Instagram vs Reality

Instagram vs Reality

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. On one hand, I love that I’m able to share our life in England with my family in South Africa. I’m so very grateful for that. It’s offered a space in which to connect with people in a similar situation as me – South Africans living abroad, teachers, parents, stepmoms, parents of babies with allergies – there seems to be a group for every kind of person.

Minutes before Big J threw up his Christmas dinner...
(Minutes before Big J - then Little J - threw up his Christmas dinner)

On the other hand, it’s almost impossible to engage in this kind of media without falling into the joyless pit that is comparison. Everyone is better than you – better looking, better dressed, a better parent, a better decorator, a better cleaner, a better spouse – basically a better version of you in every way. (Wow. This is a depressing blog post for Christmas, Stace. What the blaze?)  It’s hard to escape the comparison dementor once it has its claws in you. I find this particularly tricky during the festive season. It feels like everyone is trying to outdo each other – bigger tree, more presents, more Christmas events. It’s so difficult because we know that what we’re seeing a highlight reel. We know that we are just getting a snapshot of someone’s reality and yet, if you’re anything like me, I compare myself anyway. It’s a frustrating and disheartening cycle because after all “Comparison is the thief of joy”.

A little while back, I had to reflect on what my motives are. The classes and clubs I had signed my babies up for – had I signed them up for their own good or because I wanted something good to post on my Insta stories? Ouch. For the record, this post isn’t meant to add to your mum-guilt. I just wanted to remind you in this festive season that your children don’t need to be decked head-to-toe in outfits from Claude and Cloud (I totally made that brand up but you know the ones I mean? The alliterative dual name types), gingerbread houses can be eaten without being constructed, and that Elf on the Shelf can remain in quarantine for another year (I’ve made many mistakes in my life, introducing my children to that time-consuming nymph has not been one of them). Obviously if your children enjoy all of those things, then crack on.

A fun-filled Christmas shopping day in Cambridge….Never. Again.

(A fun-filled Christmas shopping day in Cambridge….Never. Again.)

My husband and I have had to reflect on Christmas activities. We both have ideas of how these things will go and we end up disappointed when our children aren’t as excited as we are. Which has led to the realisation that often we are planning these things for us and not for them. A nine year old has very little interest in a Christmas fair held in an eleventh century cathedral, the highlight of a light show for a three year old will be the carousel, and what the family photo doesn’t show on the Christmas tree picking adventure is the boys wrestling each other in the mud and the three year old running around like a maniac while my husband and I chose the tree. Instagram would have you believing that our children decorated the Christmas tree in their bedroom whilst singing along to Buble, when in reality they spent the time rolling each other around in the empty Christmas tree box. So what point am I trying to make exactly? Am I saying that you should give up on planning special festive activities? Not at all. I guess what I’m trying to say is, manage your expectations. Don’t be swayed by what you see on Instagram. Remember that there is a story behind every photo.

I was going to post a photo here to really drive the point home but my husband said that no one would want to see my bare legs covered in the fluorescent yellow glow-in-the-dark poo that can only be produced by a newborn. I should probably give you some kind of context for that description. I had posted a photo of me snuggling my adorable newborn daughter that day with a caption along the lines of “Newborn bliss” or something equally pompous and the reality was that I had spent the morning in tears because my tiny little mini-me had wanted nothing but to be on me and all I wanted (needed) was a shower. I eventually got my shower but it was swiftly followed by my sweet girl creating a faecal Jackson Pollock all over my freshly washed body. I cried. She cried. I ran us a bath and we listened to Enya. There’s a story behind every photo.

(The Fart - circa February 2021)

This is one of my favourite photos. We call it The Fart. You might see it on my carefully crafted photo patchwork that is my Instagram page and you might think that it is a sweet photo of a precious moment shared together at a National Trust location and you would be right.

Sort of.

It was our first major outing as a family of six and I was still riding high on the rollercoaster of emotions that post-partum hormones serve up. I had already nearly started a fight with a woman that I felt had stared just a little too long as I breastfed Littlest J on the nearest available bench. Anyway, I was very sensitive about how people were perceiving us and I was self-conscious about my post-partum body and I just wanted everything to be Instagram perfect.  

What you don’t get from the picture is that we were attempting a simple photo together and H chose that very moment to let one rip. I am fairly confident that the reverberations measured a solid 8 on the Richter scale. It’s not the photo we set out to capture but it has become one of my favourite photos. The way that Big J is looking at H with shock and pride, you can almost hear Biggest J’s laugh, and my look of disbelief that my girl could produce such a noise from her backside. There’s a story behind every photo.

We thought it would be fun to frolick in the freshly fallen snow with a 5 year old and an 18 month old. We ended up narrowly escaping an encounter with the local crazy lady and had to thaw the 18 month old for 2 hours on our return.

(We thought it would be fun to frolic in the freshly fallen snow with a 5 year old and an 18 month old. We ended up narrowly escaping an encounter with the local crazy lady and had to thaw the 18 month old for 2 hours on our return.)

So, this is what I’m telling myself this festive season: loosen the reins a little. Lower your expectations. Be flexible. Have fun. If things don’t pan out as you’d planned, roll with it. Be sensitive to your little ones. Take the photos but take them for you not for the likes. In the words of someone wise “Don’t count someone else’s sprinkles while your own ice-cream melts”.

Real life happens in the white spaces between those little online squares – it is messy and raw and at times it is ugly. It involves disappointment and bored children and whispered arguments. But it is real and it is yours. I’m not saying that you should post all of this on your page in the name of being realistic and I’m definitely not saying that you should enjoy every moment because that’s just ridiculous. Not every moment is made to be enjoyed but we grow and learn from them and they often make the best stories.

Breathe deep, enjoy a Baileys and don’t feel pressured to take that Elf off of the shelf.

Peace and love to you and yours this Christmas.



David Neale