Next time you look at a picture-perfect photo, remember that there is almost always more to the story than meets the eye.We just got our family portraits back and I couldn’t be more thrilled! My kids look adorable, and I’m so excited to finally have a beautiful photo of the people I love to put on the wall above my fireplace.
And yet, when I look at these photos, I also have to laugh a little and shake my head. Why? Because getting those perfect shots and precious smiles was actually a pretty awful experience.
For all of you who have ever looked at someone’s photo on social media and wished your life was a little more like the one you imagine exists behind the photo…let me paint the REAL picture behind these smiles…
When you look at the photo above, you probably see a happy smiling family dressed in clean, coordinating outfits, on a backdrop of gorgeous fall leaves.
But do you know what you don’t see?
You don’t see the tag in the back of my sweater because I didn’t even have time to remove it. See, we only had three days’ notice for our scheduled photo shoot (which was on a Monday evening), and we already had a busy weekend scheduled, so I didn’t have a lot of time to shop for coordinating outfits. I cobbled together a pretty satisfying color scheme from things we already owned, but there were still a few holes in the wardrobe (including my own outfit), so I spent the entire day leading up to family pictures running around like a crazy woman to try to find the last few needed pieces.
You don’t see how sore my feet were because I hardly sat down all day long. Between spending nap time getting outfits finalized and organized, picking up the two older kids from school, making a simple early dinner, and doing my hair while they ate (did I ever eat? I don’t even remember), sitting down was not in the cards.
You don’t see the circus it was to get everyone dressed, the whining about having to wear “nice clothes”, or the stress of trying to get everyone in the car by the time dad got home from work to join us.
You don’t see how I did my make up hurriedly in the car while we drove, or how I kept checking our ETA in Google Maps because I knew we were going to be late.
You don’t see how fast the sun was fading by the time we arrived (ten minutes late), or how–before we had even taken a single picture–my two older boys had already started complaining that they were cold.
You don’t see that behind my smile is the desperation of a mom summoning all her mommy optimism, compassion, and enthusiasm to keep the kids from nuclear meltdown. You don’t see the wheels turning, wracking my brain for any ideas of how to get the kids to cooperate and smile.
You don’t see that ninety percent of our photo shoot time was spent warming up kids, wiping tears, telling jokes, dancing like a fool to make them smile for the camera, handing out yogurt covered raisin treats, and trying to get them to follow the photographer’s instructions over and over and over again. Nope, you don’t see any of that in this picture. Just smiles. Just laughter. Just a moment…a true and honest moment…but only one piece of a much larger puzzle.
In truth, by the time the photographer declared the light was too far gone and we headed back to the car, I was completely exhausted. I worried that we hadn’t gotten the shots I was hoping for, and I was disheartened by how difficult my kids had been to work with. I just had to tell myself over and over: It’s done, Megan. Let it go until you see the photos. Trust the photographer to make something beautiful out of that chaos.
For almost the entire drive home, I sat in the passenger seat of our van with my eyes closed and tried to tune out the world. The one time I did open my mouth, it wasn’t kind, so I just put myself in time out. I put my husband in charge of everything, and I checked out for fifteen minutes.
By the time I walked through my door, I was feeling a little better…despite the fact that the house looked like a bomb had gone off. Food and dishes littered the kitchen from our rushed dinner, backpacks and lunchboxes from school were scattered on the counters, and discarded clothes lay all over the floors upstairs and down. It’s truly amazing how much mess my family can make in just a few hours.
Once we got the kids to sleep, I shoved the clothes off my bed (yep, right onto the floor…I’d deal with them tomorrow), and collapsed into the comfort of my own little sanctuary. That’s the real story behind these pictures. It’s messy. It’s exhausting. It’s not nearly as perfect as our pictures make it seem.
As I reflected on this fact about my own story, I was reminded that the same is true of everybody else, too.
It’s easy to look at a perfectly posed picture of someone’s family, or their exotic vacation, or their seemingly totally-got-it-together life and have thoughts like these:
- Why can’t I get my kids to let me do their hair cute and dress them in matching clothes?
- Why don’t my kids EVER smile and look at the camera?
- Oh my goodness, how does she keep her house so clean?!?!
- She has the most perfect skin…
- Her kids are so sweet to each other. Why do mine fight so much?
- That food looks amazing! How in the world does she find time to cook things like that?
- Ugh, I should totally do more cute activities like that with my kids…
The truth, though, is that no one has every aspect of their life completely together at all times. A snapshot is just that…a glimpse into ONE moment of ONE aspect of a person’s life.
This is the double-edged sword of social media. Social media can connect and inspire us, but it can also make us feel alone and inferior in the every day struggles of life.
So the next time you see a picture of someone’s squeaky clean house, remind yourself that the next room over (the one that isn’t in the photo) might look like a tornado ripped through it.
When you find yourself wishing your kids would smile at the camera just once when you ask, remind yourself that the gorgeous photo on Instagram you’re admiring is likely one lucky moment of a hundred throw-away shots when the kid was looking down, blinking, roaring like a lion, or picking his nose.
Life is full of beauty—and I’m so grateful to be able to capture those moments in photos. On the hard days, those photos remind me how blessed my life really is and anchor me during the storms (or tantrums…as the case may be).
However, let’s celebrate the beauty of our happy moments (and other’s) without expecting all moments to be so idyllic.
Let’s remember all the moments that take place off camera, recognizing that it’s totally normal for life to be messy, imperfect, and sometimes really frustrating.
Let’s choose to set aside comparison, which tricks us into thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the screen…when really the brown spots might just have been photoshopped out.
I hope that the next time you see a gorgeous photo that you’ll appreciate it’s beauty, and then I hope you’ll smile and imagine the rest of the story that may lie behind it. Finally, I hope you’ll look around your own imperfect life and see its beauty, too.
Having a tough day, mama? Read these posts for a little more encouragement…
- When you wonder if you’re a good mom…
- I am THAT mom
- How I won the “mom guilt” battle with myself
- Dear moms, you don’t have to enjoy every moment
Remember, you’re doing better than you think you are!