Let’s get real for a moment. Raising a teenager has been the most difficult and unpleasant season of motherhood I’ve experienced yet. The days are filled with fluctuating moods, rejection, criticism, judgement, and quite honestly, a lot of grief, loneliness, and doubt. As my son grows up he is doing what he needs to while I am left questioning so much of what I am doing as a parent.
I admit that I can succumb to moments of envy when I perceive other teens not being annoyed at everything their mom is doing. I’m downright jealous when I see pictures of other kids happily spending time with their parents. But perception is just that. I’m looking at brief snapshots of other people that don’t tell the whole story but rather a quick flash in a series of many moments within a family.
Maybe the lovely teen girl I see in another mom’s glowing prom photo just cursed her parents out. Maybe another mom left out all the details about passive aggressiveness and mood swings when she posted about a fun family vacation. Maybe there are deeper problems like drug use and depression camouflaged by the matching Christmas jammies on the holiday card. Maybe resentment and uncertainty wears the guise of smiling selfies and sunny filters.
I know I should feel nothing but gratitude that my son is growing up in such a “textbook” teen way as he becomes independent. I’m blessed that, so far, snarky attitudes and moodiness are our biggest issues and not more serious things. Still, the rejection and very harsh ripping away can sting so deeply it actually feels like my heart is breaking.
So, I try to maintain traditions and uphold holidays. I enthusiastically plan outings and ready my phone for the very moments I am trying so hard to hang onto in light of my son’s angsty preparation to leave the nest. And when we’re in the midst of these experiences, my fingers are prepared and eager to capture these moments with the camera.
Unfortunately, instead of Instagram-worthy family snapshots of fun and bonding, the photos wind up reflecting exactly what I’m trying not to capture – two tired parents trying to hang onto a teenager that has one foot and most of his mind already out the door of our family home.
Our eager arms trying to embrace a son who is thinking of being anywhere else. Strain and quiet animosity on our faces mixed in with half-smiles that don’t do a very good job of concealing how we all feel about this phase of life. And instead of being excited about preserving my memories with photos, I just feel frustrated and sad while I press the delete button.
After a recent trip to New York City, my fingers were poised to do the same for all the outtakes and images that wouldn’t make the cut – the annoyed faces, the awkward physical distance between our son and us, and the frustratingly-forced strange looking smile he will sometimes throw our way. That’s when I stumbled on this blurry outtake, and I paused before hitting delete.
In the middle of trying to get a nice family shot in front of Rockefeller Center and failing so miserably, all three of us started laughing and being silly. The camera kept capturing these moments before we eventually went back to trying for a posed photo, and then on with our travels.
Sometimes a real photo is the best. (photo courtesy of author)
Even though this attempt at a family selfie is blurry, crooked, and somehow comically stretches out my husband’s head, it captures a moment in time when we were all authentically having fun and making each other laugh. I want to keep it to remind myself that those moments still occur and occur often, perhaps more than I realize when I’m too busy focusing on the times my son is annoyed at me or when he’s opting for hours in his closed room away from us. I love this imperfect blurry photo and will use it to remind myself that I have these flashes of pure happiness and enjoyment with my teen too, even if they are interspersed with moodiness and are not always “picture perfect.”
What is picture perfect anyway? We are all moving through time so fast – some moments are ugly and triggering, some are mediocre and dull. And some are brilliant and precious, if only fleeting and ones we wish to hang onto longer, but cannot. I don’t want to look back on this season of motherhood with nothing but memories of worry, doubt, and general discomfort.
I want to remember these images and moments in time when I am throwing my head back and grinning and enjoying my family. Because those moments have always been there too. Maybe we have to take what we can get in this season of parenthood. Maybe unbridled joy and laughter is only going to show up in mere minutes or even seconds, and maybe that has to be enough.
Parenthood is a giant tapestry of the good and bad, the joyous and the heart-wrenching, the exhilarating and the painful, all strung together in a patchwork that we should be proud to hang and display no matter the imperfect stitches and lines. Because, like all precious art, when you finally take a moment to step back and look at the entire thing, it is the honesty and rawness that makes it so beautiful, and truly something sacred enough to behold with true awe.
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