The bittersweet nostalgia of Facebook Memories

 Photo: Getty Images

When the first Facebook Memories started to appear in my feed over twelve months ago, I – along with most Facebook users – cringed. Those 2007 status updates, for example, where we all spoke in the third person ("James is eating a doughnut", "Sarah is going to London next year!") were downright painful.

There was a clear sense of "is this thing on?" as we put our thoughts – a little self-consciously – onto the internet, in a way we don't even stop to think about now.

These Facebook Memories, also known as "On This Day", take on a completely different feeling after you become a parent. The posts are a daily reminder of time passing, and of just how much life changes when little people enter your world.

As mums (and dads) we know how different our lives are post children – and of course we wouldn't have it any other way – but those photos and updates certainly make that point, loud and clear ... and often.

A friend of mine playfully thanked Facebook for reminding her that yes, three years ago, she was doing a little more than picking up toys and making carrot puree (as in, doing half marathons and drinking malbec in Argentina). "No need to remind me every day," she wrote.

On Facebook, we tend to show the highlights, yes, but the hospital check-ins, broken bones and epic shopping centre meltdowns often make it too. And it's these moments – along with the cute baby pictures and honeymoon photos – that appear as we log in each day.

My own Facebook Memories have elicited mixed feelings. As I fell into what was later diagnosed as postnatal psychosis, my status updates were increasingly a little odd.

Although I've been happy to have a quiet chuckle from the standpoint of good health, and to reflect on the feelings behind the words I posted, they're not something I want to see year after year. For self-care, as they've come up, I've deleted the "memories" I'd rather not see again. It's not quite Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – but it's close enough.

Over the last few months I've had "on this day" photos show up from when I was an in-patient on a mum and baby psychiatric ward, and others from various stages of my recovery. Via these posts I've witnessed the way the light in my eyes gradually returns as time passes – and how joy slowly reappears in my status updates, too.


It's not always easy to be taken back to that time. And yet, it's also strangely healing. The posts highlight how well I am now, how far I've come, and how glad I am to be past those grey early years of motherhood.

The memories are even more fraught for other parents. A dear friend of mine lost her little girl suddenly, three-and-a-half years ago, at only 18 months old. For her, the posts are bittersweet. Sometimes, she tells me, they catch her by surprise, taking her breath away.

But they're nice, too. The photos and status updates remind my friend that her little one was real. "It helps keep her memory alive," she says.

Since the feature was rolled out, more people seem to be sharing their memories publicly – reminiscing about births, marriages, holidays, the anniversaries of loved ones we've lost. For now, at least, our attitude towards the feature appears to be softening.

My own attitude has definitely changed. Even though it feels a little bit "This Is Your Life", I do love seeing the chubby-cheeked baby photos from 2011 alongside pre-baby hens' dos, Christmas snaps with my siblings, and 30th birthday parties.

But those third person updates from 2007? Ariane is deleting every single one.

Don't wish to be reminded about particular people or dates on Facebook? There are ways to control the memories. Find more information here.