I am a ghost mom. In photos of my family, I don't seem to exist. I have hundreds of images of my daughter and stepson – many of which include my husband – but I appear in very few.
My social media feeds confirm I'm not the only mother missing from family pictures. I asked my husband why he doesn't take more photos of me with our kids and he reminded me he used to ask regularly, but because I always refused, he stopped.
"My social media feeds confirm I'm not the only mother missing from family pictures."
I share family images on social media while he does not, which keeps my camera in my hand. It rarely occurs to him to pull out his camera when a picture-worthy moment occurs, but my absence from most of our family photos is my own doing; I enjoy taking pictures, not being in them.
Leslie Hopkins, a mom-of-two, has a similar conundrum: "My husband offers to take pictures of me with our kids, but until recently, I was more comfortable behind the camera. Then I realized I want my children to have pictures with their mom, no matter how bad I look!"
Social media is the culprit
Self-deprecation aside, kids see their moms without hair or makeup done all the time, so why do we care if they see that version in photos? Two words: social media.
Often our photos are seen by others outside of our immediate family, which makes us more sensitive to perceived flaws in our appearance. While women can simply delete photos they dislike or use editing tools to erase imperfections, it's often easier to just stay out of the photo.
Toronto relationship and parenting expert Natasha Sharma, author of the new book The Kindness Journal, says she sees many mothers with self-esteem issues regarding their appearance in her clinical practice. In addition to society's unrealistic expectations of how women should look, she suggests there may be some adaptive reasons behind the emphasis women place on their physical appearance.
"Women may subconsciously be uncomfortable with our male partners preserving images of us looking less than 'attractive' based on evolutionary factors that historically favoured women for our appearance and child-bearing ability, and men for their prowess," Sharma explained.
"Often our photos are seen by others outside of our immediate family, which makes us more sensitive to perceived flaws in our appearance."
Although we have evolved tremendously, she continues, some of the core beliefs associated with our physical appearance are still based on this innate premise, to some extent. The importance of "looking good" can exist deep in our mindsets and motivate concern over our appearance and its impact on our romantic relationships.
Many moms still just want photos of themselves with their children no matter what, but their partners don't always cooperate. Mom Lisa Bayliss confirms, "My husband finds it a pain to stop the momentum of what's happening when I ask him to photograph me with our two kids; he feels working for a photo takes away from the fun."
That may be a valid point. As a society often obsessed with capturing every little moment on our cameras instead of our memory banks, we could be impeding our own enjoyment of life in real-time. Generations before us survived with only a few formal photographs of ancestors. However, I can see how much my kids enjoy images of themselves, especially ones of forgotten fun in their younger years.
Mothers should appear in those important memories. That's why Whitby professional photographer Kirsten McGoey simply trades off work with a colleague, or hires them to capture images of her with her three sons and husband. She feels it saves the stress of attempting to take the photograph herself and eliminates the need to keep asking her husband to do it.
Despite so many dads having no interest in being the family photographer, Drew Ginter, a dad-of-two, says he takes more pictures than his wife in general. "I've been with my wife for 26 years, and when you look back on all our albums, there are way more photos of her than of me," he says.
Ginter may be an exception, as Sharma states that despite the modern man's increased involvement in childrearing, women still tend to be more family-centric.
"Men love and care for their families just as much as women do," Sharma says, "however the desire to document and preserve family history is generally not as automatic or instinctive for them."
There is hope
For mothers who fear being lost forever from photos with their kids, there is hope. The popularity of selfies is helping women become the masters of their own photographic domain. Moms have greater control over how they look before a photo is taken. This seems to be a more comfortable zone for them than spontaneous, candid shots, and less expensive and time-consuming than professional portraits.
Mom Shana Palsetia agrees: "My husband has more pictures of him with our two kids and he never snaps a cute moment like I do, so now I just take selfies with them."
Social media only gives us a highly-curated glimpse into the lives of others, which means moms who want to be in pictures with their kids don't have to make it a spectator sport. Simply smiling, saying "Cheese!" and relaxing, no matter who is taking the picture, is easier knowing it can remain a private legacy for our kids, who can then prove their moms were always right there with them.
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