a great reminder that people just generally don't notice or care what other people are wearing. Or doing.
The phenomena that causes us to have an exaggerated view of our own significance to the people around us is called The Spotlight Effect. (Interesting fact- early experiments of this concept had college students in the 90s wearing an embarrassing Vanilla Ice t-shirt, and they almost always thought strangers noticed it more than they really did.) Just like my dress experiment, most parents feel as though they are being watched, judged, or critiqued for their parenting skills more than they actually are. In the therapy world we call these cognitive distortions, and this one specifically is an egocentric bias. It means we value our own perspective, and we assume others agree with it. So if we are embarrassed or ashamed about something (a Vanilla Ice t-shirt or reacting in anger to our kid) we assume others will find it embarrassing or shameful as well.
Back to the dress- there were days I was slouchy, there were days I looked nice. There were days I was exhausted and phoning it in, there were days I was pretty close to killing it. By week two I was getting kind of tired of it and had to really be creative to stay interested. I don't get any additional prize if I have one hundred pictures and 97 of them look great. I will submit these photos to wool&, and I will get the gift certificate just for completing the challenge. And the same is true for parenting. There are days we are exhausted, there are days we're doing really well. There are days we feel excited and energized about parenting, and there are days we feel over it. There are some days we are merely surviving. We may feel as though other parents are judging our parenting, but honestly they are too exhausted and worried to even notice what we're doing. And there is no prize for looking really good while doing it. It's nice to be appreciated. Sometimes moms complain that no one notices all the things we do. If that is true, the good news is that no one notices all the things we do poorly either.
If I had been determined for each of these pictures to look good, I never would have completed the challenge. I probably wouldn't have made it past day two. And I fought the urge to make them all look good, even though it was irrelevant. Perfectionism keeps us from enjoying things that are good enough, from celebrating the little wins, from being present.
Our kids would rather we show up for them in our imperfection than not at all. Maybe we have pb&js for dinner three times this week, but we get to snuggle a little longer because there's no clean up. So what that the kids sleep in tomorrow's clothes if it makes mornings easier? Yes, we had more than an ideal amount of screen time, but we also sat together and laughed together and shared the experience. So the next time you are juggling a screaming toddler on the toy aisle at Target or your tween is telling you that you're the worst because "everyone else has a phone", remember this- others aren't noticing what you've got going on as much as you feel like they are, and perfection is the enemy of perfectly adequate. So carry that child out of the store with pride, and tell that kid he's never getting a phone, because you, mama, are a perfectly adequate parent.
Leigh Ellen has been a child therapist for the past 15 years and is now sharing lots of fun and helpful ideas for parents here.