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Cropping up on married people's Facebook feeds every few years, the Love Your Spouse challenge encourages couples to share a picture of them and their spouse every day for a week. Though intended to showcase the joy of marital life, some have criticized the challenge for pressuring couples to show a posed, picture-perfect idea of their relationship.
Two wives/mothers/social media superheroes have put their own realistic — and refreshing — twists on the "Love Your Spouse" Challenge, and the results are totally, imperfectly awesome.
Danielle Guenther, a professional photographer, told A Plus, "All of us that are married or are parents go through these crazy moments with our kids. And when you're in the moment it just feels like things are falling apart." She approaches her photography with that in mind and strives to represent that split-second feeling of utter chaos in her work with different families as part of her series, PARENTING: Best Case Scenario.
After seeing a recent surge in Love Your Spouse challenge photos, she thought, "How funny would that be seeing not the perfect photos of your marriage, [but] the real 'in the trenches' ones?" On August 13, she wrote a Facebook post challenging her married friends to showcase real "images with people fighting over Netflix or which spouse is taking out the trash."
Before she knew it, many spouses were commenting on her post with their own tales of marital "bliss."
"It was interesting to have everyone sharing their own experience and bonding together and laughing," she told A Plus. "It was comedy; it wasn't everyone complaining about their spouses. We were all laughing together in this thread."
The Love Your Spouse challenge was still on Guenther's mind when she was doing a regular lifestyle photoshoot with a client. She mentioned it to the couple, as well as her idea for a picture documenting the dreaded "car fight" couples often have. The spouses Guenther were working with not only loved her idea, but totally related to it. "It's not like some major thing, but it's still hilarious," she said. "And we all have these moments that drive each other crazy."
The next day, Guenther shared the picture on Facebook, where it has since received nearly 400 likes. In this picture, and her regular Best Case Scenario series, she encourages other spouses and parents to smile, laugh, and realize they aren't the only ones hanging by a thread. She also hopes to remind everyone that social media is rarely an accurate portrayal of someone's real life. "People can snap a photo of their child smiling and giggling — but five minutes before that they were slamming their head on the ground and throwing Cheerios," she said. "When you start talking with people, they open up and they're like, 'Oh my god, I had the same thing happen to me.' "
Not only did the same thing happen to Melissa Bowers, but she dedicated an entire post on her blog, Michifornia Girl, to it.
She and her husband participated in the Love Your Spouse challenge, but on their own terms. After brainstorming some ideas of everyday moments, they took seven pictures that dared to show something other than the "best five percent" of life most people share on social media.
"To be honest, my post isn't really about the challenge itself. I wanted to use it as a vehicle to make a larger statement about Facebook as a whole," Bowers told A Plus via email. After talking to friends, colleagues, and her high school students, it became clear to Bowers that social media tends to breed comparison, even though they believed it shouldn't. "I wanted my post to serve as a comforting, lighthearted, gentle reminder that there are imperfections in the every day, and that those can be celebrated, too."
Soon after Bowers published her blog post, it went viral with more than two million views and over half a million likes and shares on Facebook. "For the most part, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Many people shared it for the reasons I'd hoped: to remind themselves and others that life isn't perfect, and that's totally OK," she said.
As with Guenther's post and photo, tons of other spouses posted their own real-life photos and anecdotes. "Those admissions were hilarious," Bowers added. "It was just about allowing ourselves to put away the filter and let down our walls for a minute."
While not everyone could see the humor — and underlying love and respect for her husband and family — in Bowers' blog post, she and her husband's relationship has only grown stronger because of it.
The other day, Bowers' husband told her, "I know initially we thought this post would just be a fun thing to do, but it's really made me feel closer to you." Bowers attributes that closeness less to sharing the images themselves than to "banding together amidst the surprising amount of backlash." Even the negative comments reaffirmed Bowers' initial reasoning for doing the challenge. "No matter what you show the public — good, bad, or mundane — the only two people who REALLY know the relationship are the ones who are IN the relationship," she told A Plus. "As we peer into our friends' lives via social media, it's important to remember that."
Both Guenther and Bowers see the true beauty in marriage, parenting, or any relationship as a product of all its imperfections.
"It's not all unicorns and rainbows here. These moments that seem so stressful and crazy are actually the ones that you walk away and we learn from them," Guenther said. "We look back and laugh at those moments."
Bowers added, "After the post went viral, I heard from several marriage therapists who mentioned how much they appreciated the photos because it is 'healthy and therapeutic' to be able to identify (and laugh at) your issues." One of Bowers' favorite comments came from a marriage therapist, Elizabeth D. Thomas, who said, "Marriage, unlike parenting, is a bizarrely personal relationship. Think about it — you can, in polite company, say your two-year-old is driving you crazy, and you'll get sympathetic nods. [But] if you said your spouse was driving you crazy, everyone would freeze up and wonder why you're sharing such private information."
That comment rang true for her, even though she wished it didn't. "Perhaps if we allowed just a little more discussion about the everyday ups and downs of marriage, more people would feel encouraged to know that their union isn't doomed — that a few arguments here and there don't necessarily make you incompatible," Bowers said. "And no matter what, it's always supremely comforting to feel just a little less alone."
"It is these stories I'm now telling that are so funny to me because [they're] so common," Guenther added. "Life is too short to just sit back and take everything so seriously. I just think it's so important to have a sense of humor ... it gets you through some of the hard moments."
These two women prove that the most important challenge for spouses and parents face in their everyday, messy, real lives might just be remembering that — when everything feels like it's falling apart and all you want to do is break down and cry — to laugh instead.