You know who I’m talking about. We’ve all been there, scrolling innocently through our social media feeds when THAT PICTURE scrolls by. Yeah, the one where Carol and Chad and their three unusually and suspiciously well-behaved smiling kids are traveling the world, one stellar photo at a time. (No offense to people actually named Carol and Chad who are…like…cool people.) They know how to work the lighting. They all probably had braces sometime before they started peppering the world with their stunning photography. The camera they use to get those photos of themselves perched at the top of canyons right at sunset probably costs more than my college education.
Obviously, their lives are amazing. Obviously, their children are perfect. Obviously…right?
I think at this point we all know that all families have their trials and triumphs even if they look perfect on social media. It’s tough not to feel a little pang of imperfection in their wake anyway. Photos capture a second of time, a very brief second. It’s easy to look at a photo and build a narrative in our heads about what a family must be like.
So to that honor, here are various truths behind those perfect social media photos. And, no, I’m not authority on the subject, but what I am is an authority on living life perfectly imperfect, and I have an imagination, so let’s do this thing!
That shot of everyone smiling…like every kid, even down to that oddly cheery six-month-old? There were probably 200 photos to get to this one perfect photo. In each and every one of those 200 preceding photos, you can bet the six-month-old was wailing, the other kids were rolling their eyes/looking at their phones/wandering off/etc, and the parents were in various states of regret for not leaving the kids with someone and traveling without them.
And don’t underestimate the number of bribes and/or caffeinated sodas and/or promises of screen time or candy involved in getting that perfect 200th photo. Most traveling families have honed bribing their children to a fine art.
In fact, every photo of kids looking thrilled to travel, or tour museums, or sitting quietly on planes and writing in their travel journals – those moments probably lasted five minutes before the kids returned to the status quo of being kids and started complaining or kicking the seat in front of them.
Photos of toddlers sleeping in cars or on planes. These are completely fictitious. Toddlers don’t sleep on vacation. Ever. If you ever saw a photo of a toddler sleeping peacefully while traveling, those toddlers were just blinking and it’s a trap. Those are designed to trick you into traveling with your toddler. Source: Am toddler mom who does not get any sleep while traveling.
That beach photo where the mom is in a bikini? Okay, yeah, that one might not be lighting. She probably just has really fortunate genetics. But that’s okay. I have genetics that make me love M&Ms with a wild and untamable passion and that’s also okay. Target has lots of lovely tankinis.
Alllllll the photos of families in far-flung places. Yes, it must be amazing for those kids to see Machu Picchu or the Louvre or sail around the world or even go to Disneyland. How did they survive a 16-hour flight to Kenya with kids? They probably didn’t take pictures of that part. How did they ever save enough money to do that? They’re probably in debt up to their eyeballs or maybe they work 60-hour weeks to afford it all.
The truth is, local travel is amazing too. If you can’t afford to take your kids to Machu Picchu or buy an ocean-worthy sailboat, a trip to the beach will probably thrill the kids just as much.
The point of all of this isn’t to shame those amazing people scrolling by on social media or their well-chosen filters. It’s to call attention to the fact that you don’t have to LOOK perfect to have an amazing vacation. You don’t have to go 3,000 miles from home to get out of your element and try something new (not that it’s not enjoyable to go 3,000 miles from home…if I could, I’d do it every month, but it’s just not how the cookie crumbles for us). The point is that you do what you can handle, can afford, and what suits your family best.