What we teach our kids when we take selfies
I’ve read a lot of articles lately complaining about seflies—you know, the photos we take of ourselves with our cell phones. Some try to claim that selfies are a sign of narcissistic tendencies, and one hoax even claimed that selfies are now listed as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, but we know that’s complete bunk.
Why are we so bothered by selfies? I understand criticism for the most insensitive selfies: Your face in the foreground as someone is threatening to jump off a bridge, or smiling in the middle of Auschwitz. That’s gross, don’t do that. But why do we think it’s our business how often people turn cameras on themselves and wink?
Personally, I’m a huge fan of selfies. I like taking them, and I like seeing others’ selfies. But beyond fun, I think there is something of very deep value in selfies when it comes to parenting.
A few years ago a gorgeous, vulnerable essay called "The Mom Stays in the Picture" was published by Huffington Post, eliciting tears from many parents and grandparents. The mom, Allison Tate, admitted to feeling like she wasn’t fit enough, or dressed up enough, or was otherwise not good enough to appear in her family photos.
I avoid photographic evidence of my existence these days. To be honest, I avoid even mirrors. When I see myself in pictures, it makes me wince. I know I am far from alone; I know that many of my friends also avoid the camera.
It seems logical. We’re sporting mama bodies and we’re not as young as we used to be. We don’t always have time to blow dry our hair, apply make-up, perhaps even bathe (ducking). The kids are so much cuter than we are; better to just take their pictures, we think.
This essay made me cry. Not just because I will admit to deleting the worst photos of myself, but because I relate to the profound shame I have felt when seeing photos of my post-babies self.
After I read it, I resolved to stay in the picture, too. Especially since I have so few photos of my mom from when we were little (and not a single one of my mom when she was pregnant) and even less of my grandparents. The photos I do have of them, I treasure.
Not a selfie
I want my kids to see their lives documented with their dad and me alongside them. I want them to learn that we, as their parents, see ourselves as good enough to star alongside them in the photographic records of their lives.
That’s why selfies are one of the best things to happen to this generation of families.
Selfies help us remember a moment, exactly how it happened. They allow us to document how we felt, right then and there. Once, after a huge storm, my family and I went to a nearby beach to see how the sand had washed away, revealing huge piles of rocks and sea glass. The stones were warm from the sun, so my youngest and I decided to lie across them. It was surprisingly comfortable, and the hot rocks made us feel like we were floating.
I took a selfie of us snuggled up.
It might seem obnoxious to stop the moment to take a selfie, but it was a beautiful, peaceful moment and the photo I got as a result reflected exactly how we felt.
But it’s not just the beautiful moments that deserve documenting, but also the hard ones. The everyday type of hard, like this one of Avara Capen and her baby, Arden, when he was teething.
Avara explained, “Nothing moves me more than seeing a photo of someone going through what I’m going through. Or have been through. If someone can take comfort in what I post then perhaps they’ll know they’re not alone, and there’s just nothing better than that. It truly does take a village. And since I don’t have a village, in some ways, Instagram has become just that.”
Selfies also help us document the exceptionally hard types of hard times. Kyrsha Wildasin’s incredible son, Logan, has been battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which causes an overproduction of white blood cells in bone marrow, since 2009. Along the way, in all the happy times, and some of the hard, they’ve documented moments with some amazing mother-son selfies and home-made videos.
Krysha and Logan after a color run.
Since Logan and I spend so much time together, we are just getting it done, so to speak. We take selfies so we can share our lives, and we are experiencing and documenting our own moment, so it’s more intimate. The only energy is of the people in the photo.
Some of my favorite selfies to appear in my timeline are of families jammed into the car on road trips. Where are they going? Why? Sometimes the occasions are happy, sometimes they’re solemn. But seeing a family in those moments brings me incredible joy.
Qasim notes on the photo: “The Rashid boys trio are almost at Jalsa Salana USA 2014 in Harrisburg Pennsylvania! Started in 1948, the Jalsa is the nations oldest Muslim-American peace conference!”
Another parent, Charlie Capen (yeah, he’s the husband of the beautiful mama with the teething baby up above), is doing a whole series of photos on Instagram as a way to keep a dynamic, living history for his sons. Charlie combines family photos and videos with selfies to illustrate the stories he tells the boys—about his hopes and dreams for them, about his own father, and even about the time he met and fell in love with Avara.
And some silly stuff, too. Like this:
Of course, there’s also value to parents in taking selfies without our kids. As parents, we often fall into the background of life. We shuttle the kids back and forth from school and games, we rush home from work to do homework with them or tuck them in, sometimes we forget to eat because we’re trying to get all their needs met.
We need to document who we are in these years, too. Sometimes I document how tired I am, or maybe how many freckles I got at the beach, or a day when I might look especially cute. Yes, I’m a married mom and I sometimes feel cute enough to take a photo. I hope when my kids grow up, they can look at that photo and say, “Yeah, that’s my mom. That’s how I remember her.”
My husband photobombing my selfie
It’s also a way for parents to document their own relationship—the everyday moments and the exceptional ones.
Yes, parents, you deserve to have your photo taken. As Allison Tate taught us in her HuffPost piece, we are the most important people to your kids, and they deserve to see us in a lot of photos for years to come.
We get to write your own family’s history, and illustrate it with photos.
Joanna Schroeder serves as executive editor of the Good Men Project and is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on sites like xoJane, hlntv.com, and the Huffington Post. This article was originally featured in The Good Men Project and reposted with permission.