Photographs are an important part of family life. I know this because they put cameras in all of our phones. I also know this because I grew up almost constantly in front of the camera. I know personally how valuable childhood images can be. As children get older, these images help them remember where they came from and what life was like when they were young, but they also subtly say that you care about them.
If you’re doing it right, life can feel like a complicated mess and you’ll quickly make strategies for how to get the most important stuff done. Cleaning clothes, feeding the kids, keeping them alive, making enough money to put food on the plate. These things are pretty essential to survival, so it makes sense that we pretty naturally figure out how to make them happen—but we don’t just want kids who survive, we want them to thrive.
Parents need more than survival strategy, they need a strategy to thrive. A thrival strategy. The right habits can make a huge difference. Children, need good habits. They need those around them to have good habits. So much of what they’re doing in their minds is attempting to learn what patterns return the results they like. Consistency, in as many areas as possible, is crucial for children.
Spending a designated time with a child each week, or on designated days, will go a long way to helping them feel safe. Consistently serving healthy home-made food makes it easier for them to choose to eat healthy food as an adult. Consistently having children pick up their toys at a particular time—after a bath for example, or right before dinner—while difficult at first, will eventually be something they are comfortable doing on their own. Consistently doing what you promise, and being careful about what you promise will help them learn to have a healthy trust in people, and teach them to keep their promises to others.
The photography habit is your habit, and it’s for their sake later. Consistently recording their progress says something about the importance of history, of cherishing the things and people you love. But for parents, capturing images, even just with a cell phone, can be hard when life is complicated and constantly inconsistent.
You have to get something or other done, and so you don’t capture an image of your kid with the art project they made at school. Relatives are in town and the kid is excited and all over the place, so you don’t want to bog anyone down by trying to wrangle the kid for a photo with them. Dinner has to be on the table, so you don’t step otuside to get a photo of your oldest being unusually nice to your youngest.
But photography can be a habit. And when things become a habit, they also become easier. Here is our best advice for making photography a part of your family’s habits.
Let go of how good the image is—it’s about jarring memory, not art.
The photography habit is not about art. The photography habit is about memorializing moments, cementing them in the family history. The photography habit also isn’t about making other things about photography, that you should otherwise be experiencing. In other words, you shouldn’t be missing moments so you can take pictures of them.
So while you’re installing the photography habit in your family life, let go of how good the images look. You can even let go of how good the people in them look. This isn’t about social media and what the neighbors think. It’s about giving the 30 year old version of this little toddler something to look back at and dream about her past.
“Complete” special moments with a photo
One way to install the photography habit is to choose a trigger moment to remind you to take out your camera. Did your child just bring home an art project? Are they excited about something? Use this to remind you to take a photo. In this way, you also get to acknowledge and praise their hard work.
This also comes with the benefit of helping you let go of those insane piles of art projects at the end of the year. Since you captured the elated feeling itself in a picture, the art project can be recycled. In this way, you’ll also have a chance to teach them about healthy attachment to physical objects.
Take selfies with the, no matter how bad you look
Another way to help cement the photography habit is to choose a time to take a daily or weekly selfie with your children. Perhaps that moment is when they return from school, or when you get home from work. It might be when they wake you up way too early in the morning.
Use this moment as a trigger to remind you to pull out your phone and take a photo of the two of you together. Again, this is not about what you put up on your Facebook page. This is about creating a shared experience with your child, saving it, memorializing it with them—together. One day, they will cherish those photos, no matter how bad you look in them.
Pick one day of the month for a quick photo of the family
Pick a day, put it on your calendar, add it to your to-do list. On that day, capture a photo of your whole family together. This could be in the form of a selfie. This could be taken in a big mirror. Or, you could use one of the many remote timer apps available for your camera phone that will let you set it on the table while your whole family steps back and it takes your photo.
These are such valuable images—the simple, uncalculated images. These images capture your family as it evolves. You’ll see fashions change. Hair styles go in and out. You’ll see the innocuous family drama come and go. You’ll be creating a record, but the consistency of it will say to your child that the family unit, the way it grows and changes together, is important, and worth caring for.
Schedule professional portrait sessions once every 1 to 3 years
This doesn’t have to be a with a high-end photographer, or crazy concept art or something. This could just be a trip to your department store photo studio for $14.99. Even here, these photos don’t need to be especially good—technically speaking. It’s the consistent ritual that’s important.
Making a point to hire a professional once in a while gives you an opportunity to express your family unit formally. To ask your children to particpate in the portrayal of your family, looking and behaving their best. There is no doubt, these situations are challenging, but remember, it’s not for the photo you get, it’s for the photo you have to be there, engaging, to take.
Social Media is not where these images belong, maybe some of them
Social media is a new thing. We didn’t always post everything about our lives out there for the masses to read and talk about. That ability to connect with so many people, from all over the world, is also new. Without a reference point, a lot of parents haven’t thought about what their kids will think about the things they said and shared on social media.
Sharing photos of your children is fine, but posting their embarrassments or failures may haunt them in a way as they grow up. It’s not worth it. Children deserve their dignity as well as someone old enough to demand it. If you take lots of pictures of your family, you’ll catch some embarrassing moments in there—these images are for your family only.