Scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day, I decided to check out the hashtag, “motherhood.” It was everything I thought it would be: babies sleeping peacefully on their mother’s flat postpartum bellies, children laughing as they run through sprinklers and lick perfectly swirled ice-cream cones, the sun setting behind smiling mothers and toddlers clad in matching outfits. The photos are clean and mess free, full of smiles and daydreams, perfect lighting and one-off shots. It’s not real and yet, according to Instagram, this is what “mom life” looks like.

It’s a definition that’s gotten a little twisted along the way – one that I, myself, am guilty of contributing to. My living room floor is currently a maze of dirty laundry piles, carrot-muffin crumbs, and crayons. I ate a cookie for breakfast, my toddler watches far too many Paw Patrol episodes, and last week, there was that faint but persistent smell of milk emanating from somewhere deep within my son’s room. But if you look through my Instagram, you’ll notice that I have never posted a photo of any of that. After all, who wants to look at reality when we can carefully craft fiction?

Scrolling through Instagram, we dream of closets stuffed with new clothes, magazine-inspired homes, and Michelin-starred meals hot on the table. We envy the mothers who have this all together: the fit lifestyle bloggers on vacation, and the foodstagrammers who would never ever eat day-old goldfish crackers off the floor. We’re so busy wishing for a bigger, better life that we forget it isn’t legitimate motherhood: the photos we envy are simply two-second snapshots into a long and otherwise messy twenty-four hour day.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against beautiful photos. I know that photos of authentic life moments can be artistic and breathtaking, and completely worthy of a museum wall. But just because your life doesn’t look Instagram perfect, doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Amidst the allure of social media, we tend to overlook the beauty buried within the ordinary mess of life: the remnants of muddy sandcastles smeared across your toddlers hands and face, the Play-Doh creation ingrained in the highchair fabric, the long car ride full of equal parts songs and tears.

We overlook the days full of sweatpants and messy buns and piles of damp laundry molding in the machine. We forget that life is not just about mountain top experiences and that these “mundane” moments are really just the building blocks of a life lived well. We forget that not everyday looks pretty — and that’s okay.

You don’t have to have it all together. You just have to be there for it.

Motherhood is made up of so much more than just smiles and sunshine. Motherhood is chaotic and messy and painful and lovely. It’s the first time that a little voice tells you that they love you, the first time that you step in poop while potty-training a three-year-old, and the first time you look at them and think, “You’re mine.” Motherhood is when you sit in an ultrasound clinic, sobbing, as you’re told that your baby is gone. It’s late nights and early mornings: greasy hair, make-up free, and armpits that haven’t seen a razor in three weeks. Motherhood is the vomit that you catch in your hands when your baby gets the flu, and the flushed cheeks that you softly kiss as you hold their sleeping frame in your arms. Motherhood is life in slow-motion and life on hyper-speed. It’s the baby that you hold for the first time, and then blink, and watch graduate.

Motherhood is all the moments in between.

So when that lingering doubt begins to creep in, and those questions as to whether or not you’re “good enough” begin to swirl their tempting little lies around, take a moment to pause and give yourself grace. You don’t have to live up to the world’s unrealistic expectations of a “perfect” mother — certainly none of the rest of us do. Motherhood is a messy blend of love-filled, learning moments. It’s cleaning, and crying, and laughing, and loving, and living. We try our best and fall short so very often; and yet, there is such value and joy to be uncovered in the non-Instagramable days too.

Our motherhood journeys may be imperfect, but that’s okay. They are beautiful and enough as they are.

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