If Jane Austen were writing today, she might opine “it is a truth that should be universally acknowledged, that the pictures one puts on social media bear varying resemblance to what actually happens in one’s life.” That is, if she wasn’t paying the mortgage by writing inspirational memes or book 105 in the ‘Poppet, the Socially Anxious Puppy That Nobody Noticed” series. It is something I often remind myself about, when perusing the sunlit photos of smiling children and happy parents on social media. It can often appear that everyone else is doing better than you in this weird parenthood game, and if you’re feeling a bit lacking in the Superparent (or even just Superperson) stakes, a glance at Facebook or Instagram can have you sobbing into your tea and damning yourself to parental purgatory.
“A big thumbs up from Jacob for his kale smoothie! #cleaneating #whoneedschocolate #parentwin!” (Yours has just asked for chips for the ninth day in a row and regards anything green that isn’t cucumber in the same way they would regard radioactive waste. Then again, the poster lost you at ‘who needs chocolate’.)
“Daria wins the Swimarathon AGAIN! Just goes to show what a little perseverance can do. #proudparent #shegetsitfromhermother #swimmingsintheblood’ (Yours refused to go into the water for nine consecutive swimming lessons, the cost of which you’re still trying to block from your memory)
“Glastonbury sunrise – mojitos at 4am after a hard night’s partying. Foo Fighters were amazing! #festivallife” (This year, you will be spending Glastonbury weekend volunteering on the bouncy castle stall at the school fete and wondering what you did wrong in a previous life. You would really prefer a mojito, though you know that you will be asleep at 4am before your child wakes up an hour and a half later.)
I wouldn’t say that I never share positive things on social media, of course. The minibrioche has had some great achievements that I couldn’t resist bragging about – sorry, sharing – but I tend to stop short of photographing the report card (not least because we all know what ‘natural leadership tendencies’ really means). I share photos of sunny days, plants (being able to grow a carrot without killing it or having the squirrels get to it first is up there with passing my driving test), festivals and things that make me smile. I’m quite sure that somewhere, someone is looking forlornly at my vegetable pictures and saying ‘why can’t mine be like that?’
Of course, it’s worth acknowledging the flipsides of all the perfect images and remembering that they may only show a fraction of what actually happened (Jacob spat out the smoothie as soon as he actually tried drinking it, Daria’s photo was taken after bribing her with a tonne of candy floss that led to a meltdown from her sister, and the Glastonbury hangovers will be even worse when the tent floods tomorrow. You know what they say about ‘red sky in the morning’…) As for me, I haven’t yet photographed the shred of courgette plant that was destroyed by the #bastardslugs or the sad-looking beans that I may have poisoned through my homemade, super-organic, everything-friendly slug repellent spray (#lovenature?)
Then again, there are positives here. I liked the #100daysofhappiness challenge, where people were encouraged to share things that made them happy for a hundred days, and to appreciate the small things in life. Cynicism aside, this attitude can only be a good thing. It’s easy to forget the things that make us happy in the maelstrom of guilt and unfinished tasks that make up everyday life; and it’s important to smell the roses occasionally.
More to the point, the Instagrammed life can be embraced wholeheartedly once you accept the idea of the barefaced lie. In the spirit of these things, I’ve taken a test run on my half term experience.
The reality: it poured. Watched awful crap on TV and worried about daughter’s lack of exercise. Forgot I had agreed to look after daughter’s friend* for the afternoon. Visiting child thinks that smacking adults is hilarious. Threatened to take visiting child home after fourth smacking incident until I remembered that both parents were out for the day. Googled ‘indoor soft play’ and spent a small fortune getting both children into one that was open. Every single person in the UK clearly had the same idea. Coffee awful. Children whinged in chorus for madly overpriced ice lollies, gave in after about 3 seconds. Drove home to cries of ‘my mum’s car is much bigger than this’ after both children had fought over who sat in which identical car seat and I’d threatened to make everyone walk the six miles home. Remembered half-term homework, daughter refused to do it, had no energy to insist. Consumed more caffeine than advisable.
Not something I’d put on Facebook. Unless…
(Picture of daughter in pyjamas) ‘Having a chilled out morning with my little girl. Nothing better than snuggles on the sofa on a rainy day!” #feelingblessed
(Picture of daughter and visiting child eating ice lollies) ‘Cheeky monkeys! A quick soft play session and an ice lolly before our fun afternoon of indoor craft.** So happy that minibrioche has such wonderful friends!’#BFFs #makingmemories #feelingblessed
(Picture of daughter standing next to a bicycle. Any bicycle). ‘Poor minibrioche! Rain stopped our half term bike ride treat today – but at least we had fun!!’ #landsendtomorrow #victoriapendleton #proudmummy
(Picture of a test tube, hastily culled from a stock photo site) ‘Minibrioche fitted in a few tests on antibiotic resistance before dinner. We’re getting there!!’ #sciencegenius #proudmummy #mariecurieridesagain
(Picture of a watermelon salad, again, hastily culled from the Guardian recipe page) ‘Mmmmm – yummy dessert! Well – it is half term after all!!’ #watermelon #specialtreat #nomnomnom
Yep, I think I’m getting there.
(*disclaimer – if your child is a friend of my daughter’s, it’s almost certainly not them, and I know mine is probably worse. Incidentally, if you send her home early because you can’t stand another rendition of ‘I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves’, I’ll back you all the way.)
(**disclaimer – we didn’t do any craft. I haven’t quite worked out what ‘craft’ is, but everyone else seems to do it so figured I’d include it here)