THIS is why you need to be in your family photos

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Last weekend, my family travelled to attend my oldest niece’s Sweet Sixteen party. My brother and sister-in-law planned this party for many months and intended it to be a big surprise, and it included a photo booth for the guests. I showed up to the party a bit late and, as usual, slightly askew from trying to dress myself and all my little people for such a special night out. I’m still carrying a fair amount of baby weight and wearing a nursing bra, and I don’t fit into my cute clothes.

I felt awkward and tired and rumpled. I was leaning my aching back against the bar, my now 5-month-old baby sleeping in a carrier on my chest (despite the pounding bass and dulcet tones of LMFAO blasting through the room) when my 5-year-old son ran up to me. “Come take pictures with me, Mummy,” he yelled over the music, “in the photo booth!” I hesitated. I avoid photographic evidence of my existence these days. To be honest, I avoid even mirrors.

When I see myself in pictures, it makes me wince. I know I am far from alone; I know that many of my friends also avoid the camera. It seems logical. We’re sporting mama bodies and we’re not as young as we used to be. We don’t always have time to blow dry our hair, apply make-up, perhaps even bathe (ducking). The kids are so much cuter than we are; better to just take their pictures, we think. But we really need to make an effort to get in the picture. Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were.

Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves — women, mamas, people living lives. Avoiding the camera because we don’t like to see our own pictures? How can that be okay? Too much of a mother’s life goes undocumented and unseen. People, including my children, don’t see the way I make sure my kids’ favorite stuffed animals are on their beds at night. They don’t know how I walk the grocery store aisles looking for treats that will thrill them for a special day. They don’t know that I saved their side-snap, paper-thin baby shirts from the hospital where they were born or their little hospital bracelets in keepsake boxes high on the top shelves of their closets. They don’t see me tossing and turning in bed wondering if I am doing an okay job as a mother, if they are okay in their schools, where we should take them for a holiday, what we should do for their birthdays.

I’m up long past the news on Christmas Eve wrapping presents and eating cookies and milk, and I spend hours hunting the Internet and the local Targets for specially-requested Halloween costumes and birthday presents. They don’t see any of that. Someday, I want them to see me, documented, sitting right there beside them: me, the woman who gave birth to them, whom they can thank for their ample thighs and their pretty hair; me, the woman who nursed them all for the first years of their lives, enduring porn star-sized boobs and leaking through her shirts for months on end; me, who ran around gathering snacks to be the week’s parent reader or planning the class Valentine’s Day party; me, who cried when I dropped them off at preschool, breathed in the smell of their post-bath hair when I read them bedtime stories, and defied speeding laws when I had to rush them to the pediatric ER in the middle of the night for fill-in-the-blank (ear infections, croup, rotavirus).

I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. Someday I won’t be here — and I don’t know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now — but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother. When I look at pictures of my own mother, I don’t look at cellulite or hair debacles. I just see her — her kind eyes, her open-mouthed, joyful smile, her familiar clothes. That’s the mother I remember. My mother’s body is the vessel that carries all the memories of my childhood. I always loved that her stomach was soft, her skin freckled, her fingers long. I didn’t care that she didn’t look like a model. She was my mama.

So when all is said and done, if I can’t do it for myself, I want to do it for my kids. I want to be in the picture, to give them that visual memory of me. I want them to see how much I am here, how my body looks wrapped around them in a hug, how loved they are. I will save the little printed page with four squares of pictures on it and the words “Morgan’s Sweet Sixteen” scrawled across the top with the date. There I am, hair not quite coiffed, make-up minimal, face fuller than I would like — one hand holding a sleeping baby’s head, and the other wrapped around my sweet littlest guy, who could not care less what I look like.

This post was first published on The Huffington Post here and has been republished with full permission. Allison Slater Tate is a thirtysomething freelance writer and a mom to four. When she isn’t caring for an infant, she’s volunteering for her children’s schools and shuttling them to activities near and far. She is a graduate of Princeton University and uses her degree in English to try and talk her kids into cooperating on a daily basis. You can find her on Facebook as Allison Slater Tate, Writer here and follow her on Twitter here.

