They Were Picture-Perfect

They sat on a sandy beach with a calm ocean behind them, deep blue reflecting a cloudless sky. They were picture-perfect.

Four girls and two boys. They wore khaki colored pants, bleach white shirts. They sat like seagull sentries guarding the sand — their parents, blonde haired and blue-eyed, proudly off to the side watching over them with possessive, proud eyes.

They were picture-perfect.

I sighed as I stared absently at the picture on my refrigerator, held on by a magnet from some unknown realtor.

Why Can’t We Look Like That? I grumbled silently.

When I pull out a family picture, people think I’ve pulled out a picture of the Ramones or a picture of a group of actors auditioning for an independent film. Why do some people have ‘it’ and we don’t? Furthermore, why do we have to fight every time we take a family picture? Why can’t WE be picture perfect?

There. I admitted it aloud. It was yet another area where I felt my background as a third culture kid and my insecurity as an adult came into play. I didn’t know how to do family pictures. One year when we had only three children we went to Sears to get a family picture taken. This was a big deal for me. The result? We got a picture with Micah’s head bowing toward the ground, all you could see was the baby fuzz on an otherwise bald head — so small was he, he couldn’t hold his head by himself.  When someone asked me why I had picked that one to blow up into an 8 by 11 inch portrait, I shrugged. “I don’t know” I said, shaking my head! “I guess it’s because Cliff and I looked good and we knew that our years of looking good were coming to an end.”

But it’s far more than any TCK insecurity. It’s about expectations and reality. It seemed that all of our family stuff would come out in pictures while other families were able to keep the pictures happy. I had expectations of these family pictures; expectations of this family, and they were not being met.

Expectations confuse reality. Expectations yield discontent. Expectations kill relationships.

That truth pounds in my ears.

Family pictures, beautiful as they are, mask much of what it means to be a family. The real story comes not through pictures, but through day by day life together. Those huge fights, that you think will never be redeemed? They bear the stamp of grace when forgiveness and restoration happens. The ordinary of life seen through laundry, dirty dishes, dust, and pans that need washing? That’s where patience and discipline grow.

There’s so much more to family pictures then the gloss and color; then how coordinated we are and how beautiful we look. No matter how picture-perfect in the studio, every family bears the marks of a broken world. And that’s why most families prefer the candid shots, sending those picture-perfect shots off to others.

As I pass by the refrigerator again – I look one more time at the picture-perfect family. Can I accept it for what it is? A beautiful picture of a lovely family — a family that has its own stuff, put aside for a day where beach waves, blue sky, khaki and white could work its magic with the help of a skilled photographer.

Because there’s no such thing as a picture-perfect family.

There's No Such Thing as a Picture-Perfect Family!..

16 thoughts on “They Were Picture-Perfect

  1. This made me laugh! When I came back to the US and went to college, I remarked to my parents “Its true! All the kids here look like the JC Penny catalog!” I had seen the college brochures and assumed that all those smooth skinned kids were models. I had no idea that folks grew up looking that way. My years in the jungle left their scars on my legs and arms; years in the sun left flecks across my cheeks and nose. We didn’t have the best acne treatment, or moisturizers, or make up.


    1. I so get this – I didn’t wear make up until my 40’s. My mother in law (from the South) could never understand why I didn’t wear make up. Grew up with very minimal make up and in villages in Pakistan you didn’t wear!


      1. Marilyn, this is in REPLY to your comment rather than the blog. Being from the South, I wore make-up. Some of my colleagues, not from the South, in Pakistan didn’t understand WHY and one even told me that I should not. Coming from the South “mixed bathing”, that is male and female swimming together, was unacceptable. My colleagues from other parts of the US were used to “mixed bathing.” i was as taken aback with this as they were with my make-up!!!! As I became more acquainted with the local women, I found out they DID wear make-up, far more than I ever dared to wear. Since women were fully covered when they went out, one never saw them with make-up. In their homes and at functions for females, make-up, perfume, well-fitted and gorgeous clothes – the works. I continued to wear make-up and the local women appreciated that I did. However, when/if I went to the bazaar, even in Karachi, I limited my make-up and NEVER wore perfume.


  2. It is ironic that there are no lessons or degrees in parenting and the most important job in the world is entered into, often without a clue. A person might decide how to bring up or not bring up their children based on what their parents did. Often they then go ahead and make mistakes of their own.
    Families, with the parents as the root are made up after all of people and all people have their strengths and weaknesses. There are egos and anger, self interest and selfishness, All resulting in frayed tempers, sulks, fights, shouting matches, misunderstandings, heartbreaks.
    There though is also the redeeming factor, always the factor that is the glue that holds it all together-LOVE. Love is what results in putting the family above the individual, in the many sacrifices, in the joy of togetherness, in the shared laughter of growing up years, often with shared clothes, books and other things, of siblings being ready to do anything for each other. Love is what gives each member a sense of belonging a sense of identity and holds everyone together is a warm cocoon of security.


    1. Love is the glue – so good. I love your description of a ‘warm cocoon of security’ So good. I remember feeling that way, wanting to reclaim my kids at the end of the school year, wrap them up in blankets of security. Thanks Pari.


  3. I got a Christmas photo/card this year with a beautiful picture of the family on the front. On the back was a greeting and a smaller picture of the kids bugging each other while they were getting their picture taken. Now that is honesty! We need to get out a new picture of our family for people who pray for us. Maybe it should show my kids fighting and my husband and I annoyed at each other so people will pray for us more!


  4. “Expectations confuse reality. Expectations yield discontent. Expectations kill relationships.” Wise words. This hits home as I struggle with hope that one day I *will* have the “complete” family that I have always wanted…while learning that being a mom with two kids (and no spouse/companion/partner) IS a complete family at this time. It is learning to accept and to find contentment–in the midst of seeing and hoping at what you wish was, and trying to not feel wistful about it nor envy others. :-)


    1. Andrea – thank you so much for sharing your heart. “It is learning to accept and find contentment…” My heart is with you. This world is not as it should be, but everything I see of you from afar leads me to believe you are faithful in who you are, and love those kids to your bones. You have so much courage. xox


  5. Oh, how I could write these exact words! Family photos always seem to bring out the worst in us, especially as the kids aged and the boys no longer wanted a camera to capture them. And me saying, “just humor me on this one, do it for mama!” Maybe it is 5 kids that does it or the free spirit we allowed them to have or maybe ‘cuz we like it real, and this is our “real”! Love , LovE, LOVE the one you shared with all of us. Yes a photo that looks like everyone is happy (we got one this year) does not reveal the mess behind, the hurts masked, the hearts broken yet ready to forgive nor the grace that abounds afterward to keep that family together.


    1. Maybe it IS the five kids! I don know that the more you have the harder it is for them all to be happy at once – that’s why I know that Disney World is truly the magic kingdom – not a cross word from early morning until midnight – true bliss. And yes – what’s so hard about humoring the Mama every once in a while, right?!


  6. I SO get this!! We had our pictures taken this past October. 98 of them to be exact. They turned out absolutely beautiful. Not a hair out of place, clothes perfectly matched, posture perfect and except for the ones where one of the kids has his eyes closed, there is not a bad one in the bunch. The thing that bugs me about them, tho, is that when I look at them, I think to myself, “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?!?!?!?!”. :)


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