Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Please, put yourself in the picture!

This is a topic I've written about before over the years, but it bears repeating.  :) 

I have childless-not-by-choice friends who, even years after their loss, find the annual onslaught of holiday photo cards of adorable children, and/or cards with photos in them, unbearable.  Some cannot fathom WHY people would send them photo of their kids, when they know (or should know) how hurtful it is to them.

Getting photos of other people's kids does not bother me. (Mostly.) It might have, early on, and especially when the babies/kids were the same age as my daughter might have been. And I will admit to the occasional twinge when I see how grown-up my peers' kids have become -- and how adorable their grandkids are.  Still, by and large, I enjoy getting to see family photos at Christmastime. 

But, as this year's batch of cards started arriving in my mailbox a week or two ago, I was reminded of something that does bother me about them. 

Exhibit A:  A photo card from a couple that we met through our support group... they came to us after the stillbirth of their baby girl (who would be in her teens now, yikes!). They subsequently went on to have three boys (yikes again!! lol). The mom wrote us a lovely note on the back about how knowing us has enriched their lives (aww).  The photo is of the three boys. (Fine.) 

But it's signed "Love, A, B & C" (boys' names). No mention of Y & Z (the parents).   

Exhibit B:  Another photo card, this time from one of my (male) cousins, his wife & their two boys (the oldest is the same age Katie would have been).  It's one of those two-sided photo cards with one photo on the front of the two boys, & multiple photos on the back:  more photos of the boys (together & individually), a photo of the family dog, and even a photo of my cousin.

But the wife/mom (who presumably designed & sent the card) is nowhere to be seen.

I have a friend who has faithfully sent me her kids' school photos every year for the past 20 years. (Not sure whether I'm getting any this year, as her daughter is now finished high school.)  I haven't seen this friend, in real life or in photos, for about 30 years. Would I even recognize her if I passed her on the street now?? (Which isn't likely, as she lives on the other side of the country, but you get my drift...). 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't mind getting photos of people's kids. I LIKE getting photos. But it would be nice to see at least SOME photos that include the whole family. I know we all like to prattle on about how "Christmas is for kids," and "Family comes first," but seriously, women are people and part of the family too. We deserve a place in the family photo card.

I understand this pattern isn't all about women putting their kids before themselves, about their individual identities being subsumed by motherhood. Quite simply, most women don't like having their photo taken, and are more than happy to let the kids take the spotlight. And even when we do pose for a photo, we are hypercritical about the resulting image. I am guilty of this myself.  (My grandmother had an easy solution: whenever she saw a photo of herself she didn't like, she would, quite literally, cut herself out of it. Grab a pair of scissors and snip! -- pre-digital, of course, lol.) 

But photos are precious. They capture moments in time. And there are only so many opportunities we have to take them. I can't tell you how many stories I've heard about people who have lost their mom/grandma/sister, went looking for some recent photos to display at the funeral -- and found, to their dismay, how very few existed. Partly for the reasons I mentioned before, but also because moms/grandmas/aunties are usually the ones behind the camera, taking photos of everyone else, right? I am guilty of this myself, too. Partly because I enjoy taking photos, partly (yes) because taking photos means I don't have to be in them (lol) but also (I've come to realize) because taking photos gives me something to do in awkward &/or painful social situations like baby showers and kids' birthday parties. If I'm taking photos, I don't have to sit & listen (as much) to the other women chat about babies and pregnancies and grandkids, or answer painful questions about why I don't have any myself. 

Those of us without kids often fear being forgotten... but it's a whole lot more likely to happen if we don't leave any photos & stories behind to help people remember who were are/were and what we look(ed) like.

So this Christmas, whether you have kids or not, resolve to hand the camera over (or get a selfie stick... or make friends with the self-timer feature) and get yourself in the picture. :) 


  1. Message received loud and clear! And thank you. It’s important.

  2. This is too funny -- I was just talking about this this morning! I got a card from a co-worker and was so happy that there were a few pictures with the WHOLE family--both parents included.

    I like getting the picture cards too, and I keep them year to year (interesting to see how kids/people/styles change), but it does also aggravate me that the parents are often missing and the mom/wife is usually the most missing of the bunch. I agree that some of it stems from the "my kids are my life" thing, and some of it stems from "well, they're cute and someone would want to see them, who wants to see me, the old fat lady in the back?" I have a friend who actually has no adults on her card because her husband refused to be in the pictures, he didn't like the way he looked. I think it will be so sad later on when there's a complete dearth of photos of people -- both because of digital vs hard copies (where do they all go? The ones you download from facebook are super degraded in quality...) and because people don't want pictures of themselves because we don't look like we used to or don't hold up to ridiculous standards put forth by magazines and whatnot. I feel like I look at old pictures of myself and go, "holy cannoli, I thought I was fat then! How ridiculous!"

    Great post. Love it!

  3. I was also reminded reading your post about my aunt who passed earlier this year. We struggled to find a recent photo of her which was sad. Eventually we found a nice one of her at my wedding four years ago. She was unmarried and didn't have any children.

  4. Oh, good advice! Yes. I'm very self-conscious when it comes to photos. Neither my husband and I love photos, and so getting photos of the two of us together is hard - but as you say, we need to make the effort more. Thankfully we got at least one reasonable one on our travels this year. Mind you, I'm not sure anyone has seen it! lol

  5. Agree! I noticed a lot of parents missing from the photo cards this year. Many of them are friends, and I want to see them, too.