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  • Ann

    Thanks so much, made my eyes water,I needed that reminder & I of all people should know to patience what I preach.

  • Samaseena

    Thank you for this story.
    We lost our mother 7 years ago now and we have so few photos of her. And she hated smiling in photos, so we have only a couple of her actually smiling. It’s a good reminder for me to try to document and photograph my life as it is instead of trying to record the ‘greatest hits’ moments.

  • housegoeshome.com

    So true! When it came time to choose a photo for the “about me” section of my blog, there were hardly. I had to go back about four years to find something. I hated how I looked in photos, so I hid from the cameras. But, looking back, I regret there are so few images of my life with my family.

  • Denise Davy

    Beautiful article – thank you. So much food for thought.

  • Cheryl L Sandgren

    Hi Alison, I am 64 years old and your comments are as true today as they were when I was in my thirties. In some ways I was lucky that i lived near my mother, who loved to take photos. She always pushed me into photos with my children (quite often with me protesting loudly that I wasn’t looking good enough). However, I am eternally grateful to her now

  • Nikki Goudie

    If only it were that easy…. I look through my photos to see thousands of pics of my little man and his daddy. But I see only a few of me. It is me who sits back and sees the precious moment and snaps away. Unfortunately my hubby doesn’t think of a “cute moment” to grab the camera and take our picture. So instead I continue capturing my little mans special moments with our friends and family with me always on the other side of the lens! :( and never seen in the photos that will be kept!

  • Aurelie

    Hi Allison, thank you for the lovely read, it has made me feel normal and happy. I read it last night for the first time and today I took the first of (hopefully) many photos including myself by aid of tripod and timer.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152142566755478&set=a.10150437804230478.627502.690000477&type=1&theater

    Cheers to celebrating our natural beauty (or more the lack of it!)

  • Anonymous

    Love it! Tomorrow it’s photo shoot time with me n my baby!!!

  • anita mum of 3

    what a wake up call. my husband is almost blind and I seem to take most of teh photos we have, but manage to get a few of me in them alot of times out of focus. It is so true that there are more of every one else but I love taking photos of my family and they are starting to want to take photos too now being 6 & 8, so I give them the pocket camera and we have fun and at least they will have a collection of me with them. I try to print a bunch of my favourites every 6-12 mths to put in an album so it tells a story of our life, as being on the pc does nothing just sitting on a hard drive and what if it gets stolen….what then????

  • Me

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Melanie

    I needed to read this. My eldest child is 9 years old and since he was born I have only allowed my photo to be taken three times. Yes it’s about vanity. My children are so photogenic and I always think that I’ll ruin the shot. I’m not going to do that anymore. I would hate to have something happen to me and leave my children with no real evidence that I was even here!

  • Anonymous

    I figured this out when I noticed my own mother was never in picture. But I too hated photographs, so my solution to this problem was to get photos done every 6 months by a photographer. Ive always found someone who does it as a hobbie / or just starting out so it never costs more then 200 for a cd with pics on it. My daughter is now 4 and there is a beautiful collection of photos of us as a family :)

  • aussiemama

    I often joked that our daughter will grow up wondering where i was in our photos as I’m always behind it – not necessarily for reasons of silly vanity (tho that is part of it) but because my husband never picked up the camera – or as i soon realized I seldom offered it to him. Now we make sure we take turns of taking photos so that we are both in them (tho i still find myself being very self critical and deleting more of me than anyone else) and we always ask someone to take a photo of the 3 of us where ever we are ….. oh! and have professional photos taken every year or so. We love our photos! We love our albums! And i’m slowly beginning to enjoy seeing me in them as much as everyone else.

  • Anonymous

    I also figured this out years ago. You can’t turn back time and say gosh, looking back through photo’s did my kids know I was there. There is no photographic evidence? Kids don’t see the extra weight or the imperfections that you might see, they see their mum.