08/20/2014 11:18 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Jealousy Trap: Those Deceiving Family Photos

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They say a picture speaks a thousand words. But, be careful what you hear. Yes, pictures are a great little piece of history. Who doesn't enjoy pulling out the old albums and reminiscing about days gone by? In fact, it's one of my favorite things to do at my grandma's. We laugh about our clothes or hairstyles. We remember relatives who are no longer with us. We talk about old boyfriends who happen to appear in a family photo and wonder what we were thinking. We remember the real day, the real moment, the events leading up to the picture. Usually those are not quite as rosy as the picture itself.

Someone looking at my old albums might see a picture of me as a new mom, holding a sleeping baby and think how precious and sweet it is. I remember what that was really like. I remember the anxiety I felt right before the camera clicked. He probably cried for six hours right before that shot was taken. The lighting in the picture hides the spit up on my shirt. The smile on my face, that's because he's finally sleeping. And that's all ok, because those are my memories, the ones that the photo evokes for me, even if anyone else looking at that photo doesn't see that.

I mention this because I have found myself looking at pictures, particularly on Facebook, and thinking how happy everyone must be. How content with everything in their lives. How just freakin' perfect they seem to have it. And yes, on more than one occasion, I've felt a little jealous. No, not "poor me" kind of jealous, my life is pretty good too, just that little bit of envy that seems to creep up on you when you aren't expecting it. Those smiling kids with their clean clothes and "stillness" looking at the camera, those sickeningly sweet Disney moments, the family beach photo where everyone is evenly tanned and toned. I start to think, WOW aren't they just so lucky?

And then I do a quick mental search of my family photos. Wait, I have those too. The one where the kids are all looking at the camera and wearing clean clothes? The part you can't see is me behind the camera, threatening them with all that's frightening I can think of to sit still and smile. The clothes probably stayed clean for a whole three seconds after that. And I have those Disney pictures, Eeyore hugging one of the kids, everyone posed perfectly in front of the castle. What don't you see? The thermometer reading 110 degrees. What don't you hear? "Another line? I'm hungry! Tell him to stop touching me. When are we going back to the hotel pool?" And the beach pictures? Yeah, we have them. They are usually taken right before someone gets sand in their eye or I get rolled by a giant wave and spend the rest of the week getting sand out of every crevice of my body.


That photo above? Anyone could see that and say, "Boy, that Carrie, she has the LIFE!" Parked on a lounge chair while her children frolic in the pool, being watched by lifeguards. Looks like a beautiful relaxing day, right? Sure it was, for some people. Me? Not so much. My first visit to the pool club this year. Got there late. Slathered the kids in sunscreen. Plopped myself down on the chair. Opened up my bottle of water and...

Kid: He took the basketball.

Me: (Insert name here) Give back the ball.

Kid: Maaaaa!

Me (getting off my chair): Stop hollering, people here are trying to enjoy themselves.

Back onto chair, start putting on sunscreen.

Kid (a different one this time): He hit me.

Other kid: He's cheating.

Me (getting off the chair again, walking over to them): C'mon guys, play nicely. No one here wants to hear you arguing. Figure it out together.

Back onto chair, reapplying sunscreen to the same leg I already did, forgetting about the other leg.

Kid in distance: MAAAAAAAA!

Other kid: He took the ball again.

Me (off the chair again, crouched pool side, teeth tightly clenched): Stop fighting with each other!

Back into chair, throwing sunscreen into bag and wondering how to leave them home next time I come.

Kid: Ouch!

Other kid: You started it!

Me (Big sigh, eye roll, and off the chair again, loudly exclaiming): OK, time to go home!

Stubbing toe on the chair, and now really pissed off.

So, I bring this up because I don't want you to get caught in that trap, the "everyone has everything better than me" trap. Yes, pictures speak a thousand words, but if you really listen, you may be surprised by what you hear!


These are just two of the photos that didn't make the Christmas card that year. The one we sent was super merry, but I bet no one who received it imagined this coming before it!


Photos courtesy of Amy McLaughlin,