When my kids were little, they loved to be in front of the camera – and I loved to take pictures of them. That meant we never had a shortage of great footage. If I didn’t take their picture on a holiday, a family outing, or a random trip to Target, they’d wonder what was up. They didn’t care about the way they looked or what they were wearing. All that mattered to them was that we got the funniest shot possible, and they’d wait eagerly for me to post on Facebook or Instagram so they could see it.
Before every game, every holiday, the first day of school, if they got a new pet rock or they were wearing an outfit they loved, we’d take a picture and they’d beg me to post it.
And then things changed.
A few years ago they all (somehow) turned into teenagers and it was time for our annual first-day-of-school photo. My oldest agreed, as long as I didn’t post them on my social media. I didn’t take him that seriously, and I posted it anyway. I figured he’d get over it or like the picture enough to be okay with it. It had been our tradition for so long that I didn’t get the sudden change of heart. He wasn’t happy with me. He asked me not to do something, and I’d done it anyway. And for a while, he didn’t want to be in a picture even if I promised him I wouldn’t post it.
Not long after that, my two younger kids stopped wanting their pictures taken. In rare instances, they’d agree, as long as they could approve anything that went on my feeds. But honestly, getting all of them to like the same picture was impossible, and it inevitably ended in an argument. I’d beg and plead with them. I wanted to show off my beautiful kids on Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and Mother’s Day like a lot of other people. They agreed to Mother’s Day and the first day of school – but, again, only if they like the pictures. Which never happened. My oldest wouldn’t even be in the picture, my daughter started hiding her face completely in all the photos, and my youngest son was just miserable.
I fought this for a while. My distant friends and family wanted to see pictures of me with my kids. They wanted to know how they were doing and constantly asked me why I stopped posting pictures.
But last Mother’s Day, as I argued with my kids once again about trying to get a good photo, I realized none of this was worth it. My kids don’t want their faces on my social media. They don’t want to pose for a picture if it means it’s going to go up on Instagram or on my stories. And that’s their right. They want their privacy and they get to have it. After all, I preach to them all the time about taking pictures of friends, peers, or strangers and posting them on their social media without permission. Just because they are my kids it doesn’t mean I get to break their trust and boundaries about not having pictures of them on the internet.
I can still take their pictures and document special moments without putting them on my Instagram. That’s the way it used to be and somewhere along the line, I’d forgotten that. Well, I remembered, and it’s become a lot more enjoyable to take a picture just because. My kids are fine when I get my phone out now and snap a photo because they know the only one who will see it is me.
Some teens like having their photos taken. They don’t mind if their parents document prom, Christmas, Homecoming, or the fact they won a game. But my kids do. They don’t want their private life splashed on the internet – not mine and not theirs. I need to respect that. I certainly wouldn’t like it if they took photos of me I wasn’t comfortable with and then posted them on their pages.
These days I take just as many pictures as I did before. The difference is they stay with me and aren’t shared on the internet. Honestly, my kids are happier and that brings me a lot more joy than fighting with them on Mother’s Day to try and get the damn picture.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.