Masks Aren’t Just For Halloween
Remember the first time you (or your child) discovered that Mickey Mouse was just another person in costume?
You did know that, right?
The Disney fantasy dissipated when you realized the truth. Similarly, when we recognize that everyone wears masks — and not just on Halloween — our illusions begin to disappear.
It’s normal to act in different ways according to the roles we play. For example, I wear one mask with my friends, another in my job, and countless others depending on who I’m with and where I am.
On Halloween, wearing a mask frees people to take on the qualities of whomever they wish – a princess, a monster, a superhero or a villain. Our everyday masks allow us to choose how we portray ourselves to others and which versions of our personalities we want to share.
Years ago, I became aware of a mask I sometimes wore when I was in public with my kids. It was the mask of a mom who always kept her cool. While I'm generally easygoing, there were times when I was out in public that I could feel myself suppressing my irritation and frustration with my kids until we were in the car or out of earshot of others. Then the mask came off and all of my pent-up feelings spilled out.
When I started to feel annoyed or embarrassed in public, I put on the mask to protect myself from judgment and criticism. I believed it would shield me from others' disapproval of me as a mother and parent educator. Without it, I felt exposed and would have had to admit my shortcomings.
I think masks have long been deceiving parents and making us feel inadequate. It’s human nature to compare ourselves with others, but what most people don’t realize is that they're comparing the unmasked version of themselves to the masked version of someone else.
For example, I had a friend — we’ll call her Jen — who confided in me that she was really jealous of our mutual friend Deb. Deb seemed to be vacationing with her husband on a monthly basis. Jen imagined they were having romantic, relaxing trips and staying in upscale hotels.
In reality, I knew Deb’s situation with her husband to be different. He had to travel for work, and she tagged along because he’d been unfaithful in the past and she no longer trusted him to go alone. Of course I didn’t betray Deb’s confidence in me; I just told Jen, “Things aren’t always what they seem.”
In college, I had a friend who would eat and eat (and eat) and never gain weight. I felt self-conscious about my own body whenever she was around. Later, I discovered that she struggled with anorexia and bulimia because she felt so out of control in many aspects of her life.
The reality is that none of us has it all. We each make choices. We each have different priorities. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, good times and bad.
The “perfect” parent is an imagined concept much like Mickey Mouse. Knowing this, we can be gentler with ourselves and embrace the idea that we are enough without our masks. We’re all in this together and we’re all doing the best we can.
Are you aware of your masks? How do they protect you? Did you ever assume something about someone else because of the mask they wore, only to find out later that you didn’t know the whole story? Please leave a comment below and share your experiences. Remember – this is a “no judgment zone.”
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Have a safe and Happy Halloween. Until next time…