Why I’m Done Taking Tons of Photos of My Kids

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the tools at my disposal to document every moment of my children’s lives. There’s no way to claim it’s inconvenient. My phone/camera is on my person or within twenty feet of me at all times. I can order photos, books and magnets to be brought to my doorstep with a few taps on that same phone. And if I’m bored of those same options, I can browse Pinterest for hours, scrolling through ideas for scrapbooking or crafts or 23994 other ways to display those photos.

And I’m thankful. I can’t help myself- just like every mother I think my kids do something spectacular at least three times per day. Things I don’t want to forget and because I have all of this convenient technology at my fingertips, I feel like I don’t have an excuse to let the moment pass by.

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Recently I was hit with a realization that was as disappointing as it was liberating: The most sincere moments can’t really be captured. Because when a camera comes out, the mood usually changes to be even slightly less authentic, just by the subjects becoming aware of its presence. Or the cameraman doesn’t get to be involved in the same way, so it’s not quite the same. And really, the camera really cannot convey all of the emotions fully. And sometimes not even the caption or journal entry from the day contains the words to capture all the facets of that memory.

And it’s really okay.

Even though I technically could take photos of my baby’s first time sitting up from every angle, or stop my family every few feet during a hike so that we have group photos with each changing backdrop or I could try to keep everyone from fussing and whining to take just ONE more where maybe everyone’s eyes are open…

It might not be worth it.

Sometimes it’s stressful. Even for planned, staged photos, it’s a lot of pressure to have everyone smiling, in coordinating outfits, when no one is tired, hungry or has to go potty. And now that everyone is a photographer, it’s hard not to scrutinize your own candid photos when you’re trying to capture not just your kids playing in a sandbox, but also catch the moment they made eye contact, but the wind wasn’t blowing their hair in their faces and maybe you could catch a sunspot so that it’s easy to see the weather was “park perfect.”

In all practicality, I literally will not have space to hang or frame or even put EVERY single photo in a book. Eventually, I’ll choose a few that are my favorites that I might showcase for a while and then put away only to be seen periodically. Even when my kids are grown, I know they will want to see dozens or even hundreds of photos of their childhood, but I doubt their attention span will last through hundreds from just the same day. And beyond that…

I don’t want to get so lost in documenting that I cannot enjoy or even participate in the moment.

Do you remember on The Office when Jim and Pam got married and took “mental pictures” of their favorite parts of the day? I want to do that. Because there are some things a camera just cannot capture.

Like the feeling of holding a plump, tiny body and sniffing that sweet baby smell from her head. And holding her four year old brother, who is almost too big for my lap and smells more like sweat and dirt, as every boy should.

And how he wakes up kind of stoic and prefers not to speak for a few moments, but wants me to just sit on the couch and hold him in silence until his sleepies wear off.

The last thing he says almost every night is a whisper: “What are you going to make for me in the morning?” And I like to think he dreams happily of his expected banana smoothie. I keep thinking I’ll record this, but it’s too dark to see anything any way.

The internal struggle on her face when she’s trying to decide to listen to instruction or be a little rebel. I see it so often now, I may not need a photo to remember anyway.

The way that my husband squeezes my knee when we’re in the car and we hear the two of them giggling in the backseat. We grin and know we’re both thinking, “Man, they are so great.”

In those moments, I know I need to just be very still, listen very carefully and breathe the moment in deeply, and try to file the simple details of this time in my life somewhere really secure and accessible in my mind. Even if I can’t remember every sweet detail that’s okay. I’m sure I’ve already forgotten some moments I’ve cherished since we started our family. But with that sad realization, there is also hope, because I know that in place of the memories that fade with each passing season, new, cherishable details will replace them.

The photos are only a reminder and just a few will do.


6 thoughts on “Why I’m Done Taking Tons of Photos of My Kids”

  1. I often think how convenient it is to be able to photograph everything with our phones. But when my children were small, the only cameras used film that had to be developed and printed. And there were only 36 frames (or less) on a roll of film. It made us more selective about the photos we took and kept us more in the moment. When I look at the printed photos, I may not remember all of the details of the moment, but I feel the emotion. Great article, Julia!

  2. Love this. :) I’ve been trying to be more conscious of taking too many photos. Though I really do love to take photographs, so my balance is to try to take more “real” photos (i.e., w a film or at least digital camera) and not nearly as many on my phone. Since real cameras aren’t as light and easy to snap away with, it is naturally a shorter amount of time being behind the scenes. I snap a few and hope for the best but then move on to be in the moment quickly before it passes. i am very curious in a nervous way to see the implications of our photo sharing ways on the younger generations, most especially the seemingly regular families who make their salaries based entirely on taking photos of their kids and sharing them with thousands of people. I have seen too many kids in videos that seem to say with their eyes: “moms got her phone out again. She may be pointing it at me but she’s not really looking at me.” Anyway…. Obviously this topic peaks my interest! Haha. To summarize: bravo! ????

  3. The mental pictures are the best anyway. I still have the clearest memory of when Bennett was born. He was obviously crying just after he was born and continued to do so while they cleaned him up and wrapped him in blankets. They brought him over so I could see him and placed him right by my face. As soon as he heard my voice he became so quiet and peaceful. No camera could have captured that moment. It was so beautiful and I will remember it forever!

  4. Tears running down my face. I am a chronic under-photo-taker and it was so affirming to read this. I am usually too in the moment (or trying to be) to take a camera out and for the same reason I never hear my phone. It’s good and bad. But I do think the documenting craziness is taking away from being inside our lives. Thank you. This is really a very nicely written piece.

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