I wrote this article for The Bloom Forum blog last month. I feel very passionate about it and wanted to post it here on my own blog as well. Older kids and Mom’s camera don’t always coexist peacefully but I’m here to tell you that you can foster a peaceful relationship between them … and you should! Read below to learn how.
If you’re anything like me, your passion for photography began when you started having kids. I wanted to photograph every perfect little detail about all four of mine at every moment of every day. I filled hard drive after hard drive with their adorable childhoods. Every bubble beard at bathtime, every time they jumped on the bed, every trip to the zoo, every birthday party was documented. The glorious sunbeams peeking through the window at breakfast became a call to action. Fingerpainting became an event to capture the masterpieces they were creating.
Yes, I was “that parent” whose big fancy camera became my favorite (and daily) fashion accessory. I was ready for their first lost tooth, their first day of kindergarten, their first soccer practice, their first trophy, the first time they rode a horse. Even those furious temper tantrums were irresistible to me. Every milestone, large and teeny tiny, was documented. Nothing got past me. Yes, it was a little ridiculous.
And then they grew up… Not overnight, of course, but little by little, those adorable little kids grew into awkward preteens…and then angsty teenagers well on their way to becoming full-fledged adults. And that big camera that I slung across my shoulder? Well, they wanted nothing to do with it. The idea that I would post photos of them on Facebook or (gasp) Instagram was tinder for a complete big kid meltdown. So what’s a parent to do? Keep shooting!
That’s right. Documenting your older kids is just as important as documenting them when they’re young. There are plenty of milestones and “firsts” that are still happening during adolescence. Their first day of kindergarten has become their first day of high school. Fingerpainting sessions have morphed into College prep study sessions. Learning to ride a bike has turned into learning to drive a car. Playing tea party has become learning to bake a pumpkin pie. Playing dress-up is now preparing for the prom. These are all important pieces to their life puzzle and worth remembering. I’ll say it again. Documenting your older kids is just as important as documenting them when they’re young. It’s just a little trickier and requires a little bit of strategy. Here are a few tips I’ve gained through the years:
Have a camera nearby at all times. These days I rely heavily on my phone for documenting my own family. It’s always with me and it takes pretty OK pictures. I believe that a phone picture is better than no picture at all when all is said and done and anytime my big camera comes out, my kids seem to magically disappear anyway. If you’re strategic enough to keep your fancy camera with you at all times, even better!
Be stealthy. Although I admit to using bribery on the rare occasion that I need a posed shot, I rarely take posed photos of my kids anymore. I look for moments when they’re in beautiful light (or not so beautiful light) and I snap them doing whatever they happen to be doing in the moment (which admittedly often involves staring blankly into their phones). One of my favorite things about using my phone to capture my kids is that when I set it to silent, they have no idea I’m taking pictures, which usually end up being my favorite images. Be mindful of what’s going on in your home and take the time to sneak around the corner and snap life as it’s happening.
Document the details. Photograph the details that make each child unique. I’m not talking about photographing them sitting on the couch smiling at the camera, I’m talking about photographing the way that one kid is perched on a log at the beach because that’s the exact way he sits at the breakfast table every morning or on his bed when he reads. Include the details that tell each child’s story. For instance, I took the picture of my daughter laying on her bed texting not because it’s a “perfect portrait” but because it shows how she wore her hair all senior year piled on top of her head and the initials above her bed that she decoupaged with pictures from Vogue magazine because she loves fashion, and the lights that she strung on her headboard because she’s still a little afraid of the dark. The picture of my son sipping milk in the dining room was taken to remember that this was his daily after school routine, to be alone for a few minutes and decompress with a snack and without the chaos of the other kids and me in the kitchen. And the photo of my little boys reading on the bed was to document how the older one (who was an early reader) has been so patient with the younger one who struggles with Dyslexia by reading to him every night and helping him with words he can’t figure out. Over his bed is his “About Me” poster he made in first grade along with Star Wars stickers on his under-the-bed drawers from his Star Wars phase. Most of these images wouldn’t mean anything to other people but they are the details I want to remember and they are critical pieces to our story. This is my way of journaling our life.
Lower your expectations. Know that your camera won’t see as much action once the kids are in school or hanging with friends or busy morphing into adults away from home. Heck, some days my son leaves before the sun is up and doesn’t get home until the sun goes down. Just remember to take advantage of those days when you’re together to sneak some photos in here and there. Your kids might just be vegging on the couch, doing nothing “photo worthy”, wearing that same ratty t-shirt they’ve been wearing the past three days. Document it. It’s part of their story. The mundane happens more often than the extraordinary. Document it. Let go of the idea of perfection too. Nothing is perfect when you have teenagers so you might as well document it. It’s real. It’s life. You’ll be glad you did.
So, I’ll say it once more, Documenting your older kids is just as important as documenting them when they’re young. These teen years go by in the blink of an eye and whether or not you realize it in the moment, you’ll cherish these years one day and the photos you’ve taken of these moody, amazing, complex, wonderful teenage humans. Keep shooting!