When my friend’s mother died he found himself desperately needing to have photos to remember his mum by. But it dawned on him for the first time that, despite loving his mum dearly, he’d never once taken a photo of her.
Hoping that other people had taken photos of his mum, my friend combed through his mum’s possessions and his own childhood memorabilia looking for them.
He eventually managed to unearth one. Just one. That was it. One photo in total.
And it wasn’t recent. It was a yellowed photo of him as a toddler dressed in overalls trying to scramble off his mother’s knee.
I have heard more times than I can recall my mother friends lament how few photos are taken of them with their children.
One friend recently said that if she died tomorrow her young kids would have no evidence to show that she was in their lives. Another friend told me that her husband spends barely any time with their kids and she has done little else for close to a decade. But judging by the collection of photos on her computer you would assume the opposite.
Her phone and hard drive provide a mini documentary of him and the kids celebrating life stages, such as birthdays and first days at school, to spontaneous and mundane events like reading stories, playing in the park, or even sitting on the couch watching TV.
I also have very few photos of my mother from my younger years. To be fair, this was partly because of my mother’s reluctance to have her photo taken – a heartbreaking combination of her believing she was both not attractive enough and not important enough to appear in photos. Growing up, my mum was the most constant thing in my life and it saddens me that there is very little record of that.
Given the number of selfies mothers take with their kids, we can only assume that many women do want to document their lives with their children. We don’t want to be invisible in our family histories and, since nobody else seems willing to take the photos, we have to do it ourselves.
But when mothers do take selfies with their kids they’re inevitably inviting comment from the usual Moral Panic Merchants, tut-tutting about the rise of narcissism and “Why can’t women just be IN THE MOMENT and enjoy their kids?”
It’s not that mothers are hardwired to take photos in a way that fathers are not. The reason there are so many pictures of dads with their kids is that we think that documenting the lives of kids with their father is important. Well here’s the thing, documenting the lives of mothers with their kids is important too.
Earlier this year, writer Sophia Cachia’s appeal to dads to take more photos of mums resonated with mothers to such an extent it went viral.
“We spend days capturing beautiful moments of you [dad] and the kids. So whenever you see one of us with our babies, a beautiful candid moment, take the bloody goddamn photo. Cheers, Mums,” Cachia posted on Instagram.
It’s not as if taking photos of the mother of their children is a particularly difficult task for dads. Back when we were kids far fewer photos were taken. Unless you owned a Polaroid, photography was a multi-step process involving film, processing, and physical photo albums.
Digital technology has removed such barriers to capturing precious moments of mothers’ lives. Even the dumbest smartphone has a good camera, lowering the bar to a two-second process of taking the phone out of your pocket, pointing and shooting. The only barrier now is people thinking that taking photos of mothers is not worth doing – until it’s too late.
Dads should take more photos of mums because their kids are going to want them in the future. As my friend who lost his mother has found out the hard way, photos of mothers are vitally important snapshots of time that cannot be recreated.
But another reason for dads to take more photos of mums is that every time they do it they tell the mother of their children that she is important. In a culture like ours, dominated by the image, photography is a way to demonstrate that women and women’s lives are worth documenting just as much as men’s.
By excluding women from this culture, we give the impression that dad is the important one and mum is barely worth noticing. Without even realising it, kids will internalise the belief that dad’s interaction with them is so important it needs to be immortalised, whereas mum, well, when is dinner ready and where are my clean socks?