This article began as an opening monologue on my weekly BBM Global Network and TuneIn radio show that shares a title with this column, MD for Moms. The show in question was an interview with author Elizabeth Isadora Gold regarding her book, The Mommy Group: Freaking Out, Finding Friends, and Surviving the Happiest Time of Our Lives.
This article was originally published on HuffPost on 07/25/2016.
On a recent vacation it occurred to me how nice it would be to have someone follow my family around with a camera to capture every special moment for posterity. Having been intrigued by ‘day in a life’ packages offered by photographers, only to be turned off by the costs, I instead find myself constantly taking pictures day in and day out. How many pictures are on your phone? Have you ever checked? You might be shocked. My six year old informed me that I have nearly 12,000 pictures and 1,000 videos on my iPhone. Seriously? How is that possible? At least half must be crap, yet I keep them, in part out of laziness (who has time to erase things?), and in part out of some sense of sentimentality, in that even some of the worst pics are still cute and I can’t help but keep them. I have to imagine I am not alone in this experience.
If you have a child in school, you have surely been to school events, shows, performances and little graduations. Think back to one of those performances and how you viewed this milestone in your child’s life. If you are like most parents, you saw the event through the viewscreen of your iPhone or camera. At a recent dance event I noticed that practically every single parent was videotaping the experience via their raised phone. Why do both parents need to videotape the same performance? And, more importantly, if you are staring at something through your phone or camera, are you truly experiencing it? Modern-day parents may be missing out in an attempt to capture it all for posterity. Isn’t that a shame?
Obviously I am guilty of the same, yet, as I look back at many of these images I realize that I am not in any of the pictures. Beyond selfies with my kids, there is an obligation to be out of a picture if you are taking it. You are removed from the merriment, removed from the experience in many ways by being the photographer. By saving the moment are you by default missing out on it? Our memories are created by being present in the moment, by experiencing the fun and laughter, not by viewing it through a lens.
Mobile photos go hand in hand with social media, with the best photos going on Facebook to show the world, or at least the few hundred or thousand so-called friends, how wonderful our lives are, how perfect our kids are and how happy and carefree we all are. Modern motherhood is in many ways a projection of what we want others to see, an image caught in an instant, rather than reality. However, such images can be shockingly misleading. I recently saw a profoundly moving post on Postpartum Progress displaying pictures of mothers and their babies. In those photos each woman looks happy, connected with her child and appears to be enjoying the moment. Below each photo is a description of how each seemingly serene woman was suffering from severe postpartum depression, anxiety or psychosis when the picture was taken. What a powerful statement.
In that vein, I wonder if by trying to capture each moment rather than experience it, we are potentially reimagining motherhood for ourselves; rather than remembering the fussing or the food thrown on the floor, the stress of trying to get a new eater to open his or her mouth, we instead have the picture of the smiling baby covered in food to help us rewire our memory in a more positive fashion?
There can be some benefit to retooling memory in such a way, but is doing so removing us from the present unnecessarily? Let’s explore this idea.
Reframing the memory into a positive experience is accomplished by divorcing the image from the reality of life with children. Rather than re-experience the frustration or sense of inadequacy evoked by trying to keep a toddler from standing in their highchair, by looking back and fashioning memory based on a picture, the same event is remembered only for the cute smile that same toddler made while the picture was taken, a second before standing back up. The look of horror or fear on mom’s face is not part of the scene, so it can be as if it never happened.
Another viewpoint is this. We moms often miss out on the moment by being overly focused on the details. Taking a picture presents an opportunity to see the wonderful simplicity and pure positivity of childhood after the fact, which is better than not at all.
I am making a conscious effort to limit my picture taking these days – yes, i am still taking pictures of my kids playing together, laughing, doing things that are silly and fun, things that seem important to remember. But, I am trying not to limit myself to life experienced behind the lens. Will I have a tangible reminder of each moment in the future — maybe not. But does that really matter? I don’t think so and I hope not because motherhood isn’t really about each singular moment as much as it is about being present, being there for and with your kids through the good and the bad, being able to live in the here and now.
How will you remember your child’s baby years? Through the lens of a camera or mobile phone, or from your experiences with them? And which will be better?