The Unbearable Smugness of Being (on Instagram)


When you type in ‘Instagram makes’ to Google, the first suggested result is ‘Instagram makes me sad’. Not far behind are: ‘Instagram makes me feel ugly’, ‘Instagram makes me jealous’, ‘Instagram makes me insecure’.

This is backed up by science and that. According to research, Instagram has a negative impact on young people’s mental wellbeing. You might think the same is true for parents. Which parent among us hasn’t clicked through to Instagram and been faced with image upon image of every other family doing all the stuff you feel guilty about not doing with your kids.  And of course, at summer holiday season this reaches a peak. My feed is filled with pictures of my friends and acquaintances grinning wildly as they enjoy #familytime with their tanned progeny, going on educational day trips, frolicking in the surf and somehow managing to transport under-fives around European cities in 40 degree heat without, apparently, losing their minds.

And that’s when ‘Instagram makes me sad’, as I compare these images to our own home, where I am succumbing to letting the kids watch another round of Puss In Boots on Netflix- because these summer holiday days, they are long, and there are many of them (I bathed the children at 3.30pm today, I think I need an intervention). I can’t help but feel it’s all rather smug. That’s when ‘Instagram makes me insecure’.

But is it smug, though? I was given pause for thought when I took the photo at the top of this post yesterday. We were down on the allotment, and there was high excitement about minibeasts and runner beans and- yes- actual grapes in the greenhouse! I was going to post the photo on Instagram. But my thumb hovered above the screen, and I didn’t- because I suddenly realised that, to others, it would seem idyllic. It would seem smug.

What people would see from that (filtered) Instagram post is a wholesome family trip to our wholesome allotment, teaching the kids about produce and wildlife, enjoying time together instead of squabbling over the ipad. AND she’s wearing a bike helmet, which means we totally won at parenting because we took the kids out on their bikes.

And you know, our Saturday morning was all of those things. For a good 30 mins I did feel rather smug.

What the photo wouldn’t show was our daughter an hour earlier, whining ‘I don’t WANT to go the allotment’, then thundering up the stairs yelling “I’M NOT GOING”. Our son refusing to walk and having to be transported in the wheelbarrow. The fact that we forgot about suncream and I felt guilty the whole time that the kids’ necks might get burnt. The weeds that threaten to overpower our plot, and about which we have had a narky letter from the committee. The surprising but real allotment resentment that can erupt between co-parents, where ‘essential labour’ to one means ‘hallowed me-time that I’m not getting’ to the other. The fact that we stayed too long and didn’t feed the kids lunch until 2pm, which, DISASTER STRIKES.

It made me think: when we, as parents, post these aspirational moments on Instagram, maybe we aren’t inviting other people to aspire to be like us or slapping ourselves on the backs (well, some people are, either to make themselves feel better or to attract brand sponsors, and I have no truck with that sort of carry on). We’re reminding ourselves that there is magic in the mayhem and the mundane.  We’re aspiring to be the versions of ourselves that we live for: that version that catches their breath at how happy a moment can be, instead of swearing under our breath. We’re capturing the golden moments in a sea of ‘what the fuck am I doing?’

It’s a miracle of being a parent, that a day can be essentially quite tiresome, moment-to-moment, but when the babies are sleeping and the food is scraped off the floor, you can look back and it feels like the best day ever, because your kid said something funny or laughed when they went down a slide or held up a bunch of grapes with a cocky grin in the middle of your overgrown allotment. We’re all, it seems to me, seeing life through a filter, and that’s what gets us through.

So, fellow parents, bring me your pictures of allotments and your holidays, your gambolling children and your prosecco on the patio. I want to see your kid grinning in front of a dinosaur skeleton, mastering riding their bike, looking like an angel with the sun in their hair.

I celebrate the fact that you are watching your kid slide down a slide laughing, and for 30 seconds you can be in that moment, and not worry about lunch, or whether they have wet their pants. You want to share that, and I get it. Because so do I.

I see you, I’m with you. And I know you’re not (that) smug.



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