The lies hidden in family portraits 106



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When my children were growing up, I took so many photos of them – I had the camera on me at all times. Those were some happy times I captured and I never once made them pose for a photo.290115_vintage_family_photo

In my childhood, in the 50s and 60s, my mother would have my uncle take photos of us every year – he had a very nice and expensive camera. Every Christmas my mother, father and I would stand together, up straight, smiling broadly for the photo. But those photos were a lie, much like so many supposedly happy family portraits. Now and then, I stumble upon one in my dusty shed and wonder what my mother was thinking when she organised the shoot. Her husband was in the RAAF and was never home and presumed to be having an affair, and she had a child she didn’t like. But she wanted everyone – to keep up appearances as you did in those days. There was no such thing as a broken home, and if you had a divorce, you were an abomination.

I was speaking to my daughter yesterday and that’s where the idea for this piece came from – she wanted to get some of her wedding photos framed. She asked if I had any photos of my family and I said that I did not. I didn’t want to display a photo of my mother and father trying to make it look like we were a real family. I got pregnant at 19 and in those days, it was not something you could do as an unwed woman. I was better off dead in my mother’s eyes.

The same year, my mum stopped having family photos taken. She clearly couldn’t bring herself to have more photos of her family, now that I had disgraced them. Her husband was away constantly and having an affair? She could cover that up. Her daughter was an unwed fool? She was ashamed.

I quickly got married to the man who had gotten me pregnant, and at my wedding, it was insisted that my husband and I, plus my parents, would get a photo together. My mum put on the biggest smile I’ve ever seen, and tenderly touched me on the arm as I sat in front of her. Immediately after the photo, I remember her asking “Are we done here?” and graciously excusing herself before walking outside. She told me later that if I moved away from Canberra with my new husband, she would never speak to me again. She had an odd way of showing she loved me.

I did end up moving to Melbourne with my husband, who ended it with me a short time later after a miscarriage. I told my mother over the phone and she said “Good”, then hung up. She promptly shipped me our family photos and anything else of mine she owned. She was free of me, finally, just like she had always wanted. But so was I. I went on to meet a wonderful new husband (married 38 years now) and give birth to four children. My mother held her promise to not speak to me again but I eventually sent her a photo of the family, smiling and happy, in an unposed photograph. I hope she hung it up proudly…


Did you ever have posed family portraits that hid a secret or sadness? What do they look like? Tell us below.

Guest Contributor

  1. Everything was covered up in those days,many of us have sad stories we prefer to keep hidden,no photo could tell the story of my childhood

  2. It was her loss. You have gone on regardless & your children would never have felt the pain of not being loved. Congratulations.

  3. What a sad life the mother must have had missing out on seeing her grandchildren & watching her daughter eventually met the man of her dreams. You have to feel sorry for that women of no compassion love or understanding of what motherhood is all about!!!!

  4. What a sad story, Your mum sounded like she was hurting deeply and didn’t know how to give love. I am so blessed to have grown up with loving parents and brothers.

  5. Yes this really resonates with me. The horror that was happening in our home was hidden from the outside world and family photos were a farce. Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. Yes had similar life believe my mother was very unhappy and having me only made it worse . Thank god my life is a lot happier now

    1 REPLY
    • I can relate to this. I promised myself I would never treat my children like my very hurting mum treated me. She was very unhappy.

  7. All was not as it seemed in our family neither. I won’t go into details. However, every year at the local how, we had wonderful family photos taken. If nothing else, at least we have records of our growing years to hand to our children. They like to see family likenesses.

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