As parents, we love taking photos of our children. Perhaps a little too much, and with the convenience of smartphones, the photo opportunities are truly endless.
Adorable new dress? Check.
Messy breakfast face? Check.
Funny hanging-upside-down-at-the-playground pose? Check.
The sheer number of photos on my phone increased exponentially the year my oldest daughter was born, and it’s only gotten worse with each passing year. I hear some people are a bit more reserved when it comes to whipping out the iPhone to capture these moments, but I am admittedly not one of those people.
I’ve spent hours upon hours whittling down my photo collection, analyzing each one to see which of these 20 (nearly identical) silly face photos I should keep. Deleting anything somehow feels wrong, like I am forever erasing a cherished moment in time.
But as I’m scrolling through these thousands of snaps, desperately trying to whittle them down, I can’t help but notice how seldom I appear in any of these photos. I’m the one spending most of my day with these beautiful little people, caring for them and playing with them, but how often am I represented in the photographic history of their days?
The truth is, very rarely.
There are plenty of photos of Daddy reading bedtime stories, pushing the kids on the swing, and building a block tower with our kindergartener. When family comes to visit, there are gobs of photos of grandparent cuddle sessions, bike walks with auntie, and aquarium visits with cousins.
Where is Mom?
Behind the scenes, usually. Making a snack. Changing a diaper. Getting someone dressed.
Taking the photo.
Maybe twice a year do we get a proper “family photo” - everyone dressed in clean clothes, hair brushed, looking in the general direction of the camera. These photos usually commemorate a special occasion like a birthday party, Thanksgiving, family vacation, or other major holiday. We love these photos. These are the frame-worthy photos that end up on our holiday cards or hanging over the living room fireplace.
The rest of the photos that feature Mom are usually restricted to a small handful of accidental candids. There’s also the occasional photo of me from the waist-down, courtesy of my 3 year old who has sneakily stolen my phone while I’m otherwise occupied.
Us moms are everywhere in our kids lives, but seldom do we show up pictures. This phenomenon is wonderfully illustrated by the popular social media hashtag #proofofmom. While the idea is fun to laugh at, deep down we can’t help but feel a little unseen.
We put such careful thought into preserving the legacy of their childhood, but we inadvertently withholding our own image of the very thing we’re hoping to preserve.
Noticing my distinct lack of presence in family photos, my initial instinct was to blame the other parent. “Why don’t you ever take photos of me with the kids?” But the truth is, it’s not his fault.
When it does come time for me to be on the other side of the camera, I often shy away for one reason or another.
“I haven’t brushed my hair today.”
“My outfit is stained/sloppy.”
“I look so tired.”
“I haven’t had a haircut in six months.”
It’s been said time and time again, we are our own worst critics. But what message are we sending our children (specifically, our daughters) by cutting ourselves out of the photographic history of their lives?
Being a mother is an honor. We are one of the cornerstones, the foundation, even, of our children’s lives.
It’s time to reclaim our rightful spot in the camera roll.
Our kids don’t give a second thought to what they look like when we take their pictures. Somewhere in the journey of life we learn to be unnecessarily self-critical, saying “no thank you” to photos because of our appearance, or insisting on checking in with a mirror before we smile for a camera.
Instead of demonstrating to our kids that they need to meet certain standards before taking a photo, I say we take a cue from them and throw all those standards out the handprint-smeared window.
A few years ago, I decided enough was enough.
I lovingly asked my husband to be more intentional about taking photos of me with my babies (as a photography enthusiast, he was thrilled to do so).
If my daughter asks to take silly-face-selfies with me, I happily oblige - unwashed hair, tired eyes and all.
I take mirror selfies holding my baby, preserving his incredible cuteness without first cleaning the mirror and changing my shirt.
Sometimes, I even ask a stranger at the splash pad or zoo to take a photo of me with my kids!
Now, when someone aims a camera my direction, I do my best to silence the inner dialogue about what my hair looks like, or the last time I exercised, and I smile. Rather than wasting time lamenting about how I might improve my appearance, I try to embrace the moment for what it is – fleeting, and something I’ll one day look back with intense longing.
Equally as important, I try to remember to take photos of my friends and family with their own kids, to share with them later. Some of my favorite photos of me with my kids are candid shots that were taken while I was blissfully unaware. We all see the amazing moms our friends are to their kids - what a gift to share that vision with them. (With their permission, by the way – and I always delete if asked to!)
Looking back through my camera roll now, these imperfect photos are no less cherished than the perfectly posed special occasion photos. In many ways, they are even more cherished.
These are the moments I might have otherwise forgotten about – tiny snapshots of time in a sweet, hectic season of life.
These are the moments the older ladies in the grocery store are talking about when they tell you you’re experiencing “the best years of your life.” It’s hard to believe that when you’re lacking sleep and haven’t had nearly enough time to yourself, but I can absolutely see the truth in that statement.
The sleep-deprived, “human napkin,” toddler-chasing stage of childhood is a short one, indeed. A hard phase, for sure, but a bittersweet phase that I know I will ache for one day in the future. Don’t sell yourself short by not including yourself in the capture of these moments.
Your future self won’t be focused on your eye-wrinkles (and if you do, it’s because you’ll be remarking on how fewer wrinkles there are in general, and wondering why you didn’t take more photos).
You’ll be noticing your toddler’s sticky face, plastered with a smile, lovingly grabbing yours with the unmatched intensity that is the love shared by a mother and child.
You’ll notice the little things, like the way your toddler’s hair stuck out like a dandelion, or the chubby wrists of your baby that have sadly, since thinned out.
Twenty or thirty years from now, our kids will be looking back at these photos, maybe with kids of their own, and they won’t care if our hair isn’t perfectly tamed. They’ll see their mother, being present, laughing, enjoying their childhood.
These are the moments that will shine bright in their memories. What a gift to have photographic proof to support the nostalgia.
And so, I challenge you today – get in the photo. Ask for the photo. Take the photo.
They deserve it, and so do you!