Are ‘happy family’ Instagram posts really telling us lies?

This morning, I went for a run with my 9 year old daughter, Faith.  We have been using the fabulous Couch to 5k app to train ourselves to be runners and – on balance – it has been going brilliantly.  But not today.  Today, Faith sighed and moaned and stopped to walk every third step whilst I scolded and berated her lack of effort.  Today, we stopped after 18 minutes, when we were supposed to run for 25 and I turned into ‘hideous mother from hell’ when I told my 9 year old (yes, 9 year old), that I didn’t want her to be my training partner anymore if she couldn’t put more effort in.  Today, we slunk home disappointed in ourselves and – despite my belated efforts to rally us both, apologise for my unreasonable grumpiness, and confirm the fact that 18 minutes running at 6am is better than no minutes running at 6am – we both ended up a little down in the dumps.

All this was a far cry from last week when our ranks were swelled on our morning run by the presence of my 11 year old, Ana, and we all posed for a selfie on the way home at 6.30am proud of our morning running efforts.  On that day I posted our selfie to Instagram and Facebook announcing to the world my pride in our running achievement.   This morning, I posted nothing.

So was I lying?  Does witholding today’s unsatisfactory truths sully the honesty of last week’s happy picture?  Should I have posted both for balance?  Or neither?    Am I deceiving others with my happy posts?  Or myself even?

Last weekend I took my children on an expedition I was assessing for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.  We had two long days out on the Southdowns and there were highs and lows on both days.  By the start of Day 2, we were all pretty tired and my determined efforts to get us all walking in the gap of time between meeting groups was not met with universal approval.   Having managed to coax my children out of the comfort of the car with the judicious use of threats and bribery,  I posted this update to my Facebook page:

I’d say this was a pretty honest assessment of the situation as it stood.  Reluctance, yes, but also fun.  Grumpiness from kids and grown-ups alike, but also smiles.  Disasters, but also successes.

A few days before this weekend’s assessment, the picture below popped up on the ‘memories’ timeline of my personal Facebook page accompanied by the caption ‘futile attempt to dry trousers’ :


It immediately took me back to the time I had taken my children on a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award assessment 3 years ago and we had attempted a walk down through a very steep field of cows, which had ended in strops, tears, mud and cow pats.  This picture had been taken when we had finally made it back to the car after a 30 minute trek back up the hill during which I had cajoled, coaxed and finally ordered my children to ‘JUST KEEP WALKING!’ Once again there had been reluctance.  Once again there had been grumpiness.  Once again there had been disasters.  But the picture doesn’t lie.  By the time we had made it back to the car to shed muddy wet trousers and boots, the girls were smiling and we were all laughing about our adventure.

When I decided to write this post, I guess I wanted to look at the glossy, perfect Instagram ‘happy families’ pictures from another perspective. True, we may tend to post happy pictures more than sad ones, but is that a bad thing?  Are we really colluding in a plot to make our lives appear more fabulous than they really are?   I would argue that no, we’re not.

I look back at the laughing pictures on my Facebook and Instagram posts and they make my heart sing.  They bring back memories with a sudden rush of happiness and they fill me with the warm glow of nostalgia.  These pictures don’t make me forget the bad times.  They don’t make me trick myself into thinking parenting is a breeze and I’d hope my captions go far enough to ensure they don’t play that trick on others either.

No, what these happy pictures do is show the good bits of our story:  the snatched minutes of bliss and the perfect moments.  We might feel dishonest posting the good without the bad, but the truth is, the good bits are real too.  We cherish our pictures of family, friends and good times.  They are our window on to the past and they can be the prism through which we interpret our present.  I know I’m not a perfect parent and I know we don’t have a perfect family life, but when I look at happy, smiling photos of my family – and indeed, of other people’s families! –  I am filled with love and joy…and that surely can’t be a bad thing.

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  1. Jennie Cookson says:

    My cousin pointed me in your direction following a lovely pic of my children this morning dressed as mad scientists. The picture portrays fun and happiness where as in fact the 45 minutes before were torture. My 9/nearly 10 year old is really testing me recently. When I posted the pic, I was honest with a caption to reflect how I felt at that moment. I tend to post happy things like you, her strop this morning (like all the other mornings) will be long forgotten, and we will look back on the happy bits. I agree with keeping thing real. I enjoyed reading your blog 🙂

    • Helena says:

      Hi Jennie, your story of the morning is so familiar! We had similar traumas this morning about making jars of sweets for the school fair and whether it was reasonable for child 1 to use child 2’s sweets!! Those strops and arguments are so woven in with the happy moments, it’s impossible to disentangle it all. The happy pic plus honest comment is probably the truest reflection isn’t it? !

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