On random days I like to go through old photo albums for the memories they ignite. Like most, my albums are full of pictures of family, friends, vacations, and major life events. Honestly, these photos mean more to me than most of my other possessions because they cannot be replaced. It might then explain why my film photographs are hidden in several boxes in a closet upstairs. It could also very well be that I was too lazy to do anything more with them, but I like the sound of keeping them safe better!
While going through these old photos, I couldn’t help but notice a change in my relation to these photos. Not the change that comes with getting older (the fine lines and grey hairs), but my presence in the photos themselves. The child, and young adult version of me, was in a whole heck of a lot more of them. I mean A LOT more. I started to wonder what the possible explanations were behind this development. Though mostly I wanted to know if there was an exact moment that this change took place, but with deep thought I realized that it was slow progression that occurred over time back to when I first became a mother.
Before you become a mom, people tell you that there will be major changes that occur in your life. Your body, mind and priorities all change as a result of bringing life into this world. What people don’t often tell you is how much you tend to forget about yourself and the person you were before becoming a mom. The younger version of Whitney who would go all out dressing up, putting make-up on, and doing her hair just right, was not the same person you see today. The old version of me wanted to capture memories and be IN the memories instead of just being behind the lens of a camera. Truthfully, it feels like the me of today just seems to snap the occasional “selfie” to prove I was there and show people on social media that I have a life. But, is that really me? If so, what changes occurred that the masses didn't warn me about before becoming a mom? So many questions left unanswered.
You see, as a kid you couldn’t catch me at any family gathering without a camera tied around my wrist. I would walk around the house asking family members to pose for group shots, sneak in a few well-placed candid shots, and I was fearless about asking to be included in the shots as well. I did all of this because I knew one day these photos would be all people have to remember these times as the years went forward. I also recalled hearing multiple loved ones say that they wished they had more photographs to remember family and friends who left this world. Both factors made me want to become the family historian of sorts helping to preserve these memories. It wasn't only for myself, but for everyone I cared about, by capturing a moment in time that I knew we couldn't get back. Moments that I feared would be forgotten about as we all aged, moved away and lost members throughout the years.
As the self-designated family historian/photographer I remember feeling a sense of pride as family members would leave comments on my recently uploaded photo album. These relatives would often leave small comments like, “that’s a great photo!” to the group shots. Make comments about how beautiful someone looked, or poking fun at some family member who blinked (and there is always at least one who did!) It truly made me happy to see people care about these photos and it felt nice to have them for myself as well.
Then once I became a mom, I wasn't simply the family historian anymore. I was suddenly the event planner, chef, maid and everything else in between. I didn't simply have one role anymore, I had a half-dozen and I felt completely overwhelmed every time a holiday, birthday party or event popped up. Seriously, I had a very difficult time finding a good balance between taking care of myself and everyone else around me. I also became so obsessed with ensuring that everyone else was making memories together, but didn't see how I wasn't making memories with them. I would tell myself that I'm too busy, stressed, not put-together and tired to sit down and enjoy the moment. I used to same excuses to justify not getting into many photos as well. Back then, this all felt completely justifiable but looking at it now I didn’t once think about the impact it would have on my children to not see me making memories with them.
Looking back, I also had to swallow some hard truths. You see, in these times where I felt rushed/stressed, I honestly brought it all on myself because I wanted to do it all myself. Being the soul person doing most (if not all) the cooking, cleaning, and getting my family ready is an unreal level of expectations. It truly is and even though I knew this, I did it anyway. I did it because it was all in the name of making a perfect experience for my family. But, here's the real truth. Perfect isn’t real, and more than that it’s unnecessary because I don’t see anyone chasing this daydream whose honestly happy. Not a single soul. No, most of them (myself included) set this standard for us because either we believe it, think that Hollywood/social media today demands it, or because we care too much about what other people think. I also lived in a double standard because I would never demand perfection of my children, yet I did for myself. I didn't see in the moment how this was going to impact my children, because I was setting a terrible example of trying to live in a perfect world (and it was making me very unhappy). Something needed to change, and I knew that it started with me.
I look back at these old photographs and cherish the ones that I have with my mom, sister, cousins, aunts, and grandmas (all mothers themselves) and think to myself how sad I would be without these photographs. It truly made me realize that I am robbing these moments for my children to have when they’re older because while I told myself I was thinking about them; I was also being selfish. I was selfish because I was too prideful to ask for help and cared more about looking perfect to satisfy my own ego.
Typing these words through a keyboard might sound easy enough to grasp, but for me they can be very difficult to live by. When I’m stressed, I’m not a very fun person to be around. Being stressed also takes its toll both physically, and emotionally, on the body. Not asking for help can cause undo resentment and makes for a poor example for my children to live by. Lastly, feeding into my own insecurities by telling myself I’m too busy, or I don’t look good right now, is a terrible mindset to be in. Not only am I not considering how much those photos will mean to my children one day (as the photos of my mom means to me), but I find myself sad that I don’t have more photos with my family.
So, while I might find myself scrolling through the photos and not feel truly proud to show one off to the world because I don't look good, I'm still proud of my family and the memories we're making together. I also know there will be a day where I'm glad that I took the photo, because I also know myself well enough that young me thought some of these old photos were terrible. However, today I look back at them and can’t think of why I ever felt that way. Why? Because mindsets change with time too. I also know that these photos aren’t just about me, they’re about my children now and long after I’m gone. They won’t see me as tired, or not put together, they’ll just see their mom. The woman who loved them and did her best to give them the world. I know this because that’s how I look at my mom now.
We need to give ourselves some credit as moms and stop being so dang hard on ourselves by setting impossible standards. The truth is we look good enough to be in photos, and no, we don’t somehow ruin them because everyone else took the time to do their hair. We need to ask for help more and stop doing everything ourselves. Give the kids a list of things to clean, assign food for people to bring, and don’t feel guilty about it. Not doing everything yourself will make you feel better and give you more time to spend on you. To do whatever you need to do to feel more confident jumping in front of that camera again. You’re going to want to have these photographs after the children have grown and moved out of the house. You’re going to want to have that most recent photo with your grandparents, parents, aunts/uncles etc., because you never know how soon everything can change. You also don’t know how much that photo of you will one day mean to your children because even though it doesn’t always seem like it, they see you as beautiful even when we feel like a dumpster fire.
To all the people who have moms in their lives reading this blog, take the innovative to lend a hand and help us out. Grab that camera, or cell phone, and snap a few pictures with us in it. While we might protest, or make idol threats, in the long run we’re going to be glad you did. Just please don’t tag a photo of us with our eyes half closed looking drunk, or bent over in some obscene way, then we’re good and those threats will never come into fruition. You have been warned!!!
This year I’m going to do my best to have the confidence to get into the photo, but I also ask that you don’t forget to take those natural ones of me in the moment as well. While I might relapse and tell myself that I look like a hot mess, I’m going to look back one day and be glad you took it. If not for the laughs because I truly do look terrible, but for the moments I won’t be able to get back. I will also feel better knowing that I’m leaving more to my children than just money and material things. I’m leaving them with memories they can relive through each photograph.