These parents are calling out the 'sham' of perfect parenthood with photos of their kids

by Theresa Edwards
Jul 14, 2016 at 5:53 p.m. ET

The chasm between what parenting looks like on TV, in magazines and on social media and how it looks in our real lives is seriously vast. You may go into the experience expecting it to look a certain way, and when it inevitably doesn't, it's easy to feel like a failure. Why aren't your children well-groomed and perfectly silent? Why is everything in your house sticky? Does everyone feel like just sitting down for a monthlong cry?

The truth is, parenting can look like so many different things: It's tears and blood and sticky kisses; it's unrelenting chaos and unspeakable joy. It can be everything at once, or one seemingly insurmountable moment at a time. But the one thing it never is, is perfect. Enter The Sham of the Perfect.

Part photo series, part community, The Sham of the Perfect aims to draw back the curtain of what we think parenting should look like so that we can see what it really is.

1/18 :Perfectly imperfect

Wander over to the site, which is updated weekly, and you'll find a poem called "A Spring Issue" by Sarah Dunning Park. It perfectly articulates exactly what it is about family life that makes it so unbearable yet so unbelievably fantastic.

2 /18: Behind the curtain

2/18 :Behind the curtain

It's also where the project and community gets its name. Captivating pictures showcase the moments in-between the picture perfect ones: Sometimes quiet, sometimes chaotic, that make up the heavy lifting of parenting.

3/18 :Oh, boy

It's not hard to imagine why the project, begun in 2014 by photographers Erika Roa, Lacey Monroe and Natasha Kelly, strike a nerve with parents, whether they're new to the title or have long since been sitting on an empty nest.

4/18 :Flawed beauty

The unapologetic images fly directly in the face of every parenting magazine you've ever thumbed through in the emergency room with your sick kid, pages stuffed with image after image of a family that just doesn't exist: A perfect one.

5 /18: Conflicting messages

5/18 :Conflicting messages

So, why invite people to peek into the private imperfection of family life? According to Roa, Monroe and Kelly, they want "... To tear down the sham of perfection shown in more idyllic work and present life, parenthood, families, childhood, and home as it actually is; full of flaws and full of beauty simultaneously."

6 /18: Impossible standards

6/18 :Impossible standards

It's certainly struck a chord with the people who submit their own images of imperfect family life; the project showcases community contributions regularly on-site, and even invites people to share their own #ShamOfThePerfect moments with them on Instagram.

7 /18: Perfect the way we are

7/18 :Perfect the way we are

The truth is, feeling like you're not quite getting it — comparing yourself to the spiffed-up, well-edited images of parenting on social media and advertisement is incredibly isolating.

8/18 :Warts and all

It's easy to feel as though you — and you alone — are failing to meet the expectations of perfection while everyone else can do it with ease and grace.

9 /18: Exposing imperfections

9/18 :Exposing imperfections

In reality, there is much more imperfection out there than magazine-worthy family tableaus, and there's nothing wrong with that.

10/18 :Joy in chaos

The bulk of living with and loving your children doesn't happen when everyone is in their Sunday best and on their best behavior. It happens when there's grime under the fingernails, yogurt on the floor and a pervasive mystery smell in the air.

11/18 :No magazine spread

It happens against a soundtrack of crying babies and giggling teenagers; slammed doors and the grating tinkly-beep of plastic light up toys.

12 /18: Eye of the beholder

12/18 :Eye of the beholder

There is real, honest beauty in the flawed sights, sounds and sensations of days that are chaotic and cluttered, or when no one does anything but lie on the couch in their pajamas, reading books or dozing or even bickering.

13/18 :True beauty

At the end of the day, there will be more of these moments combined than ones where everyone is groomed, subdued and perfectly content.

14 /18: Perfect isn't possible

14/18 :Perfect isn't possible

In fact, "perfect" is a relative term. What feels like total harmony, might be an afternoon of puddle jumping to one family, or a quiet afternoon spent at the library to another.

15 /18: Imperfect isn't incompetent

15/18 :Imperfect isn't incompetent

When we allow other people to decide what a happy, loving family should look like, we put ourselves at risk of never figuring out what our own perfect is, and we miss too many of those moments.

16 /18: Every moment worth celebrating

16/18 :Every moment worth celebrating

When our children are grown and we have our lives "back," the chances are great that we'll want to remember everything; even the days where we felt like giving up. Even the days when we felt like giving in.

17 /18: Clearing an impossible bar

17/18 :Clearing an impossible bar

And if we allow ourselves to accept our imperfections and find beauty in the unconventional moments, we'll have a lifetime of memories to reflect on. That's what The Sham of the Perfect invites us to do; let go of expectation and hold tight to the things that matter. Even if those things leave us sticky and exhausted and feeling a little less than perfect.

18/18 :Life is messy

Check out Sham of the Perfect on Instagram and join in.