parent opinion

"My friend sent me a photo of her kids that left me feeling confused and uncomfortable."

It happened when I was in my twenties. I was having a quiet night at home, texting a friend, when they sent me a photo that left me feeling confused and uncomfortable.

I’m not usually lost for words – I am a writer, after all – but this time, I had no idea what I was supposed to say or do. It wasn’t the kind of photo I was used to receiving. I was a married woman, and definitely not available for THAT.

It wasn’t a nude. It wasn’t even a meme. It was… a photo of my friend’s two toddlers. And I felt puzzled, because I didn’t know why she had sent it to me and I had no idea how to respond.

No-one had ever messaged me with a photo of their two kids before. This wasn’t normal for me.

There was nothing interesting or unusual about the photo. The kids weren’t doing anything funny, like rubbing Nutella on their parents’ clothes. They weren’t dressed up in adorable or hilarious costumes. They weren’t even anywhere special, like Paris or something. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday. They were just… there.

Yes, they were cute and smiley. But what was I supposed to do with the photo? I felt like I was looking at a photo of bizarre, undiscovered mystery sea creatures. I had so many questions for my friend (e.g. Why did you send this? What is the point? TELL ME HOW TO RESPOND BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH A PHOTO OF TWO KIDS). But I had nothing to say in response.

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At that time in my life, I didn’t have kids. My friends never sent me photos of their kids, simply because they didn’t have children either. I got sent photos of outfits that my girlfriends were thinking of buying, or haircuts they wanted to get, or a sneaky shot of a person they fancied.

I mostly sent photos of weird things, like a pumpkin covered in mould that my colleague had accidentally left in our storeroom. For these types of pics, a typical response would be a quick emoji, or a jaunty acronym (WTF or OMG are my usuals).

But I felt that my friend (who I will call Hayley) would expect more from me. Something personal and thoughtful, to match the love she had for her children.

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Hayley and I had so much in common, except for the fact that she was a mum, and I wasn’t. She was also about a decade older than I was. And compared to me (hot mess), she was in the perfect place in her life to have kids (stable, sensible, responsible). And now, with this very cryptic photo message, I felt that maybe we just didn’t ‘get’ each other any more.

I stared at that photo for longer than I should have. Hayley would have seen the three grey dots blinking on her phone, as I looked at the photo of her children with growing angst and confusion.

I wondered if the photo was meant for her husband, and not me. I tried to figure out how we had gone from chatting about nothing in particular to – bam! – a photo of her spawn.

It was like being confronted with an ancient stone tablet, covered in hieroglyphs or something. I felt that there must be a meaning or purpose behind the photo, but I was too inexperienced in life to see it.

I went with a default, instinctual response. A compliment. Everyone loves a compliment!

“Wow,” I typed, “Ava and Jack are so cute now. They’ve grown up so much!”

Hayley seemed happy with that response, and then we continued to text as usual, probably about a TV show we were both obsessed with or something.

Now that I’m in my mid-thirties with two kids of my own, I look back at that experience and laugh. I’ve taken thousands of photos of my kids, and when I’m chatting with friends and family online or over text, I’ll often send them a picture of my family. It’s my new normal.

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My own phone storage is packed full of photos of my kids, because I want to capture every cute and crazy thing that they do. And that’s really all I have to send to my friends and family.

I don’t swap photos of clothes or haircuts or hot people any more, because I just don’t have as much time to shop or groom myself, and I’m too exhausted to notice if anyone around me is attractive.

The majority of my time is spent with my children, and I love them so much. They take all of my energy and brain space. I’m happy to say that they have consumed my life. That’s why Hayley sent me that photo: because she was sharing her life and loves with me.

I didn’t ‘get’ her at the time, but I sure do understand her now.

I also can assure you that if you send me a photo of your kids now, I know exactly what to do and say. And that’s to ask: “Need chocolate, wine or a babysitter?”

Do you send photos of your kids to friends and family? Why/why not? Tell us in the comments section below. 

Carla Gee is a writer and illustrator living in Canberra. You can find her on Instagram as @bycarlagee and @littlecloudcarla.

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