What you DON'T see in our idyllic family vacation photos
Annie Reneau

A few years ago, our family took a two-week road trip through the Pacific Northwest. We visited six state parks and four national parks, camped under the Redwoods, frolicked in the Pacific Ocean, hiked through breathtaking scenery, and ate and laughed with friends and family who traveled with us.

Perusing the photos from that vacation (or "family trip" to be more accurate, per M. Blazoned's brilliant analysis), I see gorgeous vistas and genuine smiles, children playing and families picnicking, magical moments of beauty and bliss.

But photos never show the whole picture, do they? This is a problem in the social media age as studies suggest that constantly seeing people's "highlight reels" on Facebook and Instagram can lead to sadness and/or jealousy. Apparently, scrolling through photos of our friends basking on beautiful beaches while we're waging whining wars with our wee ones can make us feel all icky inside. Go figure.


Since I don't like the thought of people feeling icky inside, I thought it might be helpful to share what you don't see in our fun family vacation photos:

THE "KIDS HAVING A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE" SHOT www.motherhoodandmore.com

What you see: A group of happy kids peering down the empty center of an ancient Redwood tree. So cool.

What you don't see: One of my kids stomping away angrily because I wouldn't let her slide down the hollow after her much older friend (and Boy Scout) did it first and found it to be too treacherous. (The slope was much longer and steeper than it looks in the photo.)

THE "TOTALLY NATURAL, CANDID KID PORTRAIT" SHOT www.motherhoodandmore.com

What you see: My sweet, happy boy on the banks of a swimming hole in Yosemite National Park gazing lovingly at his mother.

What you don't see: Me carrying this unhappy boy away from said swimming hole while he threw an enormous fit because it was time to go and we couldn't find the "perfect hiking stick" he had found on the way there. Someone actually slow clapped as I escorted him away. Good times.

THE "FAMILY WALKING TOWARDS THE GORGEOUS SCENERY" SHOT www.motherhoodandmore.com

What you see: Our big group of family and friends walking into the woods for a lovely picnic lunch under the amazing granite formations of Yosemite.

What you don't see: We had just driven three cars full of hungry, cranky children in circles for 20 minutes trying to find a parking space near the visitor's center, to no avail. (Fair warning: Yosemite Valley is NUTS in August.)

THE "KID ENJOYING THE WONDERS OF NATURE" SHOT www.motherhoodandmore.com

What you see: Our little nature lover demonstrating how big the sugar pine cone she found was at our campsite.

What you don't see: The teeth-gnashing negotiations that ensued when I said she couldn't bring the sap-dripping pine cone home with her because it was unbelievably sticky and also against park rules. Taking this photo was her consolation prize.

THE "ALL-AMERICAN ICE CREAM CONE" SHOT www.motherhoodandmore.com

What you see: My youngest enjoying his hard-earned ice cream after a day of hiking at Yosemite.

What you don't see: The complaints that ensued after he finished his ice cream because I would not also buy him Cheetos. GAH.

THE "KIDS ALL SITTING IN ONE SPOT TOGETHER, SMILING AND CALM" SHOT www.motherhoodandmore.com

What you see: Six happy kids in a hammock at the campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

What you don't see: Four not-so-happy parents telling kids for the 127th time to stop throwing dirt, stop yelling and screeching (sorry, fellow campers), and stop playing in the fire.

THE "BREATHTAKING VISTA ON A BEAUTIFUL DAY" SHOT www.motherhoodandmore.com

What you see: A gorgeous view of Crater Lake's incomparably blue waters from the Phantom Ship overlook.

What you don't see: Me spending the entire 1/2-mile hike to this overlook dealing with a six-year-old melting down because I wouldn't let him get a Swiss Army knife. (Man, traveling can be tough on the six-year-olds.)

THE "KIDS ACTIVELY PLAYING IN NATURE" SHOT www.motherhoodandmore.com

What you see: Kids enjoying beautiful Plaikni Falls in Crater Lake National Park.

What you don't see: Every one of those kids revolting over the 1.3 mile hike to get there because (and I quote) "We've already seeeeen enough beautiful sceneryyyyy!" Wah. Wah. Wah.

THE "SIBLINGS HUGGING WHILE GAZING AT THE SUNSET" SHOT www.motherhoodandmore.com

What you see: Our three loving children bonding over the beautiful sunset view at Crater Lake.

What you don't see: Me working through one child's emotional crisis in the car ten minutes before this moment, and two children fighting so badly ten minutes after this moment that I made them sit in the car together at the campground until they hugged and made up.

We love to travel as a family and our kids are generally great, but they're kids. And parenting doesn't stop when you're on vacation, alas.

It's not that these photos don't show an accurate picture of reality. These were real, honest, lovely snippets in time filled with joy and wonder. But it's also reality that they were bookended with not-so-lovely moments. Such is life. Especially with children, God love 'em.

So don't be jealous of people's idyllic family vacation photos. I guarantee their trips have as much normal family drama as yours do, even if their photos don't show it.

And why would they? We take pictures because we want to remember the good times, not the annoying ones. And over time, the whining, arguing, and complaining that come with traveling all melt away, and what we're left with is the beautiful memories we've chosen to capture and hold onto.

We just need to remember that when we're looking at someone else's highlight reel, we're definitely not seeing the whole picture.

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