There was something I noticed really quickly when I started dipping my toes into the community of documentary family photographers—most of them were mothers. I think it’s a natural fit: photographers who have young children are going to be drawn to those everyday moments. Moms see children in their various states of disarray as well as their tenderness with dads and siblings. But there is a problem with a mother who photographs her children. She’s never in the photos.
Last week I blogged about what an incredible job my own mother did in documenting our lives and preserving those images. But she’s not superwoman. She was taking most, if not all of those photos. I have very few images of me with my mom. So few, in fact, that it makes me a little sad.
My mother was my everything for the first five years of my life. Realistically, probably the first 18, but especially in those years before I went to school. I did absolutely everything with her.
She was the kind of mom who sat on the floor and played with us. She taught us things. She included us in her daily activities like shopping and cooking and cleaning and so.much.singing. We had so much fun that school was boring at first when I went. And I don’t have any photos of that fun. Those are all of my memories of her, preserved only mentally.
I’m lucky to remember it, but you know what? She doesn’t. She was too busy taking care of 5 kids. I ask her about my childhood all the time and she says, “Oh honey, you were the fourth. I don’t remember.” I wish she had photos that showed her how great of a mom she was. Even now, with kids all grown up, I know how valued that would make her feel.
I recently had a mom at a session lamenting this very thing. She told me how she realized that all the photos on her phone are just of her son and she isn’t really in any of them. She told me she felt narcissistic asking someone to take photos of them together. But she wanted to remember this time. And I wanted to hug her and say, “Oh this is the opposite of narcissistic. He would LOVE to have photos of you when he’s older!”
Last year, I spent the month of May writing about mothers. I wrote simply about what I saw in these people. And I learned that people love reading about mothers. I think it’s because they are impressive creatures who do things that non-moms cannot. I also think the relationship between a mother and her young children is one of the most natural connections in humanity.
I think about the hours that mothers spend doing the seemingly mundane—a million songs each day, so many games of “I spy” and countless hours preparing meals. Those hours, and eventual years, are so sacred. Hallowed ground. They are what shape little people into big people. And that shaping is worthy of being documented.
If this post does anything for you, get in a photo with your children today. Not a selfie. Set up a timer or ask a friend/spouse to take one. I mean it! If you end up doing it, please post it to Instagram and tag me! (@greenchairstories